As a mom, you are used to having your hands full. Whether you are running errands for your kiddos, cooking meals, or driving carpools, it can sometimes feel like any moment you get to yourself is a precious commodity. So when it’s time for screen time and your kids are happily sitting in front of the TV, occupied and entertained, the last thing you want is to be worrying about whether or not they are watching something they shouldn’t be.
Parental controls can be a great help in restricting access to programs that are inappropriate for your kids, but navigating the confusing ratings and settings can be tricky. It is not always clear what kind of content each TV show contains, and you definitely don’t want to be sifting through and monitoring every single program; that would defeat the purpose. Screen time should equal mommy downtime, but only if you know your kids are safe and being protected from unwanted TV content.
In this article, we will take a look at how to determine what the TV ratings actually mean, and how to utilize parental controls to keep your kids safe while they watch TV.
Get Familiar With The Ratings Lingo
One key step to utilizing parental controls on your TVwill be deciphering the jargon. The abbreviations and levels used to convey the ratings of a particular channel or TV program can be confusing. But once you get familiar with what each rating means, you can quickly navigate whether or not the program will be appropriate for your kids. Just like movies, which use ratings from G through PG, PG-13, and R, TV ratings take into account various factors to determine which level the program should receive.
The TV rating system looks similar to the movie ratings. Let’s walk through the different levels, starting with the most widely appropriate.
Ratings For Younger Kids and All Ages
First off we have TV-Y. A program rated TV-Y should be suitable for children of all ages. You will likely want to look for TV-Y programs to show to your toddler, but these shows may be boring for older children. TV-Y programs include animated and live action shows that will not contain any content that might be frightening for children aged 2 through 6.
Once your young ones have graduated from TV-Y, the next step will be TV-Y7. TV-Y7 programs are designated for older children, who have a clearer and more sophisticated understanding of the difference between fantasy and the real world. Children under aged 7 may find some of the themes frightening or confusing, but for children above that age, certain scenes of slapstick, fantasy, or silly violence should be appropriate.
The Pokémon or Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series are good examples of the kind of content you can expect to see on TV-Y7 shows, whereas shows like Paw Patrol or Shaun the Sheep are perfect for TV-Y viewers. Some shows in the TV-Y7 ratings category may have particularly intense elements of fantasy violence, and those may be highlighted with a TV-Y7-FV rating. Avatar: The Last Airbender, for example, is an action-adventure cartoon series that includes some variations on martial arts. The show features a lot of scenes of fighting that may be too intense for particularly sensitive viewers of that age group.
TV-G indicates a program that is appropriate for a general TV audience (G stands for General). TV-G programs are family friendly, and usually suitable for even very young children. These TV shows and TV movies don’t have violence, strong language, or sexual content that would make them inappropriate for children. Most classic TV shows, like Happy Days, Bewitched, and The Love Boat are rated TV-G, as are Disney hits like Phineas & Ferb, Timon and Pumbaa, and DuckTales. You should feel safe letting your kids watch TV-G programs unattended.
And, finally, TV-PG. TV-PG stands for “parental guidance suggested”. These are programs that will require you to make a case-by-case judgement, or watch them together with your children. The TV show in question might have earned this rating for a particular theme that addresses more mature issues, or it might have some mild swearing, moderate violence, or suggestive dialogue not suited to the youngest of kids. Of course, you may decide that a TV show you would feel comfortable watching together with your kids is okay for them to watch alone; the TV-PG rating indicates that there might be something that requires a closer look. WandaVision, Modern Family, and Friends are all included in the TV-PG category.
Ratings For Older Kids and Adults
As your children grow and mature, you will of course have to continually adjust the levels of parental control to match what is suitable for them. But in the meantime, you may want to make it a general rule to restrict the following categories.
Parents are strongly cautioned to prevent their children below aged 14 from watching programs rated TV-14. Shows rated TV-14 may be appropriate to watch together, or not at all. They may include strong language, more intense violence, sexual situations, or very suggestive dialogue. Using the parental controls on your device, you can restrict younger children from accidentally stumbling upon any program rated TV-14 or above. To give you a better sense of what this rating entails, think of shows like The Office and Law & Order that have garnered a TV-14 rating.
The most mature rating is TV-MA, which indicates a program that is strictly suited to adults. Game of Thrones, Peaky Blinders, and The Crown all fall under the TV-MA category, which can indicate mature themes, very intense violence, explicit sexual scenes, extremely coarse language, and very suggestive or explicit dialogue. In other words, steer clear for your kids.
How to Sift Through the Ratings
Now that you have a better sense of what each ratings category implies, let’s get into the specifics. Each program will not only have a rating, but will also, much of the time, offer some helpful additional abbreviations to guide you as to what the problematic content of the program might be. These include: V for violence, S for sexual situations, D for suggestive dialogue (which usually refers to dialogue of a sexual nature), L for “mature” language, and FV for fantasy violence (which only applies to ratings below TV-PG). Use the parental controls on your TV to determine which specific elements you would like to filter out of your children’s screen time.
Some Important Questions to Keep in Mind
As you try to determine which level of viewing will be appropriate for your child, or children, you consider some specific questions, such as: what worldview does the particular show present? Is it something you would want your child to be exposed to? What about the bad language: which words are used, and is there any context provided? Do characters learn from their actions, or is violence glorified in the program?
Sometimes a TV show presents a world that may include mild suggestive language or elements of violence, but the show presents them in such a way that your children can learn something, or can understand that there are consequences to actions. Consider whether the show may be troubling for your child, given their specific sensibilities. If you feel they are ready for whichever show or ratings level you have chosen, then set your parental controls to that, and breathe easy as you enjoy that precious free time.
Written by: Mira Kellingham