I know, I know, we’re probably all getting enough screen time without binge-watching Netflix with the kids. But hear me out – a shared show is very bonding. Think of all the points of reference we have with our peers because we all watched the same shows growing up. You can have that kind of experience as a family too.
Netflix series for tweens and teens that are interesting enough for adults are actually quite hard to find. Of course, you’ll have your own idea of what kind of show is suitable for your child. It might be quite different to mine. So bear that in mind as you read through my selections.
The kinds of shows I think are okay for tweens and early teens include shows that have kissing, flirting and a little bit of swearing. Once they’re a bit older, I’m okay with sexual references, bad language and complex emotional issues being raised (this is one of the reasons why it’s great to watch a show together: so much to discuss!).
I’m never okay with any kind of OTT violence, racism, sexism or nastiness not even when it is “an integral part of the story”. I don’t like shows like that and I won’t show them to my kids. Oh, fair enough, Game of Thrones is an exception. But that one is definitely not for the kids!
Have a meander through these suggestions and see if one suits your fam. Once selected, it’s best to keep the “binge” out of “binge watching” – try to limit yourselves to a couple of episodes a week at most. That way you limit TV watching, plus you have plenty of time to talk about each show and anticipate the next installment.
Check these out too: 16 really good podcasts for tweens
Netflix series for tweens and teens you’ll be happy to watch too
This clever show almost had me liking maths, so that’s gotta be a good thing. The Odd Squad use maths to solve mysteries and puzzles around town. It’s basically a superhero show for nerdy types, but we all want to be nerds so we can be part of it. One warning: your kids may well get a lesson in sarcasm along with mathematics. These kids are sassy and mouthy as.
Suits: 5-12+ years
Look out for: Sassy kids might do your head in
Inspires: Love of learning; positive attitude
Cute, slightly dated, Aussie show about 11-year-old Taylor and her embarrassing family. They’re basically a bunch of free-spirits, which is, of course, mortifying to a tween girl. The show touches on some important themes about materialism, friendship and just being yourself. There’s also a really lovely friendship between Taylor (Marny Kennedy) and her BFF, Hector (Nicholas Dunn). Hector is in love with Taylor, but she’s clueless and likes a cool kid called Leon (Luke Erceg) instead. The tweenies will love this one and you’ll find it watchable too. FYI, Marny Kennedy is now 24 years old…
Suits: 7-12+ years
Look out for: Nothing much, it’s a solid G rating
Inspires: Self acceptance
This US show is as dated as you’d expect, given that the Olsen twins were infants when they first debuted. They are now 31 years old. The show ran from 1987-1995 and was rebooted in 2016 as Fuller House. It’s a timeless, cheesy formula for fun, and it still brings the laughs, especially for tweens. Widower Danny is raising his three daughters with the help of his brothers Jesse (John Stamos – still hot to this day) and Joey (Dave Coulier). The men are excellent male role models with emotional depth and the family work through problems together. Confession time: My girls have watched every one of the 192 episodes more than once…
Suits: 7-13+ years
Look out for: it’s slightly sexist, though it tries hard not to be. There are dated notions of ‘girl power’ that fall really flat, especially as they seem rooted in the girls growing up too quickly.
Inspires: Sibling and family love
Anne with an E
I was determined not to like this remake, but it got me in the end. In a darker retelling of everyone’s favourite redhead story, AmyBeth McNulty shines as Anne Shirley. My girls were instant fans of the feisty girl who has to overcome some serious childhood trauma, and ongoing prejudice about her orphan status and poverty. Note that Anne’s dark childhood is emphasised in this series more than you would expect from reading the books – a warning for sensitive young viewers, as is the sadness that pervades the second half of the series. Feedback from parent reviews suggest that some are also upset over the sexual innuendo appearing in episodes 3 and 4, but it honestly barely registered for me and was never mentioned by my kids. We were too busy focusing on Anne’s endless optimism and admirable courage.
Suits: 9-13+ years
Look out for: sexy references, though they are not the focus of the story
Inspires: Perseverance; fortitude; courage; optimism
Most of us probably watched the original Dr Who series when we were kids. Gone are the dinky Darleks (remember yelling at the screen, “Go down the stairs!” when Dr Who was being chased by these fiends on rollerskates?), but this UK show has lost none of its quirky charm. It’s a classic good-versus-evil show with the good Doctor always calm and cool when faced with evil – as we probably all would be if we had regeneration up our sleeve. His weapons are charisma and wit, with the usual violence in this kind of show kept to an absolute minimum.
Suits: 9+ years
Look out for: scary moments, but nothing the good Doctor can’t handle
Inspires: Loyalty; optimism; integrity
An animated mystery-suspense featuring teens trapped in a strange, dark world, trying to find their way out by working out how they got there in the first place. It’s weird and edgy and suspenseful, with some really scary moments, so it’s a good one for kids who think they want to watch Stranger Things (see below) but are just a bit too young. There’s a great mix of characters and the girl roles are equal and meaningful. Lots of action, suspense, drama and mystery.
