Your teenager has access to an astounding number of television shows today. And if the hundreds of channels on cable television weren’t enough already, the rise of streaming services over the last few years expanded their options to an almost unimaginable extent. You could spend your entire life watching TV shows and never scratch the surface of the millions of hours of content available.
It was easier to monitor their television use in the past when it was limited to the living room TV set. You could pop your head in and watch for a few minutes to make sure they weren’t observing anything inappropriate. The ever-increasing number of channels often came equipped with systems that enabled you to set parental controls and maintain limits.
But kids can watch TV on anything with a screen nowadays, from traditional TV sets to laptops to tablets to cell phones. Television isn’t restricted to cable or streaming services, either. Kids can watch shows on dozens of different websites where people can upload videos.
All this means parents have more questions about all these shows than ever before.
How can I possibly know what my teen watches?
Which shows are appropriate, and which should I keep them away from?
What can I do to monitor their TV watching but allow them the space to be themselves?
We have good answers for all three of these questions: read on to learn what teens are watching on TV.
The New Paradigm: Streaming and Binging
Popular TV shows shift much faster today than they did in the past. Streaming services shattered the traditional broadcast schedule from years past when most shows aired one episode each week. Today, shows often release full seasons at a time instead of keeping viewers on the hook, waiting for the next episode.
Viewing patterns have shifted with the expansion of streaming services as well. Now, many people tend to binge watch television, preferring to watch multiple episodes or even entire seasons in one sitting. According to one survey, 60 percent of respondents between the ages of 13 and 17 reported frequent binge-watching.1
This means TV shows and movies become popular quickly and then fall off the radar almost as soon as they rise to prominence. They’re closely followed by the next best show or movie, and the cycle repeats. This fast-paced world of television and movies can make it challenging to keep track of what teens are watching on TV right now.
Let’s take a look at what teens are watching now – but fair warning: this list could change very quickly.
What Teens Are Watching
Despite the high turnover we mention above, there are a few notable shows that captured the attention of millions of teens over the last few years. The following are some of the most popular – and not all of them are appropriate for teens.
Riverdale is a show based on the classic Archie comic strip with a dark twist. It follows the antics of a group of teens in a small town after the murder of a local teen. The show includes some questionable material, including an affair between a teacher and a 15-year-old student, as well as some partial nudity, adult language, and occasional violence.
Common Sense Media rates this show as appropriate for ages 14+. Parents and teens rate this show as appropriate for ages 13+.
Stranger Things has held the rapt attention of its viewers since season one dropped in 2016. This intriguing supernatural drama is set in the 1980s and centers around a group of young adolescent friends. The show contains violence and intense slasher scenes which depict characters as they’re attacked by frightening monsters. Language is mainly mild, though, and sex and romance are limited. The horror side of the show might be frightening for some younger teens, but overall – this show is nothing for parents to worry about.
Common Sense Media rates this show as appropriate for ages 14+. Parents and teens rate this show as appropriate for ages 12+.
Umbrella Academy tells the story of a group of adopted siblings who have superpowers and aim to save the world from the approaching apocalypse. The show mostly foregoes sex and nudity in exchange for sometimes extreme instances of violence and gore. It depicts the siblings fighting the bad guys using often intense methods. The show contains adult language, substance use, and mature themes. It’s primary audience is young adults, but it may be of interest to teen fans of the graphic novel of the same name.
Common Sense Media rates this show as appropriate for ages 13+. Parents rate this show as appropriate for ages 13+, and teens rate this show as appropriate for ages 12+.
Euphoria is a popular show among adults but many adolescents are finding their way to it as well. The dark drama features heavy subject matter. The main character struggles addiction, alongside the typical challenges of adolescence. The boundary-pushing show includes drugs, sex, sexual violence, extreme language, and assault. To be honest, we think this show may not be appropriate for the average teenager. If your teen wants to watch this show, we suggest watching it first.
Common Sense Media rates this show as appropriate for ages 18+. Parents rate this show as appropriate for ages 16+, and teens rate this show as appropriate for ages 15+.
13 Reasons Why
13 Reasons Why contains some of the most intense but pressing subject matter for young teens. Adapted from the young adult novel by the same name, the show centers around a student’s death by suicide and her reasons for the act. It depicts graphic and painful scenes of sexual assault. Initially, the show included a scene portraying the main character’s suicide, but that scene that has since been deleted. Parents should be very wary of young teens watching this show alone.
Common Sense Media rates this show as appropriate for ages 16+. Parents and teens rate this show as appropriate for ages 15+.
Watch With Your Kids
The best way to keep an eye on your teen’s television time is to sit down and watch with them: yes, we mean literally keep an eye on it.
Dr. Jon Duffy, Chicago-based author and therapist, offered this excellent piece of advice in a recent interview with CNN:
“The most underrated parenting tool is the pause button on your TV remote.”
Duffy suggests that instead of placing all-out bans on some shows, sit down with your teen and watch them together instead.
Some of the more controversial shows reveal problems that your teen or their friends face in their real lives, whether you want to recognize it or not. TV shows can serve as a springboard for difficult conversations about topics you may not otherwise know how to approach.
Shows like 13 Reasons Why and Euphoria are rife with challenging subjects that often directly affect your teen.
“It’s better to be in on that conversation and use that pause button to talk about it,” Duffy says. “[Better] than being completely out of it altogether and in the dark about what your child is watching.”
Child and adolescent psychologist Lisa Ramirez, speaking in the same interview with CNN, echoed Duffy’s thoughts on teens and TV. “The challenge is, once they hit 15, you can’t really regulate what they watch,” she said. “The effort to be helpful to them has to come much more in the form of having meaningful conversations.”
Consider sitting and watching shows with your teen instead of leaving them to navigate their viewing alone. It’s better to have a platform to talk with them about these difficult topics than it is to attempt to stifle them entirely. If you use their favorite TV shows as a way to connect, rather than a source of conflict, you’ll learn more about them, they’ll more about you, and the experience can actually improve your relationship.
- Statista. (2022). Share of adults who frequently binge-watch TV shows or films in a series.
- CNN. (2022). Should your teens be watching ‘Euphoria’?.
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