How to choose the right streaming services for your kids
Which services keep your kids entertained and safe from inappropriate content?
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Picture this: You’re home alone with your little ones—just you, the kiddos, and a television—and you’ve got dinner to make and laundry to do. Sooner or later, you’ll have to leave the room for a few minutes. In the streaming age, with Disney+ and Netflix and touchscreen tablets, is it safe to leave children alone with TV? Is there a way to achieve peace of mind while you’re getting dinner started, or will they turn off "Trolls" and switch over to Tarantino’s latest?
We took a look at the major streaming options and put together a handy guide to the kid-specific features each one offers. Some, like Disney+, Hulu, and Netflix, make it incredibly easy to get your kid streaming safely; other services require a little extra setup time, but may ultimately be perfect for your child’s needs.
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Disney’s direct-to-consumer platform offers an all-in-one library of animated Walt Disney classics, Pixar films, Marvel flicks, and all the Star Wars you can handle. It’s generally family-friendly across the board; the service launched in November without a single R-rated movie in its system. The scariest, most violent movies you’ll find in its library are probably "Avengers: Endgame" and "Revenge of the Sith."
Simply create a kids’ profile for your child, and they’ll be limited to safe content in categories like “Sing Your Heart Out” ("The Little Mermaid," "The Lion King," "Frozen"), “Magic and Fairly Tales” ("Pinocchio," "Sleeping Beauty," "Beauty and the Beast"), and “Amazing Animals” ("Brother Bear," "The Great Mouse Detective," "101 Dalmatians").
Disney+ costs either $6.99 per month or $69.99 a year, but you can also check it out with a free seven-day trial to see whether you’re satisfied with it. U.S. residents can also sign up for a special bundled deal that gives users access to Disney+, Hulu, and ESPN+ for a single monthly fee of $12.99.
- Get Disney+ for $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year.
- Get the Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu bundle for $12.99 per month
Prime Video’s not the ideal choice for kid-friendly streaming, but if you’re a Prime member already, you might be able to make it work with a little extra customization. It’s got a whole “Kids & Family” section, as most big video platforms do, but if you plan on leaving your child alone with it, you’ll need to set up parental controls and a PIN number.
You can then restrict playback of anything above a certain maturity rating, meaning you’ll need to enter a PIN to watch, say, "The Man in the High Castle" or "Jack Ryan." Kids will probably find something to enjoy in Amazon’s children’s library; "Bubble Guppies," "Caillou," "Dora the Explorer," and "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle" are a few of the highlights.
If you’re interested in Prime, you can get the Prime Video streaming service as part of an Amazon Prime subscription for $12.99 a month or $119 per year. You can also opt to just get Prime Video as a standalone subscription for $8.99 a month; this includes a free 30-day trial period.
CBS All Access
CBS’s over-the-top streaming platform is usually associated with adult programming like "Star Trek: Discovery" or Jordan Peele’s "Twilight Zone" reboot, but the company recently announced that it would be adding a new library of Nickelodeon titles in January. Like Prime, All Access lets users define parental restrictions according to a program’s rating; you’ll need to set up a four-digit PIN number.
For now, kids can enjoy a pretty decent selection of content on CBS All Access: "The Adventures of Paddington Bear," "Bob the Builder," "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs," "Danger Mouse," "Inspector Gadget," and "Madeline."
After a one-week trial, the subscription will run you either $5.99 a month (with commercials) or $9.99 a month (with no commercials, plus downloads for offline viewing). You can also save 15% off the annual cost if you pay for all 12 months upfront.
Understandably, a lot of folks have HBO Now (or HBO Go)—soon to be replaced by HBO Max in 2020. It’s probably not a great option for parents looking for a safe platform to occupy their kids, but it does have some children’s programming, including, most notably, the iconic children's show "Sesame Street." New episodes of the beloved children’s series hit HBO Now and HBO Go at roughly the same time they air: 9 a.m. Eastern time on Saturdays. The apps also include the eight most recent seasons of the show, along with select “classic episodes” from throughout the show’s history.
