The Facts of Life



Wholesome '80s coming-of-age sitcom tackles serious issues.

What parents need to know

Positive messages

The overall series contains positive messages about friendship, making good choices, and facing consequences.

Positive role models

Mrs. Garrett is the students' mentor and guides them through life's lessons, but on occasion she covers for them when they make mistakes. The girls are sometimes sneaky or play pranks, but are generally good and responsible people. A recurring guest character has cerebral palsy -- the first character with a disability to be a regular on a TV series.


Contains some mild arguments, as well as some occasional pushing and shoving. In an early episode one cast member is almost raped (but the attack itself is not visible). The girls participate in a self-defense course.


Early episodes contain very mild sexual innuendo, but as the cast gets older hugging and kissing is more visible. Discussions about premarital sex and abstinance takes place in later episodes. One cast member loses her virginity.

Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking

Occasionally the girls try alcohol (beer, wine, champagne), and usually face some serious consequences as a result. Some cast members get intoxicated and/or sick. In one episode some of the cast members contemplate trying marijuana.

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that this classic series is mild by today's standards, but contains some strong themes that might be unsuitable for younger viewers. Specific episodes deal with issues like rape, abortion, cancer, peer pressure, premarital sex, underage drinking (wine, beer, champagne), and drugs. It also contains lots of positive messages, too, including the importance of being honest, making good choices, and facing the consequences of one's actions. Even though some of the humor is a little dated, its themes are still relevant today. It's a fun choice for nostalgic adults and kids mature enough to handle it.

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What's the story?

THE FACTS OF LIFE is a classic situation comedy about a group of girls coming of age at boarding school. The series, which ran from 1978-1988, features Charlotte Raeas Edna Garrett, a former housekeeper who takes on the job of housemother (and later school dietitian) at the prestigious Eastland School, a fictitious school for girls in Peekskill, New York. Among her young charges is wealthy Blair Warner (Lisa Whelchel), the outspoken Molly Parker (Molly Ringwald), and the always cheerful Natalie Green (Mindy Cohn). Also part of the group (at least initially) is tomboy Cindy Webster (Julie Anne Haddock), Nancy Olsen (Felice Schacter), Sue Ann Weaver (Julie Piekarskie), and Dorothy "Tootie" Ramsey (Kim Fields). Growing up at school is definitely fun, but thanks to Mrs. Garrett's mentorship, they also learn a lot of important life lessons along the way.

Is it any good?


The series, which is a spin-off of the hit show Diff'rent Strokes, underwent a series of transformations, most notably in its second year when Ringwald, Schacter, Haddock, and Piekarskie were written out of the series and Nancy McKeon joined the cast as Jo Poniaczek, a tough talking scholarship student from the Bronx. Later seasons also saw the addition of some now-familiar faces like Mackenzie Astin and George Clooney. The show also has the distinction of being the first television series in history to regularly feature a recurring character with a disability (Geri Jewell).

The show is pretty mild compared to most of today's situation comedies, but it does address a variety of strong teen-related issues that are still very relevant today, including peer pressure, under-aged drinking, premarital sex, and drug use. Specific episodes also deal with some serious themes like abortion, rape, breast cancer, and death. But all of these topics are offered within the context of creating teachable moments, and usually lead to some positive and important messages.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about how classic shows that aired decades ago can still be relevant and/or interesting to today's television viewers. What contemporary shows do you think will be popular and/or relevant 20 years from now? Why?

  • Teens: Which issues discussed in the show felt relevant to your life today and which didn't? What exactly makes some of the issues irrelevant?

  • How would life on the show be different with cell phones, computers, etc.?

TV details

Cast:Charlotte Rae, Lisa Whelchel, Nancy McKeon
TV rating:NR
Available on:DVD, Streaming

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Learning ratings

  • Best: Really engaging; great learning approach.
  • Very Good: Engaging; good learning approach.
  • Good: Pretty engaging; good learning approach.
  • Fair: Somewhat engaging; OK learning approach.
  • Not for Learning: Not recommended for learning.
  • Not for Kids: Not age-appropriate for kids; not recommended for learning.

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Educator and Parent Written bystephen melinger May 25, 2015

A Little Dated Now

This show had much to recommend it such as an inter-racial cast and mature adults counseling teens. The language and settings are now outdated and not appealing to today's kids.
Adult Written byLowe's man June 7, 2015

Will appeal to teens who keep an open mind.

I'd put the green light at 13 rather than 11 because, as you said there are themes that are unsuitable for younger viewers. Having said that, this show teaches good lessons, and there's always a lesson to be learned. One of the most recurring and overt lessons is when to say no to peer pressure. Including someone with a disability for a regular, recurring role was also positive for this show, as, up until that time, to my knowledge, no other show except SESAME STREET had done so. Consequences for misbehavior are also shown. Sometimes the writers were really creative, such as the time the girls were all caught shoplifting. Mrs. Garrett really drove the point home. The show also took a realistic look at life, more so than the average sitcom. In short, THE FACTS OF LIFE was less serious than the dramas but more serious than the sitcoms. Teens who are used to watching shows from another era will enjoy this one. And if your teens aren't used to 80s tv, this might be a good show to start with.


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