What TV shows are good picks for tweens?
I love TV. Which is good, because as Common Sense Media's senior TV editor, I publish about 50 reviews a month. That's a lot of TV to watch, analyze, and put through our review rubric (I don't watch everything myself—I have a team of reviewers—but I make sure to check out anything exceptionally good, bad, or interesting). A few recent shows have become my go-to recommendations for kids, because they're high quality, age appropriate, and lots of fun. I'm thrilled to have the chance to share my favorites with you
Kids in the 8–12 age range are notoriously hard to please. They're far beyond Caillou but nowhere close to The Walking Dead (although some of their friends are probably already watching!). And they benefit from shows that include diverse characters, positive messages, and healthy role models—but anything that looks like it's trying too hard is the kiss of death. Personally, I love the variety of what's out there today, especially the recent crop of shows that can expose kids to new cultures. And I have a soft spot for plain old goofy fun that gives kids a chance to just be kids. Here are my picks:
Molly of Denali, PBS Kids
While it officially skews for a younger audience, this finely tuned show about a young girl growing up in Alaska is so good that even parents will find themselves riveted (and maybe even moved to tears, like some TV editors). With a tourist-plane-flying mom and a general-store-owning dad, Molly of Denali presents a realistic Alaska experience to viewers and uses fun stories and adventures to explore natural wonders, history, and Native Alaskan peoples.
Amphibia, Disney Channel
Another fun show based in a rich fantasy world, Amphibia is about a Thai American girl who forges a friendship with a talking frog. Bold visuals and a super-cool swampy setting full of fantastical critters make this show a treat to watch. But the real draw is the unfolding friendship between Anne and Sprig, which takes its time and captures your heart.
Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart, Cartoon Network
An adventurous feline samurai and his sidekick crash-land in the gentle community of Pure Heart and become accidental saviors. This sweet show has all the quirky characters (including a badger cyclops and a child deputy who is also a bat), silly scenarios, and the frenetic pace that Cartoon Network is known for, plus lots of positive messages.
Rilakkuma and Kaoru, Netflix
If you told me that a show about some off-brand Sanrio bears who live with a 20-something Japanese woman who's just trying to manage her life would be one of my top kid recs of 2019—well, I might have believed you, because it's a totally genius premise. And in this case, it's beautifully executed. This stop-motion animation Japanese import is gentle, warm, and full of charm, with surprising whole-family appeal.
The Masked Singer, Fox
Hear me out. Sometimes a show doesn't have to be "good" to be very, very enjoyable. This surprise-hit singing competition borrows its premise and visuals from a South Korean show, and it's unlike anything else on U.S. TV right now. The deal: Celebs perform while wearing bizarre costumes that hide their identities; whoever loses must reveal themselves at the end of the episode. Watching competitions can be a wholesome and fun choice for families. If you're not into music, Nailed It! is another great, slightly edgy option for older tweens, and American Ninja Warrior is always awesome for everyone (I will forever stan for ANW as the show that's easiest to watch with any group of people).
The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, Netflix
Whether or not you're familiar with Jim Henson's classic film The Dark Crystal, this gorgeous, intense prequel series is a must for families who are fantasy fans. With a top-notch voice cast including Sigourney Weaver and teen faves Andy Samberg and Awkwafina, plus a unique blend of actual puppetry and CGI animation, this series will satisfy kids who love magical worlds and adventures.
Basketball or Nothing, Netflix
This documentary series about a Navajo Nation basketball team competing for the Arizona state title is binge-worthy in the best way. You don't need to be a sports fan to get involved in the team's struggles and successes, both on the court and at home on the Navajo reservation, where life isn't always easy. Messages of perseverance and teamwork come through loud and clear, and the storyline about what it means to be a Native American in 2019 will give kids perspective.
The Dragon Prince, Netflix
Kids intrigued by warring dynasties, but not ready for Game of Thrones, will be thrilled by this epic animated fantasy. Brimming with mysticism, action, and suspense, this engrossing series grabs your attention and doesn't let go. And if your fam likes this one, check out the creator's beloved earlier shows, The Legend of Korra and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
What happens between you and your kid when you're enjoying a show together is truly magic. It leads to conversations about topics that might not otherwise come up, like friendship troubles or difficult decisions. You don't have to turn everything into a teachable moment—and you shouldn't try! But you can refer back to shows you've watched together to spark discussions at any time. Sometimes kids open up more readily when they're talking about fictional characters, since it can be easier than talking about themselves.