Dear California, it’s not THAT bad

This week, the Wall Street Journal published a melodramatic article about the trauma of California’s “big kids” who are being forced back into car seats when that state changes its laws on January 1. Instead of “graduating” from car seats at age 6, kids will now be required to stay in either a car seat or a belt-positioning booster seat until they reach age 8 and a height of 4’9″. California’s parents are bemoaning the tantrums they’re anticipating from kids who are used to acting like adults in the car.

But it doesn’t need to be a battle. My home state of Massachusetts adopted this same law in April of 2008, and as the mom of a 9-year-old who is still under 4’9″, I can tell you that it’s really not a big deal. Here are a few things to know that will ease the “pain” of using child safety restraints for older kids.

The law is not meant to torture your kids

4’9″ is not some arbitrary number that means, “Hey, your kids are big now!” It’s the height at which a standard 3-point vehicle seat belt (designed for an adult, not a child) will fit a passenger properly. That seat belt is there to save your child’s life in the event of a crash, and if the belt is not sitting in the right spot across the hips and shoulder, it can not only fail to protect your child, but it can also cause additional injuries. The booster seat raises your child up so that the belt hits all the right spots.

Booster seats don’t need to be a pain in the you-know-what (literally)

My two older kids, ages 7 and 9, use Clek Olli booster seats, and they’re actually both dreading the day they need to give them up. The foam cushioning is so much more comfortable than the actual seat of the car. And the added height means that they have a great view through the car windows. The new Bubble Bum is another compact belt-positioning booster seat that kids like – it’s fun-looking and comfy.

Involve your child in choosing a booster seat, if possible, since that will help to keep them agreeable from the start. In general, a backless booster will feel like more of a big-kid seat. Plus, you can tell your child truthfully that these seats are ONLY designed for bigger kids.

Talk to your children

Kids like knowing they’re protected. If they’re chafing at using a booster, explain that this booster seat helps the seat belt do an even better job of keeping them safe when they’re riding in a car. If you’re in California and you’re faced with the prospect of “regressing,” you should also explain that laws are there to protect people, and when laws can be changed to protect people even better, that’s a very good thing. Tell your children that you didn’t know before how important it was to be 4’9″ when using a seat belt – you’ve learned something new!

Show them how the seat belt fits on them when they are in the booster seat versus when they are not (point out where it is across their hips and how it lies across their neck and shoulders).

Don’t compromise

That booster seat could be the difference between life and death if your car is in a crash. It’s scary but it’s true. If your child doesn’t want to go to the pediatrician, do you cancel the appointment? If your child insists on playing with a sharp knife, do you let him do it and hope for the best? No. As parents, we can’t always accommodate our kids’ preferences, especially when those preferences compromise their safety. If they know you aren’t going to back down, they’ll stop arguing.

Set an example

My kids are seat belt fanatics because my husband and I will not move an inch in the car without our own seat belts fastened. They’ve never known seat belts to be anything but a mandatory part of being in a car. So when I tell them they need to be in a booster seat until they’re 4’9″, they know that it’s no joke. Being serious about seat belts doesn’t make you a helicopter parent.

Note: The picture here was taken of my kids mugging for the camera. They weren’t referring to their booster seats, but rather to each other. Still, it made an appropriate shot for this post.

Sheri Gurock

About Sheri Gurock

Sheri is an entrepreneur and mother of three living in Brookline, MA. Together with her husband, Eli, she owns Magic Beans, a toy and baby gear retail business with five stores in the Boston area. Sheri is the editor of Surprises, a Magic Beans publication about parenting, kids, gear and toys, and she’s been blogging for Magic Beans since 2005.

Sheri discovered Mothering Magazine almost 10 years ago on the recommendation of her Bradley Method teacher, and is thrilled to be a contributor to this site.

11 thoughts on “Dear California, it’s not THAT bad”

  1. I know adults shorter than 4’9″. If seatbelts aren’t effective for people shorter than that, then there needs to be a better fix than booster seats.

  2. I agree with Colin. The government is getting out of control with laws. Honestly. Im a psychotic over protective parent. I will definitely CHOOSE to put my kids in a booster if there are safety studies to back it up, but another law? fix the cars… dont make us buy more crap. ugh.

  3. I am all for my children being in booster seats until the proper height, but I must agree with Colin.

    There are many adults who do not meet this requirement and something more needs to be done to ensure their safety as well – sans booster seats.

  4. This has already been the law/requirement in our state of Missouri for at least the past four years. Adults smaller than the safety limits are capable of deciding for themselves what kind of car they drive and how to be responsible drivers. Children are subject to the adults driving them around. In this day of heavily distracted drivers, I will protect my child the best way I possibly can. It is clear to me that my 7yo needs to be in her booster because she is just too small in the seat without it.

  5. I agree with you! Fitting three car seats side by side in a back seat would be so hard, I hope that is safe. I have seen children who were in booster chairs in accidents with severe internal organ damage and bleeding so boosters are not the solution but rather a redesign of vehicle’s safety belt design.

  6. As a Child Passenger Safety Technician I am glad that the laws are changing. Car crashes remain to be the number one killer of children under the age 14 in the US. Booster seats reduce the injury of 4-8yr olds by 59%. Its a no brainer that youd want to use a booster seat for your child. But not every booster seat will fit every child. The lap portion of the belt should lie low on your childs hips/thighs, it should not go across their belly this will cause possible internal injuries, and the shoulder portion should be across the childs collar bone not on their neck/face. No one should ever ever put the shoulder portion of the seat belt behind their back, this is very dangerous and buy putting a child in a well fit booster it will keep them from doing so. It is important to try your child in the booster before buying/tearing off the tags. Most stores allow this. Your child must also be mature enough to sit like this without moving out of position. For children who can not there are decently priced higher weight harnessed seats. I personally have my 6yr old harnessed for most rides because she fidgits.

