Deciding what TV kids can watch

A couple of months ago, in a blog post about my favourite episodes of Fringe (the fourth season of which finishes this week on TV2*), there was a comment that surprised me - if you look at the post, check out comment #7, which finishes with this tidbit:

"The episode "Bound" (01x11), with the giant flu virus, grossed my 12yr old son out, LOL"

To be honest, I was kind of shocked by the idea of a 12-year-old kid watching Fringe. I mean, I'm not saying this commenter is wrong or anything - every parent knows their own kids, and knows what they are able to handle watching - but my gut reaction was that Fringe was for an audience a little more mature than the average 12-year-old.

But then I started thinking about my own daughter, now 11 years 7 months old, and what she watches: we've watched The Avengers together (she is a big Hulk fan), she is quite fond of JJ Abrams' Super 8, and we've recently started watching episodes of Lost together - and when I think about it, those probably aren't much better than Fringe.

So what are the guidelines in this kind of thing? Is there a right and a wrong way to decide what your kids can watch?

One thing I do know: I don't trust the ratings dictated by the networks, or rulings by the BSA, to help me determine what my daughter can watch when she is in my care. Too often the ratings are wrong - some shows marked PG aren't actually suitable for kids, while some marked AO aren't necessarily inappropriate, in the same way that not every movie marked "M" isn't unsuitable for her.

There are a few channels and shows that are fine. I'm not worried about my daughter watching Nickelodeon or Disney Channel unsupervised, though I've stopped a few shows based purely on the fact that I think they are mind-rottingly bad; Big Time Rush and Victorious are banned in our house - they are just horrible shows and complete wastes of time - even more so than most programmes on those channels.

However, anything in prime time is normally either checked ahead of time (I feel comfortable with my daughter watching Lost because I know there isn't much that will scare, shock or traumatise her ... I mean, aside from Nikki and Paolo showing up in Season 3) or I'll watch it with her for the first couple of weeks.

This practice of being involved in what she is watching also has a pleasant side effect: by watching television with my daughter, I've learnt what she likes and enjoys most. This means I've been able to recommend a few of the tamer Doctor Who episodes, which we've been able to watch and enjoy together.

Television: bringing families together!

Anyway, I'm interested in your thoughts on this. It seems to me that there is no right or wrong way to deal with kids and television. In fact, most times it will depend on each individual child and what they can handle. I just know that I don't have any solid answers, and I'm willing to listen to what you reckon.

What do you think: how do you decide what your kids can or cannot watch on television? Are there any methods or guidelines you follow to figure it out? And what is the most grown-up show your kids watch? Alternatively, if you don't have kids, what do you think might be the best way?

(*) The fifth season started last week in the USA. I mention this purely because I'm sure that, if I don't, somebody else will.

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