Pretty Little Liars TV Poster Image

Pretty Little Liars

Tantalizing mystery plays up glamour, sexiness in teen life.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

What parents need to know

Positive messages

This show plays up the drama of teens' lives, making everything look much more exciting, sexy, beautiful, and mysterious than it is in real life. Bullying is central to the plot, as teens are stalked by an unknown person who coerces their actions with threats of revealing their secrets. Teens are sometimes portrayed as catty and clique-ish. Characters' loyalties shift, making it difficult to assess the nature of their intentions, and emotional betrayal is common among the characters. Naughty behavior like theft, extramarital affairs, and manipulation is common, though much of it has consequences for those involved. A high school teacher engages in a physical relationship with his student, which is treated as a love affair rather than sexual assault, sending problematic messages about consent. That said, there are some moments that underscore the strong relationships between the girls and within their families.

Positive role models

Teens test limits with drugs, shoplifting, etc. Some parents share happy relationships and are involved with their kids, while others set examples that create challenges for teens, including having affairs, using sex as tool, and keeping secrets from their partners. Many scenes show teens obsessing over their appearance, clothing, and popularity. On the plus side, adversity gives the characters a chance to work through it and emerge stronger, which most of them do. Most of the characters mature into good people, but some are duplicitous and not to be trusted. 


The story centers on the murder of a teen, and a few other violent acts follow. A girl's lifeless body is shown lying on the ground, and a man's corpse shows signs of his being shot in the head. The teens' lives are threatened and some characters disappear, but there's more suspense than violence in these cases. The relationship between the teen and her teacher would be considered sexual assault in the real world, though that's not how it's positioned in the show. In later seasons, a character is killed outright (though accidentally) and the death covered up, which becomes a source of drama. Later seasons are also a bit bloodier, with a (non-fatal) stabbing as the camera lingers on pooling blood.  


Expect kissing and cuddling -- between both opposite- and same-sex couples -- and it's implied that a few have sex, though nothing is shown. Nudity is limited to the occasional guy walking around shirtless. A student and teacher carry on a romantic relationship, despite her parents' rules against it. Teen girls often wear skimpy clothing or revealing bikinis and talk about being "sexy." The older characters in later seasons have often settled into stable relationships, including same-sex ones. 


Intermittent use of "damn," "bitch," "hell," and "ass." Women call each other "bitch" semi-playfully: "Wake up, bitch." 


The show is based on a book series of the same name by Sara Shepard.

Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Occasional teen drinking and drug use, including teen girls smoking pot. Often there's a repercussion to the behavior, though, as when a girl gets sick and vomits on a wedding dress. After a time jump in later seasons, the now twentysomething main cast often drinks, generally at dinner or at parties. 

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that the teens in this series based on the Harper Teen Novels of the same name engage in lots of naughty behavior like theft, defying parents' rules, breaking and entering, and general gossipy mockery. The story centers on an intense, ongoing incident of bullying by an unidentified person who threatens to reveal damaging secrets about her victims' private lives. Teen sexuality -- including a main character's homosexuality and a teen's sexual relationship with her high-school teacher -- makes for some intense physical encounters that stop just before the act itself (although it's referenced later). Expect some sporadic violence, including murder (but no blood) and scenes of dead bodies; a fair amount of language ("bitch," "damn," "ass," etc.) from the teens; and some misguided choices that lead the characters into dangerous situations, all of which is made possible by an extreme lack of parental influence. That said, mature teens and adults will find this series to be an enticing blend of drama, mystery, and suspense.

What's the story?

In PRETTY LITTLE LIARS, friends Aria (Lucy Hale), Hanna (Ashley Benson), Emily (Shay Mitchell), and Spencer (Troian Bellisario) are drawn back together a year after the disappearance of their best friend, Alison (Sasha Pieterse). The four reconnect after Alison's murdered body is discovered, and they begin receiving threatening messages from an omniscient person called "A," who uses their deepest secrets as leverage to dictate their every move and imply their involvement in Alison's murder. The friends set out to unmask their anonymous tormentor and prove their innocence but instead get drawn into a series of mysteries that raises more questions than they answer about Alison's fate and the motives of the people they thought they knew best. The deeper they dig, the more ground "A" seems to gain, staying a step ahead of them at every turn and threatening exposure that could unravel their lives and the lives of their families, friends, and significant others.

Is it any good?


Based on the Harper Teen novels by Sara Shepard, Pretty Little Liars is rich in suspense, mystery, and beautiful, fashionable characters who skirt the rules to achieve their own set of goals. The result is enticing entertainment that will keep viewers guessing and coming back for more, but the downside is that anyone who hasn't yet walked the halls of a real-life high school will get from the show a very skewed impression of what those teen years are like. These girls dress for a school day like they're moonlighting on a catwalk, and they have no shortage of time and no reliable parental oversight that keeps them from chasing down murder suspects, cozying up with a hunky teacher, or breaking into private property in pursuit of clues.

