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When you’re a movie lover and fan of great TV, nothing is more exciting than raising kids who appreciate this kind of screen time as much as you do.
Thankfully, the film and television industry has made many kid movies more palatable to parents via clever writing and wit, but the day will come before you know it when it’s time to move out of the G and PG world, and into the next.
I have found there to be a slippery period from around nine- to thirteen-years-old, when their interest in older content is genuine, but the suitability varies—despite the rating. Sometimes the shows or movies have a scary element, other times they address topics your kid isn’t ready to process yet. This is why it’s always good to either watch the content first, get referrals from trusted friends, or use parental guidelines sites like Common Sense Media.
Consider me your trusted friend today, for below I’m sharing a handful of TV shows and movies that I’ve watched with my kids in that age range. For those of us with more than one kid, it can be hard to find something that both will like. These should do the trick, so grab some popcorn and get a-watching!
(PG) Reality TV show
What’s it about? Three (very) amateur bakers take on two challenges to try to win over comedian Nicole Byer, chocolatier Jacques Torres, and a guest judge in order to win a $10,000 prize.
Why watch it? This is a fun show with a good attitude about trying hard and the pleasure in imperfections. The good-natured laughter is infectious, the silliness perfect for young or old, the challenges tempting to those who like taking risks in their own kitchen.
Who is it really for? This genuinely is one for all ages. While it’s definitely PG, side-splitting funny lady Nicole is known for much naughtier content in her other projects, and sometimes a non-PG remark or joke will slip in. These usually go over the heads of young kids.
(TV-Y7) TV series
What’s it about? On the cusp of entering high school, best friends discover one of them has cancer, but she’s not going to let that get in her way of fitting in.
Why watch it? The C Word might scare some people off, but it’s simply the thing that interrupts their normal world—it isn’t the focus of the show. They are high school freshman dealing with all the usual stuff like crushes and mean girls and worries and parents and being there for one another like true best friends do. It’s also nice to see realistic modern families onscreen.
Who is it really for? The young rating may make some older kids not give it a chance, but there’s a lot of stuff going on that tweens and teens can relate to, as well as plenty of laughs.
(TV-Y7) Animated TV show
What’s it about? A teenage boy finds an amulet (or does it find him?), gifting him with the honor of being a Trollhunter who keeps humans safe from the evil trolls who live hidden from sight—and befriending the good ones.
Why watch it? I was happily surprised by the depth of what I assumed would just be a cute cartoon. Cleverly written in a way that appeals to little kids, tweens, teens, and adults, there is something for everyone in the storytelling, humor, relationships, and emotional arcs. The main characters aren’t the only ones who grow and change over the course of the three seasons, and the program is all the better for it. Laugh-out-loud funny at times, tender at others, and sometimes it holds a mirror to what’s going on in our own world.
Who is it really for? Wonderful messaging and entertainment for all ages.
(PG) TV Series
What’s it about? A single mom raising her teen daughter in a small town.
Why watch it? Lorelei got pregnant at sixteen, then separated from her disapproving parents. Now her own daughter is sixteen, and they’re about to come back into their lives. It’s about family, forgiveness, finding joy in little things and trying for something big. The mom and daughter are BFFs, the town simply charming, the townsfolk quirky and endlessly amusing. Its imperfections make it relatable, and the snappy dialogue is cheeky fun.
Who is it really for? The non-PG stuff that comes up opens the door to good conversations with tweens who have questions about things they might not ask if the subject wasn’t flashing on the screen before you.
Hallmark Movies, Like “The Birthday Wish”
(G to PG) Made-for-TV Movies
What’s it about? The Hallmark Channel has an ongoing rotation of family-friendly made-for-TV movies, usually with a romance as a driving force.
Why watch it? These are for when you want to watch a grown-up movie with romance, but the kids want to stay by your side. Often predictable (and requiring suspension of disbelief about how people can afford the giant houses they live in doing jobs with little or no training), they’re a light entry into the world of rom-coms for interested tweens and teens. For the more woke viewers, there is also plenty of material to talk through in regards to the need for more diverse casting, actual ramifications of decisions characters make, and any concerning stereotyping that pops up now and again (particularly with the older movies).