Suits: 11+ years
Look out for: Scary moments; villains; monsters
Inspires: Teamwork; friendship
Adam is a genius who graduates college at the age of 14 and mysteriously decides to be a teacher. Only in Canada, right? So, Adam ends up teaching a class of kids his own age and struggles with wanting to be their friends while keeping some authority. Adults will need to suspend reality in order to enjoy this one, but kids will love the premise. Despite being formulaic, the script is really sharp and puts Adam into countless awkward situations for our amusement. The show is also packed full of real-life lessons on everything from science to history to geography, so that’s a bonus.
Suits: 10-13+ years
Look out for: the slightly awkward nature of Adam crushing on one of his students. Sure, he’s only 14, but it’s still icky watching a teacher pursue a student.
Inspires: Sibling and family love
Alexa and Kate
A US dramedy that manages to find tasteful light-hearted laughs in the midst of a cancer story. It’s highly watchable for adults, but aimed squarely at the tween/early teen set. Teen Alexa has been diagnosed with cancer and her bestie Katie is by her side throughout. The show brings a fresh perspective to the usual teen themes of appearance, acceptance and finding love. There’s a bit of talk about crushes and some mildly worrying pranks played on adults, but it’s harmless good fun with some serious messages.
Suits: 10-13+ years
Look out for: mild language (‘fart’ and the like)
Inspires: Big talks about death and illness
A Series of Unfortunate Events
This US series is a little-bit spooky, but well-tolerated by most kids. Fans of the books will adore seeing Violet (Malina Weissman), Kraus (Louis Hynes), baby Sunny and even Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris – hardest working actor ever, right?) brought to life. It’s brilliantly shot and scripted with each episode ending on a cliff hanger… it might be hard to stick to your ‘just one’ rule. This macabre series balances creepiness with humour, but check in with your child regularly, especially if they are prone to anxiety.
Suits: 10+ years
Look out for: Scary bits, but that’s all
Inspires: Resilience; confidence; humour
Most of us are familiar with this sweet noughties show, featuring young single mum, Lorelai (Lauren Graham) and her college-age daughter Rory (Alexis Bledel) who live in the quaint town of Stars Hollow. When my girls wanted to watch Gilmore Girls (Arabella was 11, Lottie 9), I turned to my trusty GG fanatic, Pip Lincolne. Pip said, “I think it’s TOTALLY suitable and pretty wholesome! There is ONE episode you might want to watch first and think about age-appropriateness and it’s [episode 22, season 4]. But apart from that ep, it’s actually very dorky and sweet and raises some excellent mum/dad and kid discussion points!” If Pip says it’s okay, that’s a green light for me. The girls adore this show and have watched every episode more than once (even the ‘Rory has sex’ scene in episode 22, season 4).
Suits: 11+ years
Look out for: Some adult concepts regarding relationships; some homophobia (“gay” is often used in a derogatory way); that one sex scene waaaay into the series
Inspires: Family love; positivity; quirkiness; creativity; honest relationships
Just quietly, I think some of the cast in this Aussie drama might have been chosen for their dance skills, rather than acting prowess… but if you can get passed the dicey theatrics, you’ll find much to like. There’s a load of great characters, all on their own ‘journey’ as they compete at an elite dance school, overcoming personal hurdles for their chance to shine. It’s a progressive co-ed set up, so cue lots of crushes, dating, and boyf-girlf / boyf-boyf angst. It’s actually really nice to see Aussie teens in action – I’m quite over all the shopping and materialism that seems to be part of American teen shows. Our kids will appreciate seeing teens who are ‘more like me’, even if they are hanging out in their undies a lot.
Suits: 11+ years
Look out for: body image depictions, though reasonably well-handled, are as prominent as you’d expect from a show about dancers.
Inspires: Ambition; tolerance; doing your best; self-belief
This US show will hook you from the first couple of episodes, when siblings Hayley (Ariel Mortman) and Alex (Finn Roberts) are enrolled at an elite boarding school following the mysterious death of their mother which plunges their father into depression. The two are put into separate rival boarding houses and immediately have their loyalties tested. The show has all the usual high school dramedy moments – smart kids, bad kids, mean kids, sporty kids – but mixes it up with a little suspenseful intrigue when the twins delve into their astronaut mother’s death. It makes the show an interesting meshing of wholesome cheeriness mixed with darker, quirkier elements. Each show ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so this will be a tough one to turn off at the end of each episode.
Suits: 12+ years
Look out for: it’s a little dark at times plus a bit sweary; adult characters are two-dimensional
Inspires: Teamwork and leadership
The Fresh Prince of Belair
Ah, back to where it all began for Will Smith. This genuinely funny, slightly sexist, sometimes crude US show gets by just fine on the pure charm of Mr Smith. Playing a street-wise Philly teen living with his rich relatives in Bel-Air, he’s full of wit and charisma and, it would appear, lessons about how you don’t need money to be happy. The sexism in the show comes from the the way Will and his cousin Carlton treat girls – they’re pretty much stereotypical eye candy and, occasionally the boys treatment of them is borderline harassment. Most of this will sadly go over younger viewers’ heads, so it’s worth bringing it up to talk about.
