What's age-appropriate for 5- to 7-year-olds?

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 5–7?

Cognitive development: At 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, and enjoy creating their own. They also like riddles and jokes. Five-year-olds can understand basic math concepts, too. Their self-esteem grows as they master words and numbers.

As 5-year-olds' attention spans continue to develop, they can concentrate for longer periods. As that happens, they get more interested in finding out in-depth information about how the world works. Be prepared to answer lots of "how" and "why" questions and look for hands-on experiences to further their learning.

Six-year-olds are developing a firmer sense of reality and fantasy, but they still have very active imaginations. It's typical for their imaginations to inform how they see the world -- for example, applying human traits to animals. At this age, kids start to read on their own and count forward and backward. They're developing longer attention spans, though they still do better with structured activities than with open-ended ones.

By age 7, most kids enjoy reading stories and can discuss, write about, and act out what they read. Their thinking starts to become more concrete and logical. They can separate things into categories, but they still have trouble with hypothetical ideas and abstract concepts. Humor becomes a big deal at this age, as kids move from slapstick to jokes to potty humor.

Social and emotional development: Children age 5 to 7 are social animals. While family members remain the most important influence on these children, their circle of trust and affection expands beyond immediate caregivers and family to teachers and other adults. Kids this age also have a good sense of humor and enjoy sharing jokes and laughter with adults.

With increased self-confidence, children begin to assert their individuality and even question adult authority (although they need the reassurance of a reliable adult presence as they start making their independent way in the world). Personal privacy starts to be important, and kids develop more sensitivity to others' feelings. These children understand the difference between right and wrong, although they may use swear or "bathroom" words for attention and to test adult limits.

At this time, children start to socialize in peer groups, especially same-sex peers who share similar interests. Five- to 7-year-olds like to copy their friends and peers and begin developing strong feelings of loyalty. Clubs and games are popular activities. Rules are important to them, and they make up games with complicated dos and don'ts.

Increased ability to understand the "how" and "why" of things means that 5- to 7-year-olds are less fearful. But they can still be scared of loud noises, darkness, animals, or some unfamiliar people. Some kids may start to fear school failure, as well as peer rejection.

At this age, children are aware of social categories such as race and can hold strong gender stereotypes. They develop and strengthen gender-typed play and activity preferences. Some 5- to 7-year-olds stick to rigid stereotypes for themselves and others and are intolerant of gender-role transgressions.

Physical development: At this age, kids' motor control broadens and left- or right-handedness emerges. By age 5, kids are capable of learning complex body coordination for activities such as swimming, riding bikes, and tying shoelaces. At age 6, kids improve and refine their motor skills. They develop strength, speed, balance, hand-eye coordination, and flexibility. The amount and quality of physical activity can have a big impact on the course of their motor development. Active kids will develop more mature motor skills than those who aren't active. By the end of this period, kids who have already been participating in activities such as sports, dance, and gymnastics may now begin developing proficiency in those activities.

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 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. It's important either to have an adult supervise online activity or to be sure that kids stay on age-appropriate sites. Searching online is best left for older kids, since even with safe search settings, all sorts of age-inappropriate images can appear. Expect older children to show an interest in social networking on kid-specific sites. But be sure that they understand how to behave online -- including how to protect their privacy. Devices should be located in a central location for maximum supervision. Establish rules around mobile technology -- from phones to tablets to hand-held gaming devices -- regarding when, where, how, and for how long these devices can be used.

What's age-appropriate at age 5–7?

  • Educational value: Younger children in this range will benefit from content that supports school-readiness, including social-emotional skills such as self-control. Older children will benefit from content that supports the transition to first grade, such as early reading and writing skills, basic math functions, and problem-solving. Children in this age range can learn about basic scientific content, such as gravity, but they still learn best from visual demonstrations rather than characters talking or singing and concrete lessons rather than abstract principles. Five-year-olds have some understanding of past/present, but they will need help understanding historical lessons and putting them in context.

