For most in the natural parenting community, it comes as no surprise that rear-facing is recommended up until a child turns three. Many of us have been using convertible car seats to do this for years.
I have heard some scoff at the idea of twelve-year-olds in booster seats. In fact, the recommendation does not say that all children should ride in a booster seat until age 12. At 5'6", I would have outgrown my booster seat long before that age. What it does say is that the car's shoulder belt should fit across the middle of the chest and shoulder and the lap belt low and snug on the hips and upper thighs. Most children are ready to graduate from the booster at about 4 feet 9 inches (57 inches or 145 centimeters) tall and between 8 and 12 years old. My children's growth patterns do not suggest that they will be under 57 inches at age 12, but if they are, frankly I care more about their safety than about looking "weird." The AAP doesn't say it, but perhaps some older children--or even smaller adults--might benefit from a booster.
Keep in mind that these recommendations are only applicable until your child outgrows the seat. Rear facing is not safer if that means a 50-pound child is riding in a car seat only rated up to 40 pounds. The main points I gather from the new recommendations are these:
- Keep your child rear facing until at least age two, preferably longer if the height and weight limits of your seat allow it.
- Make sure that the seat or belt fits properly. Your child should meet the seat's height and weight limits and the belts should lie in the proper position (if you have any questions, follow the link below).
- Keep kids in the back seat until 13 years of age.
It's that simple. :) For more information about car seat safety, including pictures of safe configurations, see the car seat guide at healthychildren.org.