Suits: 12+ years
Look out for: sexism (see above); swearing (usually beeped out); sexual references
Inspires: Self-acceptance; compassion; tolerance
The Good Place
Original, funny, well-scripted and unpredictable, there’s a lot to like about this comedy. Lying, cheating Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself in the “good place” after she dies, but she’s not actually supposed to be there. Her attempts to prove her worthiness to stay to her “soulmate”, ethics professor Chidi (William Jackson Harper) are hilarious but admirable. The show has an interesting take on what “good” and “bad” is and will incite many discussions with the junior burgers about being a good person. Ted Danson is adorable as outrageously camp “heavenly coordinator” Michael.
Suits: 12+ years
Look out for: moralising, though it’s not extreme; black and white depictions of “goodness”
Inspires: tolerance; good behaviour (we hope); discussion about life after death and dying
One for sci-fi fans (which I am) who don’t mind a lot of suspense and a bit of horror (which I am hopeless at). I confess that as much as I love the script of this show, I haven’t actually been able to watch the whole first series yet… What with a large, guttural creature flitting just out of vision, I can only view it in daylight hours and daylight TV-watching time is minimal around here. That said, I reckon most normal types would love this series and with younger kids (aged about 10-12) the stars of the show, it’s appealing to tweens too. The horror has got just enough of the cheese factor to keep kids relatively courageous (more so than me, I suspect). It’s dark, but not “torment” dark, more squirmy-I-can’t-watch kind of dark, but definitely not one for anxious kids or their mothers.
Suits: 12+ years
Look out for: suspense; mild horror; heavy kissing; some violence; mild language
Inspires: keeping the lights on!; talk about conspiracies
I was a big fan of this US show for the first series, but it quickly jumped the shark and that was that. Teens continue to watch in droves and that’s not a bad thing. It’s an interesting blend of cutesy and dark and it explores true-to-life teen themes like slut shaming, bullying, gang culture and sex. Most of the themes are well-resolved, although consequences are sadly lacking. Strong female characters keep Riverdale well balanced, especially when depicting female friendships. Betty (Lili Reinhart) and Veronica (Camila Mendes) embody feminist principles and a solid, believable friendship that is prized over boyfriends and flirting. Both girls are smart, sassy and strong leaders in their communities. A warning that the teens in this show are sophisticated and glamorous and adult characters and authority are secondary bit parts.
Suits: 13+ years
Look out for: dark themes; scary night scenes; stereotypical characters (it’s based on a cartoon, after all)
Inspires: Friendship; standing up for what you believe in
How I Met Your Mother
A show about young adults, rather than teens, it’s still a fun one for the family. The script is spot on, genuinely funny and full of quirkiness. The basic premise is Ted (Bob Saget) talking to his teenage kids, looking back to when he was a fresh-faced architecture graduate and new to New York, looking for love (which, we presume given he has kids, he eventually finds). Friends Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Marshall (Jason Segel), Lily (Alyson Hannigan) and on-off-on girlfriend Robin are along for the ride. There’s a lot of talk about sex and Barney is basically a sexist womanizer, but visuals are rare and the sharp jokes will mostly go over younger kids’ heads. The other four main characters pull Barney into line every time and their comments and boundaries provide a good moral backbone for the show. Oh, on top of that, the characters are all basically alcoholics and much of the action takes place in a bar, so… watch a few episodes yourself before you unleash the kids.
Suits: 14+ years
Look out for: sexism; casual sex; drinking; swearing; all the good stuff
Inspires: Friendships; loyalty; positivity; self-confidence
13 Reasons Why
Tread carefully with this show that has been issued with warnings from everyone from psychologists to schools to trauma units. Hannah Baker (Katherine Langford) commits suicide and leaves a series of tapes addressed to fellow classmates and acquaintances to explain her motivations why. This ‘casting blame’ is one of the (many) reasons so many experts are worried about this series – sensitive teens may feel anxious and fretful about their real-life encounters after viewing some episodes. Some scenes are needlessly graphic (suicide, rape scenes, bullying, homophobia), but overall I think it’s a fair depiction of what life is like for many teens. Definitely worth a watch with your older teens, especially if you encourage open discussion about the issues raised in the show. I’d rather watch it together than risk them watching it without me.
Suits: 16+ years
Look out for: graphic depictions of suicide, rape, assault; alcohol and drug abuse; sexism and macho culture; homophobia; racism
Inspires: Discussion about all of the above
Other shows tweens and teens love that you probably won’t be able to watch:
Life with Boys – so formulaic it’s practically algebra.
Project MC² – the ‘smartest girls in the school’ are simply annoying cliches who happen to be good at STEM.
Richie Rich – so cheesy, so formulaic, so shiny…
Nailed It! – Nicole Beyers just isn’t my cup of tea. Lots of shrieking, lots of mocking, lots of whhhhhy… but teens will probably think this show is hilarious.
That 70’s Show – so many stereotypes and rather dull after the first few episodes.
Pretty Little Liars – one for highschoolers that’s so OTT glam and shallow that I couldn’t get through the first three episodes. I really can’t handle shows that depict teens mocking adults. Loads of adult concepts plus rampant bullying, all mis-managed here.
Did I miss your fave? Got any recommendations?