These days, it’s hard to keep track of all the different ways families can watch TV shows and movies. Streaming services like Netflix and Hulu have dominated the scene for years, but recent additions of Disney+ and Amazon Prime Video mean parents have even more things to keep track of.
With all these options available for family entertainment, it’s no surprise that kids spend so much time in front of the TV. According to the University of Michigan, kids aged 2–5 spend an average of 32 hours a week in front of a TV. Although this number does decrease as they get older, but not by much. The same study found that 6-11 year olds spend about 28 hours watching TV a week. And while TV can be an educational and positive experience for children, there is also a handful of content out there that isn’t suited for younger viewers. So it’s important that parent’s stay on top of their children’s viewing habits and screen time to make sure they are only watching content relevant and appropriate to their age.
To help busy parents decide which streaming service is right for their families, our team has broken down everything you need to know about the top streaming services available. Check out our guide to get the inside scoop on parental controls, streamable shows and more!
Kids and streaming: what you need to know
For many families, watching TV together is a bonding activity and an opportunity to spend time together at the end of every day. But kids watch a lot of TV, and parents can’t always be there to monitor what they are viewing.
Thankfully, many of the most popular services have parental controls which allow for some guidance on age-appropriate programming.
One of the most popular channels for kids across the nation, Disney+ is a recent addition to the streaming arena. The service shattered subscriber projections in their first few months, with over 53 million homes already subscribed. Available on most smart TVs, mobile and gaming devices, Disney+ allows viewers to enjoy their classic movies and brand-new programming on almost every device out there. This is a huge perk for parents as they can turn on their kids favorite movies via a phone or tablet no matter where they are.
Disney owns a variety of brands and franchises including Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic and The History Channel, making Disney+ a great option the whole family is sure to enjoy. And with a variety of new shows and exclusive movies slated to be released on the platform in the coming years, it’s clear that Disney+ is a family-friend option sure to entertain.
Cost: Disney+ costs $6.99/mo. for a monthly subscription, or subscribers can choose to buy a whole year of streaming for only $69.99. And even though we discovered that most Americans don’t want to pay to bundle services, it’s worth noting that Disney also has a bundle package available with Hulu and ESPN+. This bundle will run parents a monthly fee of $12.99 (averaging $5 in savings).
Unlike many of the other streaming services on this list, Disney+ doesn’t host any R-rated content on its platform, making it a great option for families with younger children. However, their parental controls are limited and can be bypassed pretty easily by kids as they get older. Below if a breakdown of what controls are available to parents and the services potential pitfalls:
- Parents can create a “Kid” profile on their account which blocks all PG and PG-13 content.
- Note: All profiles are accessible via the home screen, meaning tech-savvy kids can easily hop over to your account if they wanted to view higher-rated shows and movies.
- Parents cannot choose between blocking PG or PG-13 content only.
- There are no screen time limit features on Disney+.
- Disney provides a “Outdated Cultural Depictions” warning on some of it’s older content for things like tobacco use.
- It does not allow parents to block these types of shows and movies from their children’s accounts.
What to stream
Disney+ has hundreds of shows and movies from their 96-year history that families are sure to love, and they are adding in original content on a regular basis. Not sure where to start? Here are our recommendations for shows and movies worth exploring.
Parents will appreciate the access to Disney’s vault, with classics like The Sandlot and the original Parent Trap. There is also a variety of documentaries, action flicks and fan-favorite TV shows geared towards adults and kids alike, allowing for an opportunity for parents to introduce their kids to some of their favorite Disney classics. Some notable mentions for parents include:
- Free Solo: A documentary about the world first free solo climber of the treacherous El Capitan.
- The Simpsons: The first 30 seasons of this animated series with a cult following is available to stream via Disney+.
- The World According to Jeff Goldblum: This docu-series follows Goldblum as he explores cultural trends and the unexpected ways we are connected to one another.
No matter the age, there are plenty of things for kids to watch once they sign into Disney+. The mix of cartoons plus new and classic kids shows can help introduce your kids to a whole new cast of characters they are sure to love. A few great ones to start with are:
- Muppet Babies: A new spin on a classic show, Muppet Babies is perfect for younger children as their favorite Muppet characters have fun and learn valuable life lessons along the way. (Age range: 4+)
- Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: This classic comedy is sure to please the whole family when father and inventor Wyane Szalinski accidentally shrinks his children. (Age range: 6+)
- Fantasia: The movie that helped skyrocket Mickey Mouse’s fame, Fantasia follows Mickey as he makes magical discoveries set to a beautiful soundtrack. (Age range: 6+)
The biggest name in streaming to date, Netflix has a host of shows and movies from various studios and has even ventured out into creating their own. While many people consider their content mostly geared towards adults, they actually have a lot of family-friendly content that ranges from heart-warming movies to educational shows kids will love.
Cost: Netflix offers several subscription packages based on the number of profiles and screens you can add to your account as well as the visual quality of the shows. Their basic package starts at $8.99/mo. with no HD or Ultra HD options and only one screen is allowed to watch at a time. Their Standard and Premium plans run at $12.99/mo. and $15.99/mo., and offer more screens and more HD content.
Netflix allows for a lot of customization with what programs your kids see and are able to watch, but setting up these controls can be a bit confusing. Much like Disney+, you can set up a kids profile that will only show content suitable for those 12 and under. However, if parents want to block things further depending on their child’s age, they have a few options:
- “Little Kids Only” filter further blocks violent and romantic content for children 12 and younger.
- This filter cannot be updated via traditional viewing devices. Parents will have to log in on their computer to set up this extended filter.
