Pretty Little Liars

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
Pretty Little Liars TV Poster Image
Tantalizing mystery plays up glamour, sexiness in teen life.
Parents recommendPopular with kids

Parents say

age 13+
Based on 109 reviews

Kids say

age 12+
Based on 531 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

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 & Representations

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. 

Violence

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.  

Sex

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. 

Language

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

Consumerism

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. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that the teens in Pretty Little Liars (which is 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.

User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
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 w... Continue reading
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 ever... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byTLPeace August 4, 2010
I Love this show, and I watch it EVERY TUESDAY and sometimes i recap online. Honestly I'm 13 and i watch it, and personally i think some parents can be... Continue reading
Teen, 13 years old Written byvamp4ever July 29, 2011

Diffently ok for 12+

I just wanna start out with saying this show isn't what some people make it out to be. First, Emily is lesbian, but that shouldn't be a problem becaus... Continue reading

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, this series 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. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about bullying. What instances of bullying exist in Pretty Little Liars? 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

Themes & Topics

Browse titles with similar subject matter.

For kids who love suspense

Our editors recommend

Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.

See how we rate

About these links

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization, earns a small affiliate fee from Amazon or iTunes when you use our links to make a purchase. Thank you for your support.

Read more

Our ratings are based on child development best practices. We display the minimum age for which content is developmentally appropriate. The star rating reflects overall quality and learning potential.

Learn how we rate