By Joyce Slaton,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Dark 1980s-set sci-fi/horror drama is gory but great.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
Importance of family and friendship underscores all action, and there are themes of curiosity, courage, and teamwork. Kids/teens are generally the clued-in, curious, courageous characters in the show, while military and medical authorities aren't to be trusted.
Positive Role Models
Some parents are present, responsible, and concerned about their children; others seem more clueless (sometimes played for humor). A tight friend group deals with their chaotic world by being kind, open, and willing to listen to each other. They break rules, but usually for the greater good. Teen boys often hug and show their love for each other in clear ways without worrying about looking "manly." Strong girl characters also emerge, with more being added to the mix each season. The main characters' teamwork is often fraught with bickering, but ultimately they come together and use smarts and communication skills to solve problems.
Positive diverse representation increases as the series continues. In addition to Eleven, strong female characters like Max, Nancy, Joyce, and Robin are integral to the story, with both Nancy and Joyce developing more confidence and agency as the story develops. Characters of color are all in supporting roles, but Lucas' storyline does expand and deepen as time goes on. Taking a risk for the Midwest in the 1980s, one character tells a good friend that she's a lesbian and is met with support.
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Violence & Scariness
Intense monster/slasher-type scares; frequent death, peril, and gore. Children and teens are killed gruesomely (with blood, gouged-out eyes, horribly broken limbs, and more), and people are attacked/taken by monsters, their bodies manipulated, possessed, and absorbed. A boy is kidnapped; his distraught mother searches for him. Children are held captive in some type of military/medical experiment; guns are brandished and fired (sometimes fatally), and mysterious powers are used to injure and kill. Beatings, torture. Sympathetic characters die, sometimes abruptly. The Upside Down is eerie and disturbing; monsters range from screechy and slimy to terrifyingly demon-like. A particularly gruesome scene in Season 3 shows many rats exploding; others include zombie-like humans being killed by scissors. In Season 4, a group of children is violently killed. Lots of fistfighting and arguing/yelling throughout.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Teen characters kiss frequently; discussion of dating, flirting. During a steamy make-out scene, a teen takes her shirt off, showing her bra. An adult character prepares to have an affair with an older teen heartthrob.
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Cursing includes "s--t," "hell," "a--hole," "dammit." A woman calls another a "bitch." One boy calls another a "p---y" and says they're "screwed." Bullying words include "freaks," "toothless" (in reference to a character with a genetic disorder), "frog face," and "midnight" (in reference to a Black character). Other language: "pissed off," "douche bag," etc.
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Products & Purchases
1980s products are shown, and a clear partnership with Coca-Cola in the third season leads to many Cokes being consumed by characters.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A parent smokes during stressful moments, and the sheriff not only smokes frequently but may have a pill and alcohol addiction. Underage drinking, sometimes to excess.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Stranger Things is a sci-fi/horror drama that centers on a group of tween/teen friends who find themselves fighting mysterious, dangerous forces in their small Indiana town. There are intense monster/slasher-type scares, with frequent death, peril, and gore. Children and teens are killed gruesomely, and people are attacked or taken by genuinely scary monsters, their bodies manipulated, possessed, and absorbed. Kids are kidnapped and traumatized, and there's frequent gun use; characters are killed by bullets as well as by supernatural means. In one scene, rats explode in a bloody, graphic manner; in another, a group of vulnerable kids is brutally murdered. Children take part in some type of experiment, and one main character spends much of her time processing the abuse she dealt with as a research guinea pig. Medical/military authorities have complicated motives. Teens date, flirt, and make out (and at least once a girl removes her shirt). Language includes "hell," "damn," "bitch," "s--t," "douche bag," "screwed," and "pissed off." Parents and teens will have fun watching this nail-biter of a mystery -- which has themes of curiosity, courage, and teamwork and emphasizes the importance of family and friendship -- but the later seasons in particular may be too intense for younger viewers.
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Based on 477 parent reviews
Depends On The Kid
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15+ Definitely Not Younger, Unless???
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What's the Story?
STRANGER THINGS kicks off with the mysterious disappearance of young Will (Noah Schnapp), who vanishes in the woods while biking home from a Dungeons & Dragons session with his friends Mike (Finn Wolfhard), Dustin (Gaten Matarazzo), and Lucas (Caleb McLaughlin). The first season centers on getting him back from the terrifying, eerie Upside Down: a supernatural, monster-filled realm below the small town of Hawkins, Indiana. The characters include Will's terrified mother, Joyce (Winona Ryder), and his brother, Jonathan (Charlie Heaton), as well as bold Sheriff Hopper (David Harbour). There's also a mysterious girl known as Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) who's escaped from a shadowy experimental facility that seems somehow connected to the Upside Down. As the show progresses, the friends learn more about the Upside Down and the threats it holds and must work with each other -- as well as with allies like fellow teens Max (Sadie Sink), Steve (Joe Keery), Nancy (Natalia Dyer), and Robin (Maya Hawke) -- to triumph over the darkness.
Is It Any Good?
Dark, creepy, and sublimely intriguing, this 1980s throwback will remind you of many a vintage-era sci-fi/horror movie, in the most pleasant way imaginable. The cast is clad in dated '80s wear, walls are (fake) wood-paneled, phones are firmly attached to cords, and kids are free to race around on their bicycles, looking for clues. And there are lots of clues to look for, as it quickly becomes clear that all is not as it seems in the small-town setting.
In the first season, violence and gore are relatively low, while atmosphere and spookiness are high -- that changes as the series progresses, with some pretty gruesome deaths in the spotlight. But with characters of both kid- and parent-age to relate to, fear fans of all ages will have someone to root for. Tweens and teens will be interested in the mystery and compelled by the finely drawn characters, while adults can also enjoy the vintage clothing, technology, and prices. It's likely that everyone will be charmed by the spunkiness of the young heroes, who are ready, willing, and able to save the day when the adults in their lives are stymied.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about what genre Stranger Things is. Sci-fi? Horror? Drama? All of the above? What elements of each does it have?
What era is this drama set in? How can you tell? Consider costuming, dialogue, props, and settings in your answer.
Many reviews of Stranger Things refer to 1980s dramas like E.T., It, and Poltergeist. How is Stranger Things like or unlike these movies? Why are these comparisons being made?
How do the characters in Stranger Things demonstrate curiosity, courage, and teamwork? Why are these important character strengths?
How do the characters change and grow over the course of the show? Do some develop more than others?
- Premiere date: July 15, 2016
- Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Finn Wolfhard, David Harbour, Winona Ryder, Gaten Matarazzo, Caleb McLaughlin, Noah Schnapp
- Network: Netflix
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Friendship, High School, Monsters, Ghosts, and Vampires
- Character Strengths: Courage, Curiosity, Teamwork
- TV rating: TV-14
- Award: Emmy
- Last updated: February 17, 2023
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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