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Best TV Shows for Tweens Approved by Moms

I was complaining on Twitter with Stacey Loscalzo about the lack of decent programming for tweens when we decided to collect the handful of TV shows that are both mom and tween approved. It’s sad that there are so few given the quality and plethora of shows for toddlers and preschoolers. It was tween Disney shows that set me off. I think Stacey and I bonded over the word “inane” to describe the shows of twenty-somethings playing tweens. But if not Disney, what?

I polled the ladies at my hair salon and one of the best ideas was creating a show based on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. “Why can’t they base a show on that?” my hair stylist Tricia lamented? Why not, indeed?

Another stylist says that she watches Glee with her girls. Her girls’ friends discuss the show anyway and she is fine with them watching it as long as she’s there too to help explain it and put it into context. (There is a lot of sexuality in Glee that make it off-limits for some parents to approve of for their tweens.)

Best TV for Tweens

I polled my family  and the play dates next. This is the list that made the cut:

  • It’s All on the Line (Joe Zee the Creative Director of Elle Magazine helps struggling designers make a go of their business. His ideas are on pointe but it’s fun to watch whether or not a) they listen to him and b) have what it takes to change.)
  • Make It or Break It (My 11-year-old loves this gymnastics drama of girls trying to make the U.S. Women’s Gymnastics Olympics team. It made her convert our basement into a gym using camping pads you put under your sleeping bag. She taught herself no-hands cartwheel after watching marathon session of this show. There are some serious themes like anorexia and sex offender though. The girls are in high school so this show is a little old for her.)
  • The Voice (My husband says the new judges Usher and Shakira were surprisingly articulate and funny. I like watching the contestants follow their dreams.)
  • Cake Boss (We love Buddy and his wacky family feels like extended family if you watch a lot of the shows. The creativity of each gigantic cake keeps us plugged in.)
  • D.C. Cupcakes (We might have to trek to Boston to check out their latest outpost because of this show. I saw the episode where they baked thousands of cupcakes to send to the troops in the Mid East. Those ladies are amazing!)
  • Cupcake War (I approve of any cooking competition show on Food TV Network. Some kids are riveted by the competitiveness, the creativity, and the agony of defeat.)
  • Modern Family (Our 5th grade play date Devin approves of this show for 5th graders and older. It brings her family together and they love it so much they record it.)
  • CNN Kids (Our fifth grade kids watch this daily at school).
  • Friends (My kids were amazed to discover that we watched Friends a decade ago. I love how nice they are.)
  • Julie of My Shiny Monkey says, “For your Tween TV post, if you need more recommendations, we love watching these shows together: Shark Tank (business lessons), How It’s Made (engineering), Modern Family (relationships), and Jon Stewart’s Daily Show (world events).”

    How about you? What are your tweens watching that you approve of? Stacey weighs in next!

    best tv shows for tweens, best tv for teens, best tv for tweens

    Best TV Show for Tweens: Stacey’s Take

    I have always had fairly strict rules around television. After all, why watch television when you can read or play? As my girls grew though, I realized a few things. A little bit of television is not a bad thing. It can give both children (and frankly adults) a touch of much needed down time. And importantly, in my opinion, it can keep your children in the loop socially. For better or worse, most children watch far more television than my girls do and if my girls watched less, I worry they would have a hard time participating in some playground conversations.

    When my girls were pre-school age, I was pleasantly surprised by the choices available to them. We pretended to ride on Rocket with the Little Einsteins, danced along with Sid the Science Kid and relaxed as Little Bear explored the woods. The trouble came when my girls began to think that these shows were babyish. When that happened (although I still catch them viewing these shows when they think no one is watching!), I explored where to go next. For a bit they were happy with Martha, the charming talking dog and then Arthur that clever aardvark. But then they clamored for shows that weren’t animated and they began asking for Disney Channel shows because, “everyone watches them!”

    While the ‘everyone’ statement is never true, it was closer to the truth than I could imagine. Many parents of early elementary aged kids had simply thrown their arms up in frustration and let their first and second graders watch stories about the trials and tribulations of middle and high school students portrayed all day long on the Disney channel.

    At first I was confused about why these parents were allowing this to happen. For sure, I wouldn’t let my girls watch this nonsense. So I began to research, to see what better options were out there. And then I realized the problem. There was nothing else. Once children outgrew pre-school programming, there was nothing but a vast wasteland of options. Nothing. Nada. Zip.

    Disney Channel Caused Bad Behavior in Kids

    For a bit I decided that perhaps the Disney Channel was better than I thought so I let the girls watch. And then two important things happened.

    First, if my girls were watching the Disney Channel and I walked into the room, they paused the show. They waited until I left the room before they started watching again. Not a good sign.

