When to Start your Child on an ATV and which ATV to Buy Them

ATV’s are no longer an adults only activity. This past time is becoming more and more kid friendly with many options available for kids of all ages, which can make finding the right ATV for your child more daunting than expected. Between recommended ages, weights and heights as well as all the options ATV’s come with, it can be a little overwhelming to buy the right ATV at the right investment point for your growing little one. If you know that ATV’s are going to be a part of your family life for a long time, there is really no wrong time to start looking.  Although there is no wrong time to look, there are some things you should consider before making any big purchase.  Major considerations we will be discussing in this article are child’s age, skill level, weight, experience and activity level.  While this article is intended to help you in your decision making, ATV Man and its owners do not recommend any certain age to allow children to drive an ATV and always recommend you use good judgment and follow the law wherever you may be residing.  Also, check out your State’s laws to determine restrictions on riding age and ATV size for children.

This is me taking my nephew out for a ride a few years back.

Child’s (Developmental) Age

Putting your newborn child on an ATV still is not recommended, but you may no longer need to wait years to start exposing your child to the world of ATV’s.  Giving your child control over something motorized does not need to be as scary as it seems as long as you are shopping for the developmentally appropriate product.  There is a distinct difference between developmental age and actual age. Each child develops at a different rate and will therefore be ready for different products at different times.

As a basis, a child is ready to begin their ATV experience when they have some possession of their basic motor skills, can follow directions, and exhibit some sort of discretion.  Although my daughter was walking at nine months old, she had zero discretion about where she chose to walk and never followed direction!  Before they meet these three qualifications, it is best that they keep their feet firmly planted on the ground. Luckily, most kids have reached these basic milestones by the time they are 18 months.

When your child has reached these milestones, or maybe surpassed them it doesn’t mean that they are ready for just any ATV out there.  Expecting your kids to be successful with an ATV that is too large or too powerful for them can create tense situations for your child as well as yourself and create an ultimately negative experience.

For early beginners, typically 18 months to 3 years old, it is best to keep it simple with electric cars that are sold at most toy or big box stores. (The closest model we love for our kids is available on Amazon)  These battery-powered machines give your child exposure to being in control without any major threat of danger (if used under responsible supervision).  You, as a parent, can easily keep up and keep in control when they run into curbs, cars, basketball hoops or anything else your little one may find.  These machines do not offer a lot in terms of power or suspension so they are best for neighborhood riding.  These low impact ATV’s are also recommended if you have a timid child.  The comfort of sitting in a position that is similar to riding in a car for their first time taking control is less intimidating than handing over the reins in a position that is totally new.  Eventually, you will be able to sit back and watch your child buzz around the neighborhood as they develop an understanding of steering and control.

For parents who wait a little longer to start their kids out, typically 4-6 years old, there is a lot more options available and considerations to make.  Developmentally, your child is probably walking and running more confidently, understanding direction more clearly and making decisions more thoughtfully than even a year prior.  This all adds up to them being able to handle a little bit more power, but how much is the question every parent wonders.  Youth ATV’s come in two types: gas and electric.  For this age group, starting them with an electric powered ATV is the safer and oft recommended choice.  Electric ATV’s are slower, quieter and have a more consistent acceleration than gas ATV’s, which require more discretion on the driver’s part. Even though electric ATV’s do not have as much power as gas powered ATV’s, it does not mean they are lacking any power at all.  Electric ATV’s often come with the ability to set different maximum speeds so your child can have fun flooring it at a slower speed until they are ready to really test some limits.

For kids who are starting even later than that, 7-10 years old, it is still recommended to start with an electric ATV rather than a gas-powered machine.  At this point, many parents may be concerned about wasting money on an electric machine because they have less suspension, power and acceleration than their gas powered counterparts.  This is a valid concern since wasting money is a headache for everyone. Well fear not, many of the electric machines can accelerate to 15 mph, which would mean you would need to run a 4 minute mile to keep up on a family walk.  These machines are powerful enough to take your child’s decision making skills and handling skills to the next level without giving them too much power too soon.