Who is it really for? There is almost always a dead parent (usually the mom) as the motivator for the main character’s call to action or personality, but if they’re used to that from most kids’ animated features, you’re safe starting them off with these at any age. Teens will enjoy poking fun at how frequent almost-kisses happen, but the cheesiness is also a big draw.
(Not Rated) Series of Made-for-TV Movies
What’s it about? Lawyer Claire Darrow lets her estranged mother join her law firm as they rebuild a relationship.
Why watch it? A gentle entry into the mystery genre, with plenty of humor woven into the family dynamic and office setting. Each movie has its own plot that includes prison, murder, and more, but without the grit of other law dramas.
Who is it really for? Soft enough for younger tweens who want to watch grown-up television, but who-done-it enough to keep new teens interested.
What’s it about? A Cyrano de Bergerac for the cell phone ages in which a very smart girl does some very dumb things because she doesn’t think she can get the love she wants the traditional way.
Why watch it? Tweens might see this as a straight-up rom-com, making it a safe viewing choice to open up dialogues about topics such as lying, consent, revenge, pretending to be something you’re not. Teens will likely see the bad choices for what they are, but still enjoy the movie along the way.
Who is it really for? A good conversation starter for older tweens/new teens moving towards or already into the crush/dating world.
What’s it about? When a NYC professor’s boyfriend invites her to Singapore to meet his family and attend a friend’s wedding, she has no idea he comes from a family so rich it’s like entering a different universe.
Why watch it? So many interesting characters in this eye-candy of a movie (based on the best-selling book of the same name), and truly a rom-com that had all of us laughing. Personalities and behaviors included unsavory ones, reminding viewers that not everyone is kind, not all decisions clear. The genuine connections between family, friends, and loves were made all the more clear by the noise surrounding them.
Who is it really for? Definitely worthy of its PG-13 rating, this one is for kids who understand that consenting adults do share beds, kisses, flirtations. Stand-out hilarious performances by her best friend and some others keep it from getting too heavy, despite the message that the love of her life’s family may never accept her simply because she’s not rich, and what they’re going to do about that fact.
What’s it about? Teenager Simon isn’t ready to tell his family and friends he’s gay. Then someone else threatens to do it for him, unless he accepts their blackmail terms.
Why watch it? A beautifully done coming-of-age story about a kid with a loving family and great friends who just doesn’t know how to share a big part of himself with them. Then when he’s put in a bind, we watch him make choices he doesn’t want to, then the fallout of those choices. Funny, charming, cringe-worthy, and at times quite moving, all in the relatable backdrop of high school.
Who is it really for? Both entertains and gives some positive lessons about being authentic, humility, and decision-making. There’s a little language and some slang references that kids will either get and snicker over or completely miss. Nothing too adult for tweens here, as long as there’s a parent around to talk through some of the not-so-good decisions made along the way.
(PG) Animated Movie
What’s it about? Just when high schooler Miles Morales accepts becoming the new Spider-Man, there’s a hole torn in the multiverse allowing five other versions of the webbed hero into his New York City, just in time to fight some really bad villains.
Why watch it? Incredible visuals, a diverse cast, plot twists, familiar characters showing new sides of themselves: this movie is the fresh, moving, funny, unique addition to the Spider-Man franchise we needed. Hands-down the best one yet.
Who is it really for? Violence is softened just enough to keep from scaring younger kids, but emotion, humor, and an incredible soundtrack keep tweens and teens enthralled.
What’s it about? In the future when the creator of a virtual reality world dies, everyone takes on the challenge to find the keys that could win them his endless riches.
Why watch it? This is a story about believing in yourself, friendship, and going all in, told in a visually stunning way that waves back and forth between reality and the virtual reality world people spend a lot of time in.
Who is it really for? Action-packed, this sci-fi film can get intense at times, and the older rating is due to video game violence/gore, cursing, and an overall bleakness at times. It’s also fast-paced, so if your kid doesn’t like what’s on the screen during one challenge (for example, zombies) or if you don’t want to see parts of “The Shining” reenacted (hello, elevator blood), you can close your eyes because the next challenge is going to be something else entirely.
What’s it about? Oops! My crew left me on Mars. What now?