    Although some children may be 4ft 9in by 8 many will not be and even at 4ft 9in that does not guarentee proper fit of a vehicle seat belt. Children should pass these 5 steps before moving out of a booster.

    1. Does the child sit all the way back against the auto seat?

    2. Do the child’s knees bend comfortably at the edge of the auto seat?

    3. Does the belt cross the shoulder between the neck and arm?

    4. Is the lap belt as low as possible, touching the thighs?

    5. Can the child stay seated like this for the whole trip?

    If you answer no to any of those questions your child would be safer in a booster. Majority of children will pass this between 8-12yrs of age.

    I know that the main argument against boosters for older kids is that even some adults are sorter than 4ft 9in and maybe they should be in booster. I think its important that people understand that bone development doesnt end the moment we are born. In fact our bone continue to harden (the ossification process) long into our 20s. But the bulk of it is done by the time we are tweens/teens. This plays are large part in the seat belt function. The seat belt is made to lay across your hips and collar bone, hard parts of your body, and stay off your belly/neck where you have no hard bone to protect your vital organs. For children their bones are smaller and not as hard. They need a device to possition the seat belt on those areas. Without that it the internal organs are at risk of damage in a crash.

  7. I have realized some essential things through your website post. One other thing I would like to state is that there are lots of games available and which are designed particularly for preschool age children. They include things like pattern acknowledgement, colors, pets, and shapes. These usually focus on familiarization rather than memorization. This keeps a child engaged without experiencing like they are learning. Thanks

  8. I am not pleased with additional government regulation “for your own good.” Last time I checked, all children are issued two adults who are, or should be, capable of making sound decisions for their child(ren). (this is an excellent reason that people should not reproduce outside of marriage — those too immature to make a life-time commmitment to the other parent are too immature to parent alone. I know this is controversial, but it is time-tested.) So, why not allow parents to choose for their own children, rather than imposing laws that overstep the proper bounds of government? Why not require that all mothers breast-feed for at least two years, since that is known to be best for both infant and mother? Why not require that mothers stay at home until thier children are five or six, another thing we can prove is best for children?

    I suppose that boosters are safer for many children, but this rule discriminates against poorer families who simply cannot afford extra equipment for extra years. I never had a baby seat, let alone a booster until I was “big enough,” and I turned out just fine.

    Further, it is simply not true that short adults, under 5 feet or just a little taller, are allowed to choose for their own safety. I’m only 5″3 and 1/2, and I am still ordered not to disable the airbag in my vehicle. only people over 5″4 are safer with an airbag than without. I risk having my wrists broken every time I drive with an airbag, and I also risk other injuries from the airbag itself. Yet the law does not accomodate my safety, does not allow me to choose for myself. This is wrong!

    I week or so ago, my adult son had been engaged in physical labor that left his shoulder very sore. He chose to use the lap portion and put the shoulder part behind his back, for his own safety. Infortunately, that day, he passed through one of those unconstitutional traffic checks, and was fined for using his head instead of blindly obeying the “for your own good” law. Suppose he had a broken collar bone or rib, and an accident had resulted in further complications, such as a punctured lung or heart? No, the laws that are “for our own good” are not for our good, but for the convenience of others. In this case of seat belt laws, it is for the profit margin of insurance companies.

    I know some of you will say, but the courts say such traffic checks are constitutional. To you I say, did you forget the preamble? The constitution belongs to we the people and is not the exclusive domain of bad, constitution hating judges. e have a right to oppose judges who overstep their bounds by making up interpretations not rooted in the actual words. And the actual words of the Constitution do not allow for any warrantless searches. When was the last time an officer checking your liscence and seat-belt compliance showed you a warrant? Never, because they don’t have them. Warrantless searches are always and forever forbidden. Constitutionally, no judge has the authority to rewrite that provision.

    I know the cops at the traffic checks don’t have warrants, because they search anyone who happens by, not just people named in the warrant. According to the actual wording of the Constitution, ny warrant must be issued on probable cause, and must specify who or what location shall be searched, and what evidence or person is sought. Since no one can predict precisely who will pass though one of these routine stops, they cannot list all the people or all the autos that will be searched, or else the cops would let most of us go through unmolested, all of us not specifically named in the warrant. What ever happened to innocent until proven guilty and not having to testify against ourselves?

    When a thing is for my own good, you do not have to make it law. Just present me with the evidence, and thus persuade me. For this reason, and not because of overweening laws, I have been consistent with seat belt use all my adult life, and have required my children, while they were children, to use them consistently. (No, my son was not being inconsistent, he was being rational, judging when ordinary seat belt use was not in his best interest.)

    So, for those still sure I’m wrong, why don’t we have seat belts on school busses? Why don’t we at least have a bar that drops down like on roller coasters and many other rides? Why aren’t there boosters for those busses. Is the safety yellow paint a magical talisman against accidents and injuries? Of course not! No, we don’t require school busses to have seat belts or boosters because of the difficulty in fitting each child correctly, and a bad fit is possibly worse than no restraint. But mostly, it is because the same nanny-state meddlers who tell us what to do in our own autos “for out own good” do not actually care about the safety of children when they are being bussed to state-owned schools to be indoctrinated in falsehoods like that the government has the power to order people to do things “for their own good.”

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