As your child continues to get older the actual age becomes less and less important, and skill level, weight, experience and activity level matter much more.

Skill Level

Like any other sport or activity, increased skill is a matter of time, exposure and practice.  Possessing a realistic understanding of your child’s current skill level, as well as the skill level you hope for them to obtain on a certain vehicle, will make sure that you are not wasting your time or money on an ATV that is either too big or too small for your child.

With children 18 months to 3 years developing an awareness of the things around them, the process of controlling the speed and direction of the ATV and quickly following direction are paramount.  Each of these skills seems easy but in reality, they take time and practice.  An ATV that is too powerful could easily overwhelm any child or parent; therefore, making riding a stressful situation rather than the enjoyable one it should be.

Once your child has mastered the basics, they are more prepared to handle a little bit of power.  For children 4-6 years old, this means that they can get some speed and power behind the throttle.  This will help your child develop their reaction speed and decision making.

If your child is starting a little later in life, then the skills will most likely be acquired and mastered much more quickly, but this does not always mean they are ready for a bigger machine.  Although they will become a competent rider much more quickly than young riders, they will also have less time to make errors with smaller and generally slower ATVs.  Giving a child too much power too soon is a recipe for disaster, so if you feel your child has the skill level for a more powerful ATV, but has had little experience, you will either want to take a step back and downgrade to a lower cc or dedicate a lot of time to on-hands supervised practice before assuming they have developed the skill necessary for the bigger ATV.

Our four-year old daughter, who is only 19 months older than our three-year old, handles this little electric ATV with so much more control, confidence and skill than her sister.


The biggest mistake any parent can make is purchasing an ATV based solely on the manufacturer’s age recommendation.  Just because your child is “old enough” for a particular ATV does not mean that it will be a positive experience. More important than the age suggestion for a machine is the weight requirement of that ATV.  ATV’s are large and heavy machines, especially as you move out of the smaller machines with plastic frames.  If your child is not able to easily maneuver their ATV, several things may happen.  They may become frustrated with the whole experience and not want to ride anymore, or even worse, they may cause an accident if they cannot control the ATV while riding.

Weight, or the strength of your child, is difficult to judge since both practice and growth will often make this point moot in the near future, but a place to start is your child’s ability to climb on and move an ATV in a showroom.  If your child is easily able to mount and steer a sedentary ATV, they should be able to handle a similarly sized ATV on the move.  Even if you are not considering an ATV in your local showroom, it is an easy way to determine the size of an ATV you are comfortable getting for your child. If your child cannot climb onto an ATV or easily move the handlebars, it is best to start looking at a smaller options.  If they are not able to sit comfortably on an ATV, or can easily whip the handlebars back and forth, it is best to begin looking at something a little larger.

You can always check out our complete guide to ATV weight if you have questions about how much each sized ATV will weigh.

Experience and Activity Level

Which ATV you decide to purchase will be based primarily on the age, weight, and capabilities of your child, but one consideration that should not be overlooked is your child’s experience as well as their activity level (strictly related to riding).  If you have a child who has been riding since they were young or is riding weekly now that they have begun, they may be more capable of handling an ATV with more power or suspension.  This does not, however, translate into a bigger ATV because no matter their experience level, a child should never be put on an ATV that is too large for them to safely handle.  Within any class of ATV’s there can be a large variance in size and weight so you can find a smaller machine with the same amount of power.  Luckily, the older your child gets the more options you have with varying ranges of power and suspension in every size of ATV.

Beginning a search for any new vehicle is always a little daunting.  There seems to be millions of different makes, models, sizes, option and colors.  The process, however, does not need to be overwhelming.  The considerations discussed above will give clarity to any shopping experience.  By mapping out your child’s age, skill level, weight, and experience and activity level, you will be prepared to waste little time on ATV’s that will not provide your child with what they need for their current and future riding career!

Notice the supervision occurring here while our four-year old was riding around the neighborhood.

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