What's age-appropriate for 8- to 9-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 8–9?

Cognitive development: By 8 and 9, kids have fluent use of language and can use it to express their opinions. They have arrived at the "age of reason" and will solve problems on their own. They have the ability and desire to do things themselves. They can follow more complex storylines, and they begin to be able to understand that things aren't always black and white, right or wrong. At the older end of this period, they also begin to understand manipulation and intention. Kids become very good at memorization.

Social and emotional development: Kids this age are continuing to develop their ability to take the perspectives of others, including understanding others' emotions. Their increased understanding of emotions includes the ability to mask their feelings and pretend to like something or someone when they don't. They also can be moody and dramatic when things don't work out according to their plans. Their peer relationships begin to have new significance as an awareness of social pecking orders and hierarchies really kicks in. This is the age of the best friend, and kids likely will admire and even idolize older kids. At this age, children are proud of their independence, but they're still likely to rely on adults in emotionally stressful circumstances.

As they gain more experience in and exposure to the world, 8- and 9-year-olds begin to attribute certain qualities to men and women -- for example, that women are more emotional and affectionate and men are more ambitious and aggressive. They also associate specific occupations and academic subjects with each gender.

Physical development: Kids are developing more mastery of the physical activities they began in earlier years (athletics, dance, gymnastics, etc.). Some children begin puberty during this period. Body consciousness may increase, even without the onset of puberty.

Technological/digital savviness: At this age, kids may be exploring digital worlds, but chances are they don't yet understand how their behavior can have a real effect on real people. Remind them that bullying is as big of a problem online as face-to-face. They need to learn that anything they post can be copied, pasted, altered, and distributed to vast invisible audiences. They also need to understand that not everything they read online is true or respectful (such as inappropriate comments on YouTube, for example). Limit social networking and virtual worlds to sites geared toward this age group to ensure that appropriate privacy and safety measures are in place. Explain how basic safety -- i.e., not clicking on games and offers -- will help keep spam and viruses out of computers. Discuss the concept of acceptable use in your own family, and find out what kids' school policies are. For example, at this age, kids begin to understand the concept of illegal downloading, which is like stealing in real life. As kids get more homework, consider discussing multitasking and make rules around it. And, as gaming increasingly becomes part of kids' lives, explain which games are age-appropriate and why.

What's age-appropriate at age 8-9?

  • Educational value: By third grade, kids are really reading for pleasure. Books, movies, apps, and games can build on school lessons on a full range of academic topics, including history and science. Look for content that exposes kids to diverse experiences, encourages them to think about other people's lives, or teaches them about different times and places. At this age, complex narrative techniques such as flashbacks are still confusing, so they will benefit most from relatively simple narratives. Video games can be helpful in teaching facts in subjects such as math and history, and some may enhance cognitive skills. For example, games that require children to solve spatial puzzles or navigate mazes may enhance visual-spatial skills.
  • Positive models and messages: Children continue to learn best from positive examples of the lessons you want them to learn. However, by this age they also can learn a negative example in which a character does something wrong and is ultimately punished or remorseful. Just make sure the plot is not overly complicated (making it harder to connect the bad behavior and positive resolution) and the negative behavior doesn't dominate the story. Avoid media that makes antisocial behavior look cool. Kids this age are looking to older kids for examples, and many TV shows for this age, especially tween sitcoms, feature aggressive, hostile, or antisocial behavior, often in the name of humor. Discuss appropriate and inappropriate role model behavior and the real-world consequences for all characters. Children typically still need some help identifying subtle themes or messages in longer narratives. Consider asking them what they think the takeaways are.

    Avoid content that relies on stereotypes for humor. Some children this age may be mature enough to discuss why particular representations are problematic. Continue to seek out positive representations of people of different backgrounds, experiences, body types, and gender identities. Praise characters who are instrumental to the storyline for what they do versus what they look like. Show female characters who aren't sexualized and male characters who resolve conflict without violence. Children this age are old enough to start taking the perspectives of others. Help them compare and contrast the challenges and experiences they share with others. Historical figures who overcame adversity and/or injustice can inspire kids. Check that they understand the historical context and the uniqueness of the individual's experiences. Content that depicts antisocial or discriminatory behavior should show the consequences of those actions.

