How We Rate and Review by Age: 5 Years

Behind the Common Sense Media ratings system

What's age appropriate for a 5-year-old?

The way our kids consume and create media profoundly affects their social, emotional, and physical development. That's why, when we make assessments about age appropriateness, we rely on developmental criteria from some of the nation's leading authorities to determine what content and activities are best suited for each age and stage. Below you will find the developmental guidelines we use in establishing our age ratings and recommendations. But even as we rely on experts, we know that all kids grow and mature differently. Our age-based reviews and ratings are a guide -- but ultimately, you're still the expert when it comes to your kids.

What's going on at age 5

Cognitive development: By 5, kids have real control over their language. They speak clearly, and many are beginning to read. They understand story structure (beginning, middle, end), can remember and repeat stories they like, and enjoy creating their own. They also get pleasure out of riddles and jokes. As 5-year-olds' attention span continues to develop, they can concentrate for more extended periods of time -- as that happens, they get more and more interested in actively finding out in-depth information about how the world works, mostly through "how" and "why" questions and hands-on experiences. They can understand basic math concepts and gain self esteem as they master words and numbers.

Social and emotional development: Five-year-olds are social animals. They start to integrate socially into peer groups and are very aware of and sensitive to others' feelings. Their circle of trust and affection expands beyond immediate caregivers and family to teachers and other adults. Increased ability to understand the "how" and "why" of things means that they're less fearful -- but they can still be scared of loud noises, the dark, animals, or some people. They may use swear or "bathroom" words for attention and to test adult limits. They understand the difference between right and wrong. Kids this age also have a good sense of humor and enjoy sharing jokes and laughter with adults.

Physical development: At this age, motor control broadens: Kids are capable of learning complex body coordination (e.g., swimming, riding bikes) and may be able to tie shoelaces. Clear right- or left-handedness emerges.

Technological/digital savviness: Once kids begin to read and write, the entire online experience changes. Because they can communicate with others, kids really have to understand the basics of kind, responsible, and safe online behavior. Five-year-olds can use a keyboard and mouse easily, draw and paint skillfully, and begin to be able to print letters. As their literacy skills develop, they may start spending more time online -- but they won't know safe searching skills unless adults teach them.

What's age appropriate at age 5

Educational value: Anything that reinforces math and reading. Because kids now understand the concept of time -- past and present -- stories that have historical lessons can have a great impact.
Positive messages: As kids become more independent, anything that models negative behavior and messages without consequences or lessons is inappropriate.
Positive role models: Encourage kids this age to accept and respect people who are different by exposing them to media that includes people of diverse backgrounds; discuss the fact that not all people or families look like them/theirs. Characters who exhibit anti-social or discriminatory behavior should face consequences for that behavior. As activities start to segregate between sexes, take care not to reinforce stereotypes in media selection (i.e. princess movies for girls and truck videos for boys), since that can reinforce societal imbalances.
Violence and scariness: Exposure to violent content in media can encourage and increase violence and aggressive behavior in kids this age. Plus, 5-year-olds still can't always distinguish between fact and fantasy, so they'll process a made-up situation the way they would a "real" one. Avoid shows and movies in which characters use violence to resolve conflict -- but if it comes up, talk about alternative ways that characters could have solved the problem. Different things scare different children; it's not always possible to predict what will frighten a particular kid. But try to avoid potentially scary programming (including serious loss, scary suspense, bullying, coercion, and portrayals of psychological dysfunction), especially right before bedtime. When kids do see something that scares them, they may miss the fact that there was a safe resolution because they're caught up in the emotion of fear. The best comfort is reassurance that everyone is safe (plus a hug and a favorite toy).
Sexy stuff: The concept of boy/girl relationships is age appropriate, but nothing more.
Language: No profanity is appropriate. Kids this age learn the words they hear spoken around them at an amazing rate -- which means avoiding exposure to language they shouldn't repeat, especially since they're now starting to understand that there are certain words that are bad to say (though their mental list is somewhat limited and probably largely related to body parts and functions). Name calling with the intention to hurt others may also begin at this age.
Consumerism/commercialism: Avoiding all commercial programming/product tie-ins will be difficult. Talk to kids about commercials, pointing out that not everything they see in an ad is necessarily true. But they're still too young to understand the "persuasive intent" of commercials. Food advertising can be especially difficult -- let kids know how and why their family's food choices won't be influenced by commercials.
Drinking, drugs, and smoking: None.
Online privacy and safety: All online activities for kids this age should be supervised by adults; absolutely no personal information should be shared anywhere, and all interactions should be pre-set (i.e. no open chatting).