That's the bad news, but it's not the whole story. There are some positive takeaways from the characters' evolutions as a result of "A"'s bullying, which makes them rethink their past actions as social queens and become more empathetic to those on the social fringe. True, the girls don't always model great behavior and certainly don't incur the repercussions they might for their actions in the real world, but in their defense, they're motivated by a sense of self-preservation and a quest for the truth. The bottom line? If your young teen is champing at the bit for more grown-up TV, Pretty Little Liars is worth considering, provided that you're proactive in talking about the issues it raises, including sexuality (and homosexuality), relationships, peer pressure, and bullying in all its forms. Parents should know that later seasons of the show take place after a five-year time jump; the older twentysomethings often deal with more mature problems, drink, refer to their sex lives, and participate in a crime with lingering aftereffects. 

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about bullying. What instances of bullying exist in this series? What different forms can bullying take? Is any one form more or less harmful than another? What role does technology play in bullying now?

  • Teens: Do you think this series paints an accurate portrait of teen life? Are the characters’ troubles relatable to you? Why or why not? What kinds of stereotypes does this show reinforce or challenge? How does what you see of teen life on TV or in movies influence your own life? Parents: Talk to teens about the role models and messages in shows like this.

  • How do your relationships with your friends compare to that of the four main characters? Are there things you'll discuss with your friends but not your parents? To whom would you turn if you were in a dangerous situation? How could the teens have handled their situation differently? Have you ever been betrayed by a friend?

  • Talk about the relationship between the teen and her teacher. What are the laws around teens and adults having romantic or sexual relationships? Why is a relationship between a teen and adult problematic? Does this show glamorize this type of relationship?

TV details

Premiere date:June 8, 2010
Cast:Ashley Benson, Lucy Hale
Topics:Book characters, Friendship, High school
TV rating:TV-14

This review of Pretty Little Liars was written by

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Parent of a 12 year old Written byBs Mom July 27, 2010

The kids may be watching it but that does not make it Good.

There is not a lot redeeming about this show. The subject matter is too adult. I had to check it out because all of my 12 year old daughter's friends are watching it and she wanted to too. I was not impressed. The language, the sexual innuendo, the drug use, teachers kissing students, suicide, boyfriend stealing and these are supposed to be 15/16 year olds acting this way. God help us if this is the way our kids are really acting. This is nothing more than a soap opera aimed at kids. I cannot believe the young kids reviewing it on here saying it's great; I hope there is someone around to discuss the very adult subject matter that they have been subjected to. Even the show's creators say it's for 14 & up, but frankly I think it's pretty rough for a 14 year old much less a 10 or 11 year old. Makes me wonder if parents are just assuming it's fine because it's on ABC Family. It is not and my opinion of ABC Family has been reduced because of this Ultra-Trashy show.
What other families should know
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 4, 11, and 13 year old Written byjburnett711 March 31, 2011

Depends on the child and the parent!

I watch the show with 11 and 13 year old girls. They are both very mature, and this show is as scandelous as their media exposure gets. There is kissing in every episode, and once or twice a season sexual relationships are implied, but there are no make-out scenes longer then 5 or so seconds. I talk to them about boys and relationships, and try to provide healthy relationship and moral examples for them to follow. We spend more time together doing activities and talking then watching TV, but 40 minutes a week on Pretty Little Liars simply gives us something to talk about, and the topics are things that need to be addressed whether seeing them on TV or not. The characters are constantly faced with blackmail and bullying, and remain loyal to each other throughout the show. If there is a sexually themed episode, it is usually results in serious consequences involved. The student-teacher relationship is a non-sexual relationship between a 17 year old and a freshly graduated teacher who is very young, and they started dating before either of them knew he would be her teacher. Although I feel the age difference is inappropriate, the details of their relationship are moreso innocent then scandelous- meaning if he WEREN'T her teacher, it would be completely harmless. The most exciting part of the show is byfar the mystery! About the gay/lesbian relationship, I don't agree with it, but it is reality. Not to mention, this is a very small part of this show, and the parent can simply talk to their kids about it if it makes them uncomfortable. The only thing I do not like about the show, is that the main characters are very prone to lie to their parents which sets a bad example. However, this presents and opportunity for my to talk to them about this practice by using this negative example as "what NOT to do". Other then that there are several good ethical examples on the show- for instance, self-esteem and exceptance, high amounts of athletic activities, such as sports, and time outdoors, loyalty to each other, etc. I think the show honestly makes the kids appreciate the simplicity of their life more then they want to have the kinds of lives on this show.
What other families should know
Too much swearing
Too much consumerism
Great role models
Parent of a 2, 4, 10, and 11 year old Written bybpm01 December 11, 2010

Not appropriate for teens even.

I would not let my child watch this show until she was at least 16. My biggest issue is one of the girls is 16 and having an affair with her teacher who is in his early 20's. They make it seem totally okay and very exciting. This is in no way appropriate for a 14 year-old! Another character keeps sleeping with her older sisters boyfriends who are also in their 20's and she is like 16. Do people not understand that is illegal? So why would it be ok for a young teen to watch? There is also murder, drugs, alcohol and lying. It has no messages in it I would want my kids to learn.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Too much sex
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking