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The Parental Guidelines system for the United States was first proposed on 19 December 1996 by the United States Congress, the television industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and went into effect by 1 January 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.

The guidelines are as follows. Often sub-guidelines will be used to specify the type of content in the program.

  • TV-Y: Suitable for all children (particularly those of preschool or kindergarten age, as this rating is commonly seen in early childhood shows).
  • TV-Y7: Suitable for children over seven years old. May contain cartoonish slapstick violence, humor considered too ribald or morbid for younger viewers, mild innuendo, and/or themes and stories that would be considered too controversial, scary or incomprehensible for younger audiences.
  • TV-G: Suitable for all audiences; contains no adult themes, sexual innuendo, violence, or foul language. Some children's programs that have content that teens or adults will enjoy will be used as a G rating instead of a Y rating. Also used for shows with inoffensive content (such as cooking shows, religious programming, nature documentaries, shows about pets and animals, and reruns of classic television shows, particularly sitcoms and game shows)
  • TV-PG: Parental guidance suggested; may contain infrequent and/or mild language and/or sexual references, mild violence, and/or suggestive themes, dialogue
  • TV-14: Parents strongly cautioned; may be inappropriate for children younger than 14 years of age. Contains mild to realistic violence (including some blood-letting),
  • TV-MA: Mature Audience; designed for adults, unsuitable for audience under 17, may contain crude indecent language, strong sexual content, and/or graphic violence.

The sub-ratings 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: Suggestive dialogue
  • L: Crude Language
  • V: Violence
  • S: Sexual Content