The TV Parental Guidelines system for the United States was first proposed on December 19, 1996 by the United States Congress, the television industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and went into effect on January 1, 1997 on most major U.S. broadcast and cable networks in response to public concerns of increasingly explicit sexual content, graphic violence and strong profanity in television programs. It was established as a voluntary-participation system, with ratings to be determined by the individually participating broadcast and cable networks.
- TV-Y (All Children) This program is designed to be appropriate for all children. Whether animated or live-action, the themes and elements in this program are specifically designed for a very young audience, including children from ages 2-6. This program is not expected to frighten younger children. Equivalent to EC for video games.
- TV-Y7 (Directed To Older Children) This program is designed for children age 7 and above. It may be more appropriate for children who have acquired the developmental skills needed to distinguish between make-believe and reality. Themes and elements in this program may include fantasy violence or comedic violence, or may fear children under the age of 7. Therefore, parents may wish to consider the suitability of this program for their very young children.
- TV-G (General Audience) Most parents would find this program suitable for all ages. Although this rating does not signify a program designed specifically for children (because TV-Y uses it), most parents may let younger children watch this program unattended. It contains little or no violence, no strong language and little or no sexual dialogue or situations. Equivalent to G for movies and E for video games.
- TV-PG (Parental Guidance Suggested) This program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children. Many parents may want to watch it with their younger children. The theme itself may call for parental guidance and/or the program may contain one or more of the following: some suggestive dialogue (D), infrequent coarse language (L), some sexual situations (S), or moderate violence (V). Equivalent to PG for movies and E10+ for video games.
- TV-14 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age. Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended. This program may contain one or more of the following: intensely suggestive dialogue (D), strong coarse language (L), intense sexual situations (S), or intense violence (V). Equivalent to PG-13 for movies and T for video games.
- TV-MA (Mature Audiences Only) This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17 (in some cases, under 18). This program may contain one or more of the following: crude indecent language (L), explicit sexual activity (S), or graphic violence (V). Equivalent to R/NC 17 for movies and M/AO for video games.
The content descriptors commonly seen with the main ratings are as follows:
- FV: Fantasy violence (only used with the TV-Y7 rating for action-oriented children's shows).
- D: Used with the TV-PG and TV-14 rating to denote the use of sexually suggestive dialogue (usually sexual references). This rating is not intended to be used for the TV-MA rating; however, some networks opt to use it.
- L: Used with the TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA rating to denote instances of crude, offensive language (profanity, vulgar slang, racial and ethnic slurs, etc.).
- S: Used with the TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA rating to denote instances of sexual content (including visual innuendo and intercourse).
- V: Used with the TV-PG, TV-14, and TV-MA rating to denote instances of violence.