I have always been what many might consider a car seat freak. I am the one who watches the crash safety videos, and I was the mom who took the car seat safety certification just so I could know all I could know.
But as more and more research comes out about how to protect our littles, it seems that things okay just a few years ago when my little was little are no longer the recommendation. For instance, I'd completely forgotten that once your child weighs over 40 pounds, the latch system connection is typically not advised as the safest installation for a car seat/booster.
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Now the American Academy of Pediatrics has released new guidelines, as well as graphics to help make the changes easier to understand and follow.
The Academy officially recommends rear-facing until the age of two. Previously, the guideline was to keep children rear-facing 'as long as possible,' with a minimum age and weight combo of one year and 20 pounds. And even that was ambiguous, as parents would listen to either/or part of that recommendation, often leaving children under 20 pounds at risk when forward-facing.
Now pediatricians make it perfectly clear: children should be rear-facing until two-years-old, regardless of weight (or length).
Interestingly, many other countries require rear-facing of children until the child is four-years-old, so America is just now catching on to the research that says there is a 75% less likely chance a child will be injured in a crash if they are rear-facing.
Once children hit the age of two, state laws vary (which is pretty scary in some states!) and the Academy recommends that children stay in their seats until they have reached the height or weight limit the car-seat maximum is made for. All children should be in a booster until they are at least 4'9" and at least eight years old. I'm 4'10", so I barely make the cutoff, but you better believe if my little guy is on the smaller end like I am? He'll be the middle-schooler riding in the booster seat. He'll survive the embarrassment...
Related: Study: Buckling Up Could Save Over 200 Children Each Year
As middle-schoolers go, the AAP clarified guidelines for children under thirteen years of age. They need to stay in the back seat, no matter what state law allows. Some states allow children to sit in the front seat as early as eight years old, while others already follow the 13-year recommendation, and the CDC recommends 12, but the AAP says that airbags can be dangerous for children under 13, regardless.
So keep them in the backseat, keep the little littles rear-facing at least until they are two, and read the instruction manual on your car-seat to be sure you know maximum weight limits and recommendations.
If you need help, you can always find a certified child passenger safety technician.