  • Violence: At 8 and 9, children may see a mix of physical and nonphysical violence and bullying behavior (particularly in tween sitcoms), as well as violence in news. Children are more likely to imitate mean or aggressive behavior if it's obvious, if it's rewarded in some way (including with a laugh track), and if the aggressor is likable. When "good" characters commit violence that seems justified, it may create the wrong impression. Consider occasionally calling out negative behavior (whether physical or nonphysical) and ask kids what they think the real-world consequences would be both for the victim and the aggressor. If the aggressors are depicted as admirable, consider talking about other ways they could have solved a problem.

    Children this age can deal with some scenes of emotional conflict -- such as the loss of a pet or parents and divorce -- but there should be some resolution. Aggression that takes place online or via a cell phone should have immediate negative consequences, whether it's characters or kids themselves who are involved. Video game violence that involves first-person shooting and blood isn't age-appropriate -- nor is movie or TV violence that includes lots of blood. Violence or coercion in the context of sexuality is not appropriate.

  • Scariness: At this age, kids might start seeking out scary content looking for thrills, but they can still be frightened. Know your child, and help him or her make suitable choices. Watch out for exposure to scary content at sleepovers, and consider checking what's planned. As children develop perspective-taking ability, they are more likely to experience empathic fear for a character, particularly in realistic content. Continue to be careful about upsetting or intense content (including serious loss, scary suspense, bullying, coercion, and portrayals of psychological dysfunction), particularly before bedtime. Children this age also are increasingly likely to be frightened by news content, particularly stories of child abductions, mass shootings, or bombings. When possible, avoid the news during these types of events, especially visual images. As at all ages, it's important to listen to your child's concerns rather than mocking or belittling him or her. If your child does get frightened or upset, coping strategies can include discussion and truthful reassurances as well as physical comfort.

  • Sexy stuff: By this age, many kids understand the "facts of life," though often not in as much detail as they might pretend. Eight- and 9-year-olds are split between those who still find any sex-related content gross and/or somewhat threatening, and some who have developed early and want to know more. Again, it's important to know your child. Regardless of where they are in their development, avoid disrespectful portrayals of characters as sexual objects or as sexual aggressors. Humor that relies on these themes is not appropriate. If you encounter such depictions, talk about why they're problematic. Portrayals of relationships are OK, but highly sexualized behavior isn't. Nudity and simulated sex are not age-appropriate.

  • Language: Kids this age can handle mild profanity -- and they'll likely find plenty of humor in it. Insults and put-downs are also commonplace. We call them out in our reviews because, while they're not necessarily harmful at this age, they also aren't necessarily what you want your kids thinking is OK. Race-, gender-, and sexuality-based slurs are not appropriate.

  • Consumerism and commercialism: By this age, many children can understand the idea that ads are trying to sell stuff. However, like all viewers, they are still highly influenced by ads. Consider pointing out product placement and unrealistically glamorous settings, such as huge houses with expensive equipment. Discuss how ads and product placement make people want things they don't need. Maybe use commercials to play a game by counting all the silly and unrealistic claims. Be aware of ads in sports programming that often focus on fast food and alcohol. Now is also a good time to start having more in-depth conversations about food choices -- especially how and why the foods that kids are eating and drinking at home may differ from the foods they see in commercials.

  • Risky and unhealthy behavior: No smoking is appropriate. Studies show that kids who see smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking than kids who don't. Likewise, scenes of drinking and drug use aren't appropriate for this age. Try to avoid exposure to alcohol ads during sports programming and even on YouTube. Kids will be more likely to imitate risky or unhealthy behavior if there are no negative consequences or if the behavior is depicted as funny or glamorous.