What Does TV-MA Mean?

When you pick a program on a streaming service like Netflix, you will see the rating of that content before you play it. Some programs available on these services are meant for all audiences, but most are not recommended until a certain age.

What Does TV-MA Mean?

This article will explain what can make a program TV-MA and what other ratings you can encounter while browsing your watchlist.

What are Parental Guidelines?

In 1997, the television content rating system went into an effect. It was proposed by the television industry, the US Congress, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The name of this rating system is TV Parental Guidelines and it determines which age range a program is suitable for.

parental advisory

What Makes a Program TV-MA?

Age ratings are different from country to country. In the USA, TV-MA is the rating that shows that a program is intended for adults. ‘MA’ stands for ‘mature audiences’. Children aged 17 and younger should not view these programs.

There are a few different reasons why television content may be only suitable for mature audiences. The content descriptors used to determine ratings are strictly defined. In the US, content descriptors include:

  1. D – Suggestive dialogue: This means that the content has some form of innuendo or insinuation. Suggestive dialogue alone rarely bumps a program’s rating up to TV-MA, but it is frequent in PG-13 programs.
  2. L – Coarse Language: Curse words, swearing, vulgar language, and other types of impolite, socially offensive language.
  3. S – Sexual content: Sexual content can be any form of erotic behavior or feeling. It ranges from sexual language and displays of nudity to displaying the full sexual act.
  4. V – Violence: Displays of violence are also a key parameter for determining the content rating. As the use of drugs is not labeled separately, it is usually a part of this descriptor.


Not all forms of violence are TV-MA. Depending on the intensity, the rating system allows younger viewers to watch some forms of violence. For example, if a cartoon contains comedic violence, as you’d expect from Looney Tunes, it will have a TV-Y7 rating. This means that children can watch it from the moment they get old enough to tell the difference between reality and fiction.

If there is a display of violence featuring fights, guns, and injuries without displaying severe bleeding or gore, it will be PG13. Most teenage action shows, superhero shows, and fighting shows have this rating.

But if a program contains brutal acts of violence, it will be TV-MA. There are animated shows that mix comedic violence with brutal violence, like Rick and Morty or South Park. These are meant for mature audiences, and they are rated accordingly.

tv ma south park

Other TV Parental Guidelines

There are five categories of parental guidelines besides TV-MA. They are:


TV-Y is appropriate for all children. Most of these shows are created specifically for the youngest audience. The themes and stories are simple and the programs are usually educational.


When children reach their seventh year, they can draw the line between imagination and reality. From that point on, the content they view can feature some fantasy or comedic violence.



TV-G is a general program suitable for all audiences. Everyone can watch it because it contains mild language and no violence or sexual elements. This rating occasionally applies to documentaries and TV shows that children won’t find interesting, which makes it different from TV-Y.


This content may be unsuitable for younger children. Parents or guardians should explore the program first and make a decision about it. It may include some suggestive or inappropriate language, moderate violence, and even a little sexual content.


A TV-14 program is meant for children over 14 years of age. It is generally not recommended to let children watch the program without parental attendance, or at least without them vetting it first. It can contain crude humor, the use of harmful substances, strong language, violence, and complex or upsetting themes.

Can I Prevent Children From Watching TV-MA Content?

Depending on your streaming service or your cable provider, you can set parental controls on your device. This means that viewers will need to type in a PIN code before accessing a TV-MA program. This is one of the ways you can prevent your children from accessing mature content on the TV.

Unfortunately, children who have a smartphone or other device can still go online and access inappropriate content for their age. Make sure to enable parental control on all devices that your children can use.

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