Why watch it? While a movie about a guy left alone on a desolate planet might seem boring, this one is full of humor and action, as well as great examples of ingenuity, hope, and working together to solve a problem.
Who is it really for? I’d say PG-13 is playing it safe for this movie. There are a few intense scenes, but they don’t last long and nothing too graphic happens during them. There’s some cursing, but wouldn’t you expect some bad language in this situation? Finally, there’s a very quick flash of a naked man from the back, but it’s not sexualized at all, for it’s showing the toll this experience has taken on him. If your kid can handle these things, it’s a wonderful movie in many ways.
What’s it about? It’s 1987, and a girl named Charlie feels completely alone. So of course she stumbles upon Bumblebee, a refugee Transformer dealing with his own loneliness and injury.
Why watch it? Finally, a quality Transformers movie I can recommend because its purpose isn’t just to blow things up for two hours straight! The female lead is multi-dimensional. Just because a boy likes her doesn’t mean she needs to like him back—and he respects that. There are equal amounts of action and humor, all to a super fun soundtrack. Plus, John Cena makes everything a little better, doesn’t he?
Who is it really for? That being said, it is a Transformers movie, and those big machines shooting at each other and fighting can scare some younger tweens. If they can handle that kind of big action on the screen, then this is a good one to watch even with kids who haven’t fully graduated from PG quite yet.
Star Wars: “Solo,” “The Last Jedi,” “Rogue One,” “The Force Awakens”
(Mostly PG-13) Movie Series
What’s it about? The epic galactic story of the ongoing struggle for power in a galaxy far, far away between the Jedi and the Sith.
Why watch it? If there’s a Star Wars geek in your family, your kids have already seen the old movies. Even if the film ratings were a little above their age while they sat on the couch with mom or dad on a marathon movie weekend, the dated special effects add a comic element that likely prevented them from feeling too scary. The good news is that these newer films are sliding into their places along the timeline with important stories to add to the Star Wars franchise that have more diverse casts, glorious special effects, and smart writing. If the kids are already familiar with the universe, they know to expect the action and possibly (okay, definitely) some deaths, and the pre-game acknowledgement of those facts tamps down the effect.
Who is it really for? I have a rule of thumb that the younger the viewer, the farther back in the theater you should sit—and to avoid 3D. This way, the kid isn’t getting total sensory overload while taking in a movie the MPAA thinks is a little too intense for them, visually or emotionally. That physical distance can make them more able to enjoy the fun of the new addition, which is ideal.
Marvel and DC Comic Movies, Like “Black Panther” and “Wonder Woman”
(Usually PG-13) Live-Action Movies
What’s it about? A variety of comic book characters coming to the big screen in standalone films, series, and crossovers.
Why watch it? There’s a reason comic books have been so popular for so long: everyone loves a good origin story, then seeing where the character goes from there with the abilities they have. The best ones have big life lessons on morality, character, sacrifice, and more worked in, though some are filmed just for the fun of it—and there’s nothing wrong with fun!
Who is it really for? Since struggle is the name of the comic book character game, there’s often a loss, fighting, war, and/or death, so each movie should be looked into individually to see how intense the thing that pushed it from PG to PG-13 is, and whether your kid can handle it. Also, keep your eye out for an occasional R or NC-17 rating—the ones who get them absolutely earned them.
(PG to PG-13) Movie Series
What’s it about? Eight films based on the beloved middle grade book series.
Why watch it? Those books were a gift to people of all ages, and the only way to thank the author is to continue throwing our money her way and lighting candles on our J.K. Rowling alters on the regular. It only makes sense to watch the movies once your family has fallen in love with Harry and the gang on the page, and the experience is pretty awesome for diehard fans.
Who is it really for? Thing is, it’s one thing to read a book—or to read it to someone else, editing out the scarier scenes—and it’s another to sit back and take in the story onscreen. The first three films are PG-rated fun, but the sadness and scares are amped up in the fourth, then get darker from there. I’ve found that some kids can read or hear books with magic and darkness in them, and be okay with it. But seeing dark magic and murder of characters you’ve cared about for thousands of pages can be unsettling. Take it slowly to see whether your kid can handle the wizardry without bad dreams, and don’t be surprised if they need to wait a little longer than you wanted to. Trust me: the wait will be worth it.