While we’re on lockdown, it can be challenging for teens to remain productive in a static environment. Sitting all day indoors might limit your child’s access to cultural centers such as libraries and museums or other entertainment options like going to the movies.
We’ve got you covered. Here’s a carefully curated list of shows available on Netflix that are informative and entertaining for teens. Covering everything from comic book court dramas to cartoons featuring imperialism and refugees, this collection is sure to spark discussion at home about important topics that might not otherwise have made it on your child’s radar.
When They See Us (2019)
It doesn’t get much more mature than Ava DuVernay’s 5-part mini-series. When They See Us tells the real-life story of five boys – Antron McCray, Yusef Salaam, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., and Korey Wise – who were wrongly accused of rape and sentenced to prison. Examining the way in which black boys are often robbed of their childhood and innocence as well as disproportionately incarcerated as a central function of the prison system, this show is essential for teens in today’s day and age.
The program takes a close up and personal look at how “The Central Park Five” go through the stages of arrest, representation in court, life behind bars and the hardship that follows, and the personal torture that the carceral system inflicts. That’s why the messaging in this series is important for today’s youth to understand. Black history and culture are all too often removed from history textbooks. The evolution of slavery into the U.S. prison system and police force would be hard topics to come by in a high school curriculum.
As a parent, it might be worth watching this show together with your teen as it is a quite emotional experience. In addition to showcasing the very personal trauma that the boys experience When They See Us also refers to their families and the parental relationships that inform how they process grief. Hopefully, this show will help you and your teen reflect on race relations in the U.S. and how your family can come together in times of hardship.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj (2018 – present)
Hasan Minhaj reads like your best friend (currently) in high school, giving you the details on all the disastrous events going on in the political clique in a hushed tone. There are jokes, there’s in-depth research, there are graphics displaying both on every surface of the stage where the show takes place; what’s not to love about this news satire series?
Patriot Act, while carrying the cadence brought over from Hasan’s days at Comedy Central, is a show that informs audiences about political issues in today’s world.
Now more than ever, it’s important for teens to understand that news should be reported with credible sources, sweeping analysis of the underlying causes of systemic harm, and a practical application of the knowledge being presented. These aspects of reporting are especially significant when covering serious subject matter. For example, some of the episodes explore topics such as student loans, content moderation, and free speech, immigration enforcement, and the mass eviction crisis in the U.S.
This show is perfect for teens because it earnestly incorporates necessary information about heavy content in a way that is easy to consume for young adults.
Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005 – 2008)
Yes, Avatar was a children’s show created by Nickelodeon back in 2005, but having a young audience never stopped Sesame Street from talking about the important issues. The Last Airbender takes place over the course of a year in which a 12-year-old boy named Aang is tasked with dismantling a genocidal regime and harboring world peace. If that sounds like a lot, strap in because it’s worth it.
In the show, a healthy proportion of the world’s population has the ability to “bend” one of four elements: earth, air, water, and fire. As the avatar, the only person who can bend them all and access the spirit world, it is Aang’s job to bring harmony to the four nations based on the elements. But in the 100 years that have passed since he’s been trapped in ice, the Fire Nation has almost succeeded in their imperialist takeover of the world. When two siblings from the water tribe, Katara and Sokka, uncover the avatar, they kickstart the plot to get Aang back on track.
While the heartwarming characters and fictitious elements of the plot do well to house such a tall order, they never detract from the more serious themes that run throughout the series. The odyssey-type structure of the show is perfect for Aang and his friends to examine a myriad of communities dealing with the violence of imperialism.
The show is nuanced too. No one nation is devoid of malicious characters and benevolent characters. Throughout their journey, the protagonists encounter refugees, war criminals, nationalists, state propaganda, and family trauma. Featuring central characters with disabilities and feminist values, the show is full of mature messaging that teens can absorb in an adventurous and imaginative fashion.
Daredevil (2015 – 2018)
(Parental guidance advised, though to be fair, we did say “mature messaging.”)
Based on the Marvel comic book, Netflix’s Daredevil tells the story of Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer who received heightened senses when his vision was taken by a vat of acid. Unsatisfied with the law enforcement’s inaction, Matt dons a mask and takes to the streets to beat criminals to a pulp after hearing a father sexually abuse his daughter in the middle of the night. So why is this show right for your teen? What could they possibly get from another comic book movie when there are so many less violent options out there?
It’s true, the show is crude, but it takes a deep dive into difficult moral decisions, the criminal justice system, and faith in religion. While it might be hard for your teen to relate to a blind karate lawyer on the surface, it asks the audience what they would do when confronted with systemic corruption. The main antagonist, Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. the Kingpin), runs New York City with an iron fist full of money to bribe cops and hold influence over politicians. In truth, he’s could be swapped for any number of corporate owners in the real world.
So how does this inform your teen? Well, they could try getting involved in local politics, take up an interest in journalism, or look into obtaining a law degree. All three vocations play a central role in the way the show deals with community violence, and if the story is told well with enough single-shot action scenes, your teen could be inspired to do a little hero work of their own.
#BlackAF (2020 – present)
In #blackAF, real-life creator of the shows Black-ish, Grown-ish, and Mixed-ish, Kenya Barris, parodies his own life as a successful black writer in Hollywood, grappling with fatherhood and the oppression of black people in U.S. history along the way. While this series is a comedy in the same vein as most of Barris’ work, the mocumentary is hosted by his on-screen daughter, Drea.
The goal of Drea’s doc is to submit it as proof of her skills for college admissions, so it constantly brings historical relevance to every conflict her family of eight gets into. Specifically, the history of slavery plays a central role in how the entire family justifies their actions. As a wealthy black family in a country with a long history of racial violence, the guilt/pride of their position alters how Barris and his wife, Joya, raise their kids.
Because the series incorporates complex issues such as performative “wokeness,” racial coding, and the “white gaze” through the literal lens of a high schooler, a lot of the information is broken down into understandable segments. Throughout the show, Drea addresses the camera and puts together media intervals that disrupt the show to give viewers a bit of a formal education on the concepts being discussed. It makes for an efficient delivery system for vital information that can supplement a teen’s education from home.