From The Wonder Years to My So-Called Life, old school TV offers a way to start fun (and critical) conversations with my kid. Here are some shows your family watch together, too.

A few years ago, when my daughter Kavya was about 10, I tried to show her a little piece of my soul.

See, I'm what you call Generation Catalano—that small group of Xennials (if you TikTok, you know) who grew up slightly obsessed with the short-lived but stellar mid-90s ABC drama My So-Called Life. The teen drama is a perfectly crafted single-season slice of life that captured my youth.

Like Angela Chase, I once tried to dye my hair red. (But my hair is super-dark, and teen me apparently had no concept of bleach, so I essentially dyed it the same shade of black it already was.) I, too, had a crush on unattainable rocker boys and quit random clubs in a pique of apathy. (Sorry Ms. Hollander.) I, too, had a nerdy Krakow-type whose affections I was perfectly oblivious to. In fact, the show and other teen dramas like it—Felicity, Freaks and Geeks, and even Dawson's Creek—informed so much of my childhood that I became a YA author, publishing books like Symptoms of a Heartbreak (a YA Doogie Howser, M.D.) and Tiny Pretty Things, now a Netflix original series itself. (But not one I let my kid watch. Yet.)

All of which is way too much to explain to an unsuspecting tween, of course. Turns out that Kavya was not quite ready for My So-Called Life's straightforward approach to hook ups, school shootings, and homeless teens just yet. But it did get me thinking about what else I could share with her.

So as we settled into the thick of the pandemic, looking for new ways to while away the endless hours, my kid and I dove headfirst into old school, throwback TV. It started when she became fixated on Disney+'s Girl Meets World—a modern take on the classic Boy Meets World, which was a staple of my youth. The spin-off series centers on Cory and Topanga's daughter—and Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel play the parents. It was only fitting, then, that she be properly introduced to the original, right?

And if she was going to watch that, then she had to watch the original The Wonder Years, starring Ben's big brother Fred Savage. We quickly consumed all six seasons of the '60s-set dramedy, pausing along the way to chat about critical historical moments like Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, and how they related to today. Despite its historical PoV, the show traces one kid's journey through teendom in a way that still feels relevant, capturing the angst of puberty, love and loss, first jobs and first kisses. From there, we obviously test drove the Wonder Years reboot on ABC now, but we've also done deep dives on Living Single (her current fave, even though it's not quite age-appropriate and she misses half the hook up humor), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Blossom, and our most recent must-watch, Ugly Betty, which leads to some fun chats about my journey as a woman of color navigating the publishing world.

While Kavya doesn't get the appeal of some of the shows, she loves a lot of them, and watching together gives us a chance to connect that doesn't feel fraught with the current COVID concerns, home schooling, or the fact that we as a nation are still ignoring the perils of climate change. I can offer the context of my own experiences when plotlines bring up things like puberty, politics, loss and grief. We talk about what's changed (so much!) and a lot of things that haven't, like the racism and sexism that still color our everyday life. She's so much wiser already than I was at her age, but there's still a thing or two that she can learn from Mama's many years on the planet.

We still haven't gotten back to My So-Called Life, though. At 12, Kavya is not quite ready yet. But recently, she got her first zit. So maybe, just maybe, it's time to add it back to our watch list again.

If you're looking for some old school shows you can share with your kids and teens, here's a Kavya-approved short list to get you started.

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