Is Your Big Kid 'Too Cool' for a Car Seat? Tough: This 7-Year-Old's Viral Photo Proves Safety Comes First

What do you do when your kid sees all their friends moving out of car seats—but you're not sure they're ready? One mom urges parents to follow safety guidelines, and ignore peer pressure.

An image of a boy in a car seat asleep.
Photo: Getty Images.

I was born in the late '80s. My childhood was filled with long drives with the windows down, everybody calling dibs on the front seat. In one questionable trip in my dad's work truck, I was seated on an actual bucket where the passenger seat should have been, and used a seatbelt. My sister and I were out of car seats of any kind before we were in school. So were all of our friends.

But car seats have come a long way since then—and so, too, have the regulations that keep kids safe. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), infants and toddlers should use rear-facing car seats until around age 2, while toddlers and preschoolers ought to stay in forward-facing car seats until they meet the height and weight specifications of their car seat manufacturer. Once they do, they can move to a booster seat until the car's seatbelt fits them properly (usually around age 8 to 12). Forget about the passenger seat: Kids under 13 must remain in the back.

But children are in a hurry to grow up. So what do you do when your kid is no longer a preschooler and starts to compare themselves to their pals who have moved out of car seats and into boosters? Australian mom Louise Thomsen addressed this dilemma on her Paging Fun Mums Facebook page.

"Here is a photo of my 7 year old on a long road trip we took over the school holidays," Thomsen wrote. "He has been teased for being in a 'baby seat' from his friends at school this past term. No parent wants their child to experience ridicule BUT the statistics speak for themselves regarding children & approved car seats...especially when they fall asleep in their seats."

She's right. As the AAP guidance itself makes clear, age is just a part of the equation. Your child's height and weight—and not what their peers are doing—should help you determine which safety device is best for them. Check with your own car seat's manufacturer—or even your pediatrician if you're not sure—to get accurate, up-to-date recommendations and see where your child falls.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, car crashes are a leading cause of death in children, but using car seats properly can reduce the risk of injury in a crash by up to 82 percent compared to using a seatbelt alone. Booster seats similarly decrease the risk of serious injury by 45 percent among children ages 4 to 8. A five-state study found that increasing the age requirement for car seat and booster seat use (to around 7 or 8 years old) reduced the number of kids who sustained fatal or incapacitating injuries in car accidents by as much as 17 percent.

So let's say it one more time for the people in the back: Consider your kid's height and weight—and not their age—when choosing what restraints to use in the car. Let's emphasize to children that car seats aren't just for babies and staying safe is cool. No one should be bullied for being careful.

"Take all the factors into consideration when making these choices," Thomsen urges other parents. "Don't just follow the trend, follow the safest option to protect your family."

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