    Second, my girls became rude and crabby. Literally, they adopted the language, the eye rolls and the body language of the Disney characters.

    I made the decision to ban the Disney Channel and as a result, my happy, polite girls returned. I heard peals of laughter while they watched television and I was welcome to sit and laugh with them.

    Did I discover a new channel? One that is appropriate for early elementary and tween children. No. Sadly, I have yet to find that channel. When I have talked to people in television and advertising, I have learned that people have tried and there just isn’t enough money out there to compete with the Disney machine.

    So, I have gone back in time. I have found old shows that are still shown in re-runs and I have checked out DVDs from the library of shows I grew up watching.

    Class TV Shows Still Work for Tweens

    My girl’s favorites have been Full House, The Cosby Show and The Brady Bunch. In these shows, there are many of the same trials and tribulations that you find on the Disney Channel. Children can be rude and disrespectful to adults. Children can be mean to each other. Children can make poor choices. But the difference lays in the consequences. Caring adults sit with these children and talk about what they are doing and the choices they are making. Children learn from their mistakes and become better people as a result. If that is what we are seeking in the real world, it is only fair to demand the same from the television characters we welcome in to our homes.

    It is time to insist on quality programming for our children. Hopefully someone will be brave (and rich) enough to create new and appropriate shows but in the meantime, what are some of your favorite old shows? And new?

    Stacey Loscalzo is a freelance writer and mother to two girls, 6 and 9 years old. With a background in speech pathology and reading education, she is a lover of reading and writing who hopes to bring these same passions to her children and all.


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    By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

    33 Comments

    1. Thank you so much for putting this together! I can’t wait to read the comments to collect more ideas!
      Stacey recently posted…I amMy Profile

    2. Right now I don’t have much contact with tweens, but I found this post interesting. I would agree that the older shows like Full House and the Cosby show are still relevant and probably provide the best content and role models.

      • Hi Barbara,
        Tween-land is not very fun, I have to say, as a parent. Now I know what all the other parents were warning me about. And it’s surprising how there aren’t any decent shows made specifically for tweens. I think they underestimate tweens’ intelligence and interests given that they are watching more interesting shows meant for an adult audience. I hope TV networks change their programming or other outlets that produce better shows like YouTube or Amazon will obliterate them.
        Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Best TV Shows for Tweens Approved by MomsMy Profile

    3. Alexandra

      Modern family is amazing. I still think it was funnier in the previous series but it still crack us up…And for our bilingual family it makes a good language practice, too 🙂
      Alexandra recently posted…Chores for kidsMy Profile

    4. I love watching competitive cooking shows. I watched them all the time when I was a teen with my grandma. It was our bonding time 🙂 My son (who is only 3) loves watching them as well.
      Tanya recently posted…HR Practices – Do You Have Zombies in Your Office?My Profile

    5. Jamie

      We’re all about Boy Meets Works for tweens. I reeeeeally hope the new one doesn’t end up being Disney-style crap.

      • Hi Jamie,
        I don’t know Boy Meets Works so thank you for your great suggestion! I hope it doesn’t get ruined either! What network produces it?
        Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Best TV Shows for Tweens Approved by MomsMy Profile

        • Jamie

          Ugh, sorry, autocorrect hates me. That should have said Boy Meets World.

          The original show was great (and goes from the cast being in maybe 4th or 5th grade up until university, so at the very least the first few seasons don’t deal with real “teenage” issues like sex). The remake is Girl Meets World – it has a lot of the original cast reprising their roles which has the 12-yr-old nerd in me excited. BUT freaking disney is doing it. So there is no guarantee it won’t be terrible.

    6. Shannon

      My problem with all of these suggestions is language. I wish I could let my kids watch The Voice with me. Cooking competitions have even gotten more vulgar. Any show with sexual innuendo, themes, etc. is out. My kids do enjoy Cosby show, Little House on the Prairie and Brady Bunch. Good parenting and consequences. My kids still enjoy Martha Speaks! They are 9 and 10.

      • Hi Shannon,
        Good point about language! You are lucky that your tweens still enjoy good children’s programming! I feel like the younger siblings want to move from PBS more quickly than their older siblings at the same age, which is really a shame. Martha Speaks! is a great show. Do you read the books too? We loved them.
        Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Best TV Shows for Tweens Approved by MomsMy Profile

    7. A new show, Granite Flats, just premiered on BYU-TV, and we sat around and watched it as a family. Great story, and great production values. Not a comedy, but a family drama set in 1962.
      Susan Call Hutchison (ReadAloudReadAlong.com) recently posted…On the First, Warm, Sunny Day…My Profile

    8. I have two tween boys and given a choice, I prefer Disney shows over the Cartoon Network shows, in general. I especially don’t like MAD TV. While I enjoy the older family TV shows like Cosby, they are really too old-fashioned for today’s kids. I work with children in grades K-8 and find most tweens–and boys in particular–tend to enjoy Adventure Time and the Regular Show. Conversations at school (in the lunchroom and at recess) are littered with expressions I hear on these two programs. Girls and boys both seem to enjoy shows on the Disney channel, especially Good Luck Charlie, Gravity Falls, and Phineas & Ferb. Compared with the language and themes tweens can encounter on video games and multi-player games, I think most Disney & Cartoon Network shows are fairly innocuous.