    Five- to 7-year-olds are still developing their understanding of editing techniques, so narratives should be simple. Flashbacks and sudden shifts of scene or perspective continue to be confusing. Younger children also need help understanding the difference between educational content and fantasy/fluff content.

    Educational lessons should be central to the plot of a story (rather than simply popping up in the middle of a mostly unrelated story). Ideally, the settings and scenarios are realistic or relatable to make it easier for children to understand and apply the lessons to the real world. Children may not understand references to characters coming from other countries or using other languages, particularly if the show is animated. Point out connections to the real world (familiar people, activities) and ask questions to check that they're making sense of what they see.

  • Positive models and messages: Stories that show characters doing kind, nice things for each other are probably most effective. Children this age continue to have a hard time learning social lessons from stories, particularly from verbal descriptions or conversations between characters. Consider commenting positively on the behaviors you like on-screen or talking about similarities and differences between the characters and kids themselves.

    Content that tries to teach positive lessons by using negative examples (for example, a sibling learns to love her new brother after she's shown being mean) may be lost on 5- to 7-year-olds. It could also have the opposite effect, as young children may focus mostly on the negative. This is especially true if the lesson is mostly verbal rather than visual. Aim for content that models the good behaviors you want, rather than the negative behaviors you don't want. When you see a story where a character does something wrong and then learns better, point out the good behaviors and explain what's wrong with the bad behaviors.

    By age 7, children may learn from negative examples in which a character does something wrong and is ultimately punished or remorseful. Just make sure that the plot is not overly complicated (making it harder to connect the bad behavior and positive ending) and the negative behavior doesn't dominate the story. However, 7-year-olds still have difficulty understanding the intended social lesson of stories. This is especially true with longer stories that have subplots and require viewers to make connections from one part of the story to another. You can help kids understand these types of lessons by talking about what the character learned and what he or she could have done differently. Content that models negative behavior (including discrimination or peer pressure) without consequences or lessons is inappropriate. Children this age still have a hard time knowing how to evaluate such content on their own.

    At this age, children often show preferences for their own gender and race/ethnicity. They often need help noticing or remembering content that goes against stereotypes. However, by 7, some children are able to appreciate differences in people without thinking that one way is better than another. It is important that they see representations of different groups and that those representations are positive and avoid stereotypes. Aim for at least some content that shows characters breaking gender stereotypes, depicts girls and boys interacting in healthy and equal cross-gender friendships, and has a look and feel that doesn't lend itself to only one gender. Comment positively on counter-stereotypical moments.

    When you encounter stereotypes, whether based on gender, race/ethnicity, or social groupings (such as nerds vs. jocks), point out what you think the problems are. Encourage children to accept and respect people who are different by exposing them to content that includes people of diverse backgrounds. Consider encouraging your child to think of more complex, realistic representations or real-life counterexamples. Look for content that shows great historical figures, athletes, or media stars of diverse backgrounds. Check that kids understand the historical context for these individuals and what made their experiences so remarkable and groundbreaking.

    Although parents may be uncomfortable discussing the race or ethnicity of characters, research suggests that doing so helps kids understand their parents' positive attitudes. Consider commenting positively on characters' interracial interactions and help kids understand connections to the real world (e.g., by noting friends or acquaintances of the same backgrounds).

    Characters who show antisocial or discriminatory behavior should face consequences for that behavior -- but don't assume that children will notice those consequences. Explain why you don't like the behavior and encourage your child to think about how it made the victim feel.

  • Violence: Violence may be harder to ignore at this age, especially if kids watch cartoons or are in the room when the news is on. However, studies have shown that extended immersion with violent media content can increase violence and aggressive behavior in kids this age.

    Children are more likely to imitate violence if it's visual (rather than described), easy to mimic (hitting, punching), and presented as funny or silly. Kids are just as likely to imitate cartoon violence as realistic content. When "good" characters commit violence that seems justified, it may create the wrong impression with young children.

