Television and Parenting: Using Ratings In Your Household

Mercedes Samudio, LCSW by Mercedes Samudio, LCSW

tv ratingsThis week we’re continuing the series on Media, Parenting, and Kids. Moving on from movie ratings from last week [you can read that post here], let’s take a look at how tv shows and their ratings can be used to actually educate and help our kids.

I’ve come to the conclusion that my role as a parenting coach and family therapist has turned me into an avid analyzer of what and how children consume things. One of the concerns that is consistently brought to me from parents I work with is tv shows and their content. I personally think that parents should monitor their child’s tv consumption up until a certain age. But, professionally, I believe that parents should also use tv as a way to bring up discussions that they may be uncomfortable and/or unsure of how to discuss.

The television arena is saturated with everything from wholesome, silly cartoons to racy, adult-themed television series. Many of parents have given up on trying to stop their child from watching this or that. But, what can you do parents is you are concerned about what your child is watching? Let’s go ahead and delve into that:

TV In Your House

Growing up there were only two televisions in the house: in the living room and in my mom’s room. Sneaking to watch something that was more adult was a tricky and dangerous affair for me and my cousins! We had to always wait for the adults to be gone for a few hours or be really quiet when they were sleep. On the same note, we knew that all the adult shows we wanted to see came on after 9pm, so trying to stay up longer than our parents was an even bigger feat.

Today’s television environment is no longer so tricky to navigate. But, here are some tips  I teach my parents to do to make tv a non-threatening advesary in their home:

  • Find out what you child watches – try to keep an open mind while watching one to two episodes of your child’s favorite show before judging
  • Talk about what is appropriate to watch – after watching the show your child loves start a discussion on what is appropriate to watch in the house
  • Set up a time to watch certain shows together – which the amazing invention that is DVR you can actually record a certain show to ewatch with your child if you feel the themes are too adult, but not too offensive
  • Use the show as a talking point – use shows that have age-appropriate content to discuss issues that may be affecting your child at the time

So many shows on tv now days have some level of adult or mature content. Which basically means that you’ll have to outright cut out television or keep you child watching cartoons [this tactic won’t work on tweens/teens]. What will work, and keep the arguments down in the house, is knowing what a tv rating is and how to use it to determine if the show is suitable for your child.

The TV Ratings System

Unfortunately, there is no MPAA sanctioned ratings systems for television. However, television shows do have their wn separate ratings. These ratings are actually more descriptive than movie ratings and really focus not just on the overall content, but also on specific reasons for the tv ratings.

Most ratings show up either before the shows starts as its own title card [mostly on more adult themed shows] or iin the upper right corner of the screen for the first few minutes after the show starts [usually for more child/younger audience themed shows].

Let’s take a look at the more general ratings that you’ll see:

TV Y – This rating lets you know that the show is for all children; there is also a TV Y7 which denotes the show is for children over 7 years old. Many of these shows are cartoons and fantasy violence shows like Phineas and Ferb or Star Wars: Clone Wars

TV G – This rating is similar to TV Y, but may have a bit more content for older children, meaning that the themes might not hold a younger child’s attention. A show with this rating should not have strong language and no sexual content. Shows that carry this rating include most competition shows like American Idol.

TV PG – This rating is for more adult themed shows that still have a moderate level of strong language, violence, and sexual content. These shows are probably more appropriate for tweens and teens. Shows with this rating include most Nickelodeon and Disney preteen shows like iCarly or Sonny with a Chance

TV14 – At this rating, the show is pure adult content, full of strong language, violence, and sexual content. The rating is usually accompanied by the following specifiers: dialogue (D), language (L), sexual situations (S), or violence (V). Shows that carry this rating are many reality shows, most music television shows, and many CW, CBS, and ABC shows.

TV MA – The last rating is the most mature because along with all that comes with a TV 14 show there is most likely actually nudity, strong language in every line of dialogue, and realistic violence. The shows that carry this rating are usually cable shows like Justified, American Horror Story, and True Blood.


Overall, just like movie ratings, use this post as a way to begin to set guidelines in your home for how your child consumes television. It shouldn’t be a power struggle conversation, but rather a way for you and your child to discuss what’s appropriate. And, yes, you should have this conversation with your children’s input! Along with having a discussion, parents can also place restrictions on the types of shows their child can watch. I’ve listed some resources below to help parents find a parental control system that works for their family!




 TV Ratings Resources:

TV Ratings Explained

Pause Parent Play

TV Parental Control Resources:

Control Your TV



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