      • Hi Jennifer B,
        One of the hair stylists felt the same way that Disney shows were fairly innocuous. It’s true that some are just vapid but without extreme bullying or idiotic parents that the kids make fun of. I have only watched Phineas and Ferb and my 8-year-old son has been watching that for years (sadly, he stopped watching PBS kids at a young age because he’s the youngest and it was harder to control his TV access).

        There really isn’t any TV awards for best tween or kids programming, is there? I wonder if an award like an Emmy would up the ante and make producing excellent programming more desirable.
        Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Best TV Shows for Tweens Approved by MomsMy Profile

    9. My kids are fascinated with The Brady Bunch. it’s so funny to see them watch it, and we all watch The Voice. I am definitely impressed with all of the judges this time. I hadn’t thought of it before, but it’s probably good for kids to see people getting out there and trying really hard at something, and getting some constructive feedback sometimes. LIKE.
      Jeanette Nyberg recently posted…Arts Advocacy Day is Upon us!My Profile

    10. Eight simple rules for dating my teenage daughter is a show mike and I enjoyed that I could see re-watching with the kids in a few years. Emma loves to watch project runway with me, on the few occasions we have had the opportunity to watch it.
      Maryanne recently posted…Take a Stand Against BullyingMy Profile

      • Hi Maryanne,
        Thanks so much for the great TV show recommendation. Eight Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter sounds great! I’ll have to catch it on TV. Project Runway is another great show for kids! Thanks for that rec too! I’m so glad the list is growing of Mom Approved TV for tweens! It was such a sad, short list!
        Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Mexico Day Party Crafts for KidsMy Profile

    11. Asianmommy

      Thanks for the recommendations. The kids don’t watch that much TV–mostly it’s movies we rent on occasion.
      Asianmommy recently posted…What To Do with Old Kids’ ClothesMy Profile

    12. Asianmommy

      We’ve watched “Ponyo,” “My neighbor Totoro,” “Kiki’s Delivery Service,” “The Borrowers,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory,” “The Sound of Music,” “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “E.T.,” “Brave,” “Mary Poppins,” “Wallace & Grommit,” and “Rio.” The kids love all of it.
      Asianmommy recently posted…Cardboard BicycleMy Profile

    13. Ann

      We are starting to see the issue with the lack of good TV for kids. The preschool shows are great and my kids still like them but my daughter is a little old for them. I don’t like the Disney shows for older kids. There a couple my daughter likes, Fetch with Ruff Ruffman on PBS and Mystery Hunters which you can find in syndicate. She also like Activity TV onDemand.
      Ann recently posted…SeesawMy Profile

      • Hi Ann,
        It’s really a shame that the programming for tweens isn’t created with more risk taking and creativity. It’s like they have just want to stamp out one identical show after another. I saw on TV though that there IS going to be a show based on The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants so that is encouraging. I wonder why Tween TV shows are not based more on books? Thanks for your TV show recommendations! I’ve seen Fetch which is cute but haven’t seen Mystery Hunters or Activity TV. It’s a treasure hunt to find any decent shows for tweens!
        Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Mysteries Surrounding The Lemonade War SeriesMy Profile

    14. LittleChickenMom

      My kids enjoy Full House, The Brady Bunch, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I don\’t like them watching Modern Family, but we enjoy The Middle. My girls like Disney, my oldest is outgrowing it but my youngest likes it. Instead of Disney, my oldest is taking an interest in Nick at Nite. We also like Survivor and The Amazing Race. We\’ve seen Candid Camera (The Newer Ones) but they think they aren\’t as funny as the old ones.

    15. orky100

      Avatar the last airbender and the legend of Korra are the best shows for tweens!!!

    16. I have a 7 year old daughter. Right now she is still into animated shows like Dora and Friends. But she watches shows on Netflix like Horseland and Wild Kratts.

      But like many of you mentioned there is a lack of quality shows on T.V for our young ones. We need to start looking into alternative options. Please check out the website http://www.ganglysister.com. Launching soon will be a digital comic book called Purple and Nine that centers around two friends, a Purple and Nine, who solve everyday problems through their love for technology.

      Sign up for the mail subscription to be the first to know when the comic book is released.
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