Your Big Kid Needs A Booster Seat Longer Than You Think

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 
Eastern Virginia Medical School / Facebook

You know that feeling when you come across something that scares the living daylights out of you — but in a good way? This morning, I found a video about booster seat use for older kids that did just that. I mean, talk about eye-opening. And honestly, anyone with a child between the ages of 4 and 12 (or who knows one) needs to watch this video ASAFP.

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The short, powerful, and eerily realistic video was produced by Eastern Virginia Medical School and posted on their Facebook page.

The video depicts a kid (almost 10 years old) who is going out for a car ride with his mom. When I saw the kid, sitting in the back seat like he should be, buckled in, I thought he looked pretty safe, to be honest. But all of that changed when the car — which is going slowly down a quiet street — got into a serious auto accident.

After the accident, both the mom and kid look pretty banged up. But it’s the boy who is knocked unconscious and with what appear to be much more severe injuries. As he is rushed to the hospital, phrases like “damage to major organs” and “injuries to neck and vital structures” are heard muttered in the background by the EMTs tending to him.

When the boy is laid out on a stretcher, and hooked up to oxygen and machinery at the hospital, you see his mother in the background, desperate and crying, wondering how this could have happened — and whether her beloved boy is going to be okay.

As a mom to two boys myself, there were moments in the video when I broke down, because I could have easily been that mom, too, wondering if my sweet son — who was just smiling happily in the back seat moments ago — would survive.

And you could be that mom too.

It could happen to any of us.

So the question is: If both the mom and her son were buckled in, why was the boy the only one who was seriously injured?

Well, it turns out that even though this woman’s son was a big kid, he still needed to be in a booster seat. In fact, most kids his age still need to be in a booster.

That’s pretty surprising, huh? After all, he’s almost 10 years old.

Don’t worry — if you didn’t know most kids that age still need to be in a booster, you are not alone. Unfortunately, most parents don’t know this vital piece of information.

“Many parents think as their child is in the back seat with an adult seat belt, that their kid is safe. And it’s just not the case,” says Phillip Thomas, MD, one of the doctors interviewed in the video.

According to Car Seat Safety Now, kids should only really “graduate” from their booster when they are 4 feet 9 inches, which is usually sometime between the ages of 8 and 12, though I suspect most 8- and 9-year-olds are nowhere near that height requirement.

Dr. Thomas goes on to describe some of the very dire and frightening consequences of not properly restraining your older child in a booster seat if they still need one.

“Far too often, you see many kids come in with internal organ damage, damage to the large vessels,” he explains in the Eastern Virginia Medical School video. Dr. Thomas explains that not putting your child in a booster puts the child’s internal structures at risk, including those at the neck, the spinal column, and some “crucial vasculature” as well. “All due to improper use of adult safety belts in kids that should have otherwise been in a booster seat,” he explains.


It’s important to note that these horrible tragedies don’t just happen on busy highways or during the nighttime hours. As Georjeane L. Blumling, PhD, and CPS instructor explains in the video: “An unrestrained child, even at 30 miles an hour, will experience the same force as if they fell out of a third-story window. Children simply do not fit in a vehicle with an adult seat belt until they are at least 4-foot-9.”

I recently moved my almost 11-year-old out of his booster. In New York, where I live, kids are required to be in boosters until 8 years old, so I thought I’d kept him in a booster for longer than most — and I had taken a quick look at the criteria for kids his age, thinking he seemed to fit the requirements for ditching the booster.

But after watching this video, I’m getting out the tape measure. I will definitely be reviewing the booster seat requirements extremely carefully.

For some further assistance, the good people at Eastern Virginia Medical School point all viewers to Car Seat Safety Now, a website that has an easy “Safety Belt Fit Test” that you can use to figure out if your big kid still needs to use their booster seat.

Here are some key points to keep in mind when determining if your child should be using a booster seat (courtesy of Car Seat Safety Now):

1. When sitting all the way in the back of the seat (butt in back, back resting against seat), your child’s feet must bend at the edge of the seat, and their feet must touch the floor. The lap belt must fit low, snug across the hips, resting on the upper thigh area.

Eastern Virginia Medical School / Facebook

2. The shoulder strap should cross the chest and rest on the shoulder (not on the neck).

Eastern Virginia Medical School / Facebook

3. Knees should be bent at the edge of the seat, with the foot resting flat on the floor.

Eastern Virginia Medical School / Facebook

4. And here’s the most important part: Your child must be able to stay in this position for the duration of the trip (no flailing around, slouching, putting the seat belt behind the back, or other funny business).

Eastern Virginia Medical School / Facebook

It should also be noted that, regardless of booster use, all kids should sit in the back seat until at least 13 years old, and that you should check with your booster seat manufacturer for proper usage of your specific booster seat.

Phew. I know that’s all a lot to digest and process (that’s why I added in a few pictures because I can almost never figure this stuff out without visual aids). And it’s definitely scary to hear about all the things that could have gone wrong for the months or years that you may have not been “doing it right.”

Probably the most important piece of car seat advice I’ve ever heard is to never be concerned about whether your car seat use is “fun,” convenient, or whether other parents are doing it. Your big kids are definitely going to complain that they are the only ones still in a booster (believe me, I’ve been there). And it may seem like you’re the overprotective, overbearing parent.

But listen up: None. Of. That. Matters. What matters is the safety and well-being of your kids above all else. So watch the video, share it, and please make sure your big kid is in a booster if they need to be. Even if that means getting their booster seat out of the garage, and putting it back into the car.

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