Mobile devices and tablets have a “Kids’ Lock” function that limit the app to content rated Y, Y7, G, or PG. On desktop PCs and other streaming devices, you can also configure your overall HBO profile with a PIN-protected “age gate” based on standard TV and movie ratings. You can subscribe to HBO Now as a standalone service for $14.99 a month.
Hulu’s got an entire library specifically for kids, and, like Disney+, you can simply create a kids’ profile for your child that limits them to that content. Right now, that includes movies like "Shrek" and TV series like "SpongeBob SquarePants," "How to Train Your Dragon: Homecoming," "Chuggington," "Curious George," "Doc McStuffins," "Unikitty," and more.
You can sign up for Hulu’s ad-supported subscription plan at just $5.99 a month, which includes a free one-month trial. There’s also an ad-free version of Hulu for $11.99 per month, though, for that money, you may find it more worthwhile to pay the extra dollar for the three-in-one Disney bundle with Disney+ and ESPN.
Much like Disney+ or Hulu, Netflix works fine if your child has a kids’ profile and knows not to use an adult’s profile. This is where it gets tricky—do you, as the parent, show them how to operate the profile-selection part of the interface? Or does that undermine this seemingly simple system? Fortunately, Netflix also offers customizable parental controls that let you lock mature content behind a four-digit PIN; you can do this for either specific ratings or even certain shows or movies.
Netflix has a pretty great mix of exclusive original content and familiar favorites: "The Cat in the Hat," "The Grinch," "Green Eggs and Ham," "The Christmas Chronicles," "Dragons: Race to the Edge," "Gnome Alone," and the amusing and informative "Ask the Storybots."
If you’re thinking of signing up for Netflix, you can get a free 30-day trial period with any one of three subscription packages: the $8.99-a-month deal without high-definition streaming, the standard $12.99 HD (1080p) service, or the ultra-high-definition (4K) Netflix Premium, which costs $15.99 per month.
The PBS Kids app is the best price on this list: Totally free. Made entirely with child-safe viewing and simplicity in mind, your kiddo can watch thousands of video clips and full-length episodes from their favorite PBS series. There’s also a live-TV button, which lets you stream live from your local PBS station. The app includes shows like "Arthur," "Caillou," "The Cat in the Hat," "Clifford the Big Red Dog," "Curious George," "Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood," "Dinosaur Train," and Mister Rogers cartoon spinoff "Daniel Tiger."
You can stream PBS Kids from your desktop browser or download and enjoy the app on Amazon Kindle devices, Apple and Android phones and tablets, Windows, and more. New episodes of current all-ages series get added to the library every Friday. While you should be able to stream live TV without a login, you might need to create a free PBS account to access the on-demand content in the PBS Kids app.
There’s a lot of great footage for kids on YouTube, but you have to be _very_ careful; you do not want to give your child free rein on the standard YouTube app or browser. YouTube has notoriously had issues with weird, bizarre, or flat-out scary automated videos creeping into its kids content. They're actively working to make their app safe for families, but be aware. This summer YouTube Kids launched a separate website for kid-friendly content in hopes of combating the inappropriate videos. And there's also its own free dedicated app, which lets you customize your child’s experience with “parent-approved” collections, set the content level for a specific age range, set time limits, and block specific videos or channels. While these approaches are a good step, Reviewed's parenting editor Anna Lane suggests avoiding YouTube for younger kids, and limiting it to children who are 10 or older.
If you are comfortable with your child viewing YouTube, you may want to look into YouTube premium. If you’re a YouTube Premium subscriber ($11.99 a month following a free three-month trial), your kiddo can watch ad-free, and even download favorite videos for offline viewing when Wi-Fi isn’t available. Some of the good points of YouTube Kids include dedicated categories for things like arts and crafts, toy collecting and play, education and hobbies, and, of course, child-friendly shows and cartoons.
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