    Avoid shows and movies in which characters use violence to resolve conflict, but if it comes up, talk about alternative ways that the characters could have solved the problem. Point out the negative behavior and discuss what the real-world consequences would be (for the victim and the aggressor). Young children may not notice that an aggressive character was sorry or punished at the end of a story, particularly if the story was long or had subplots. In addition to physical violence, older children are increasingly likely to see nonphysical, social aggression in tween programming. Consider pointing out mean, hostile behavior and discussing why it's a problem. Talk about what's realistic and what's not and how to make good friendships.

  • Scariness: Different things scare different children. It's not always possible to predict what will frighten a particular kid. Try to avoid potentially scary programming, especially right before bedtime. Violence and danger for characters are often scary, but other things are upsetting as well, including news images (child abductions, shootings, natural disasters with lots of damage), emotional intensity, and/or the separation of children and parents. Avoid fictional content that involves serious loss -- for example, of a parent, sibling, or pet -- as well as scary suspense, lots of peril, bullying, coercion, or portrayals of psychological dysfunction. Darkness, strange sounds, distorted faces and bodies, or other grotesque images all can be upsetting at this age, even if the story "says" that things are OK or that this is a good character.

    If you can't avoid watching content with some scary scenes, consider fast-forwarding through those parts. If your child is frightened, it's important to listen rather than mock or dismiss his or her fears. When younger kids do see something that scares them, the best comfort is reassurance that everyone is safe (plus a hug and a favorite toy and/or distraction with an engaging activity). Telling them it's not real tends to be less effective for younger children.

    Reassurance for older children can start to involve simple explanations of how things work and why kids don't need to be scared. For example, if it's true, you can point out that such things cannot happen or have never happened in your area. Still, often the best strategies at this age are distraction with an engaging, fun activity and/or physical comfort like a hug.

  • Sexy stuff: The concept of romantic relationships and scenes of affection between partners (hugging, holding hands) are age-appropriate. Content that places emphasis on beauty, hypersexualized appearance, sexy behavior, and stereotyped sexual roles isn't age-appropriate. If you do encounter such content, call out inappropriate depictions and behavior and explain what you find problematic about it. Sexual humor, nudity, and simulated sex are not appropriate for this age.

  • Language: All swearing is inappropriate for kids this age. Young children are 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). While these words in themselves are not necessarily harmful at this age, children still need help understanding what isn't appropriate to imitate. Try to avoid content with name-calling, put-downs, or verbal cruelty. As with physical violence, children are more likely to imitate negative verbal content that they think is funny or is said by a character they like. If you do encounter inappropriate language, name-calling, or verbal cruelty, explain why it's problematic and encourage your child to think about how it might make each character feel.

  • Consumerism and commercialism: You can't avoid all commercial programming and product tie-ins. Talk to kids about ads, pointing out that not everything they see in an ad is necessarily true. Children this age still have difficulty understanding that ads are meant to persuade them. But you can help them understand that ads are often "tricky," making things look better and more exciting than in real life -- for example, making toys look bigger or food look tastier. Point out disclaimers and explain what they mean in simple language (for example, "Parts and toys sold separately" means "It doesn't come with all that stuff -- you have to pay extra"). Food advertising can be especially difficult. Let kids know how and why their family's food choices won't be influenced by commercials.

  • Risky and unhealthy behavior: Avoid media that includes drinking, drugs, smoking, or risky stunts for this age. Young children may not understand the difference between the consequences that happen on TV versus what would happen in real life. Children may imitate unhealthy/risky behaviors even when negative consequences follow characters' actions. They will be even more likely to imitate risky or unhealthy behavior if there are no negative consequences or if the behavior is depicted as funny or glamorous.

  • Risky and unhealthy behavior: All online activities for kids this age should be supervised by parents. Absolutely no personal information should be shared anywhere. Video chats with family members are age-appropriate, but all other interactions should use preset words and phrases kids choose from a list.