Since 1997, most television programs have been labeled with a content rating. Designed to help parents make smart viewing choices for their children, this system uses several ratings levels as well as content descriptors to show what ages a program is suitable for. When the ratings went into effect, a monitoring board was created to help ensure that they were accurate and consistent.
Content ratings appear in the upper left corner of the TV screen during the first 15 seconds of a TV show. Parents can use the following guidelines to determine whether or not the program is suitable for family viewing.
Programs with the TV-Y rating are meant to be appropriate for children ages two and up. The whole family can sit and watch these programs together without worrying about inappropriate content or thematic elements. Both live action and animated programs may have this rating. The FCC notes that TV-Y shows are “not expected to frighten younger children,” as they’re designed to cater to a young audience.
Meant for kids ages seven and older, TV-Y7 programs require the ability to tell the difference between what’s real and what’s not. Both comic and action violence are allowed at this ratings level. Young children may find some elements of these shows to be scary or unsettling. Themes are geared toward older children and may not be appropriate for those under age seven.
Like G-rated movies, TV-G programs are designed for viewers of all ages. Most parents would be comfortable letting their kids watch these programs by themselves. Violence and sexual dialogue are absent or very mild. No strong language is allowed at this ratings level.
TV-PG is a program that “contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children.” This may be in the form of mild to moderate violence, occasional strong language or passing use of suggestive dialog. Thematic elements may be geared toward an older audience as well. Parents may wish to view the program themselves before deciding whether or not they want to allow their children to watch it.
Kids under the age of 14 shouldn’t watch programs with this rating unattended. Parents should exercise strong judgment when determining whether the younger members of their family can handle the elements presented in TV-14 shows. Violence and sexual content are more intense at this level. Suggestive dialog and strong language appear more often. All four elements may be a major part of the program, meaning that it’s very important for parents to be cautious when allowing their kids to watch.
More common on cable channels than broadcast networks, the TV-MA rating is similar to an R rating for movies. Content is determined to be inappropriate for viewers under 17. Graphic violence, explicit sexual activity and excessive use of indecent or crude language appear in these programs. Adults should keep children away from the TV room when viewing these programs or view them in private to avoid exposing kids to inappropriate material.
The following content descriptors may appear along with the main content ratings to denote specific elements that may be cause for parental concern. Up to four descriptors may be used per show to provide a clearer picture of the content.
• Violence (V) – Appearing with TV-PG ratings and higher, this designation shows that a program may contain moderate to graphic violent scenes that could upset younger viewers.
• Sexual Content (S) – Warns parents against programs that contain sexual situations of varying intensity. This can range from simple romantic interactions at the TV-PG level to explicit sexual activity in TV-MA programs.
• Coarse Language (L) – Includes all forms of expletives and may appear along with TV-PG, TV-14 and TV-MA ratings.
• Suggestive Dialogue (D) – Used with TV-PG and TV-14 to warn of the use of dialogue that may be sexual in nature. Intensity will vary depending on the base rating level.
• Fantasy Violence (FV) – Used only with the TV-Y7 rating to denote the inclusion of more intense violence that may be portrayed as acceptable or even exciting. Shows containing violent action between superheroes and villains often feature this rating.
Using the TV Parental Guidelines, parents can determine before a program starts whether or not the content is appropriate for their children. These guidelines may also be used in combination with V-chip technology or cable “lockboxes” to prevent kids from viewing inappropriate programming when parents aren’t around. Ultimately it’s up to individual families to decide whether or not content is suitable.