- Kids can easily navigate to other profiles that may not have the same filters.
- Specific shows and movies (as well as all content rated at certain maturity levels) can be blocked by setting up a PIN. PINs don’t have to be entered for each episode of a series, only when the rating changes.
- Parents can turn off trailer auto-play, to prevent inadvertently showing mature content while kids are browsing.
- Few shows provide trigger or content warnings before watching.
What to stream
With plenty of awards under their belt, Netflix provides hours of entertainment for all age ranges and tastes. Here’s a glimpse at some of the best content for parents and kids.
With award-winning originals, well-loved series and everything in between, Netflix has a show or movie for everyone. Since you are paying for access to their original content, we suggest starting out with some of their best:
- The Crown: This Emmy and Golden Globe winning show takes a new look at the life and reign of Queen Elizabeth II.
- BoJack Horseman: You’ll want to put the kids to bed before bingeing this smart and raunchy animated comedy about a horse man looking to restart his once thriving Hollywood career.
- Russian Doll: Produced by Amy Poehler and it’s star Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll is a mysterious series of a woman who is reliving the same night over and over again, dying a different way each time.
Nickelodeon favorites and spin offs make up just a small portion of the kid-friendly content on Netflix. From hit animated series to classics even young tweens will enjoy, Netflix boasts a surprisingly deep catalog.
- The Magic School Bus Rides Again: A show you can feel good about letting your kids watch, Netflix also hosts the original version of this beloved and educational series. (Age range: 5+)
- Dragons Riders of Berk: Based on the hit movie How to Train Your Dragon, kids are sure to love this action-packed and funny look at their favorite dragon trainers. (Age range: 8+)
- Sofia the First: Perfect for little ones, this series follows a young Sofia as she learns about bravery, kindness and what it means to be a princess (with the help of many Disney princesses along the way). (Age range: 3+)
Owned by Disney, Hulu is most popular for providing access to episodes of current series the day after they air which not many other services do. But that’s not to say they are lacking in shows and motion pictures suitable for the whole family. Popular flicks from Nickelodeon, Dreamworks and Cartoon Network provide hours of fun and can easily be found through Hulu’s various sorting features.
Hulu is also a super fun entertainment source for families during the holidays, with limited time viewing available of Christmas and Halloween favorites. Scroll through their themed roundups to discover something new and relive your childhood favorites through every season.
Cost: With basic packages starting at $5.99/mo. to deluxe packages with live TV starting at $54.99/mo., Hulu has plenty of options depending on your streaming needs. Do your research before making a subscription decision here, as they offer commercial free viewing and channel add ons that can greatly change your Hulu experience.
Hulu’s parental control settings are applied to either the individual profiles or the entire account as a whole. A kids profile can easily be set up to prevent R or TV-MA content from appearing, but there are no additional options for older tweens profiles that don’t require the same restriction as they did when they were younger. A few additional things to keep in mind with Hulu:
- Kids profiles are grouped by one age range, 12 and under.
- There are no restrictive access capabilities to keep kids from hopping over to an adult profile.
- Without setting up a profile for kids, the only way to restrict content is to call Hulu and requesting an account setting change.
- However, this means that mature content won’t be viewable in any profile, no matter the age range associated.
What to stream
After you are finished catching up on your favorite shows of the season, checking out Hulu’s stack of movies and series is a must. Below is an inside look at some of the options available to you with your subscription:
Hulu has a plethora of new and critically acclaimed movies to enjoy, some of which we’ve rounded up below to get you started after you sign up for your free trial.
- Greenbook: A story of friendship and adversity, this Oscar winning flick follows pianist Dr Don Shirley and his driver Tony Lip as they travel the country in 1960’s America.
- Us: This movie will keep you on the edge of your seat as a family of four defends themselves against intruders who look eerily similar to themselves.
- A Star is Born: The most recent remake of this tear-inducing movie stars Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper on their path to love and stardom.
Hulu has a lot of great options for the cartoon obsessed kids as well as those who tend to like classic Nickelodeon shows like Drake & Josh. Here are a few great shows to show your kids during their next screen time:
- Rugrats: A 90’s classic that is still well-loved to this day, Hulu has over 163 episodes of the hilarious hijinks Tommy and his friends get into as babies. (Age range: 6+)
- The Powerpuff Girls: Empower your little ones through the adventures of three young sisters with super powers who help save their town on a regular basis. (Age range: 8+)
- Doc McStuffins: This animated series follows a young girl playing doctor who discovers her stuffed animals can come to life, making it a great fit for young girls with big dreams. (Age range: 4+)
Amazon Prime Video
In addition to the one-day shipping and various other perks of your Amazon Prime membership, your subscription also includes Amazon Prime Video (although you can choose to sign up for just the video service by itself). Most often known for its award-winning originals, Amazon also has an impressive list of family friendly movies and kid focused shows that allow you to take your Amazon membership to the next level.
Cost: Prime video is $8.99/mo. without any of the regular Amazon Prime perks. If you want to take advantage of everything Amazon has to offer, a full Prime membership (including Prime video access) is $12.99/mo. or $119 a year.
Amazon’s parental controls operate on a rating system basis, so parents can choose to block access to anything over PG or PG-13 from their accounts without a PIN. But there are a few other things parents should be aware of when setting up a Amazon account as well:
- While a PIN can be set up to restrict access to adult content for the overall account, there are a few exceptions to this rule.
- Several devices have different control settings that need to be set up individually. This includes Amazon Fire TV and other Fire devices and the Xbox 360.
- If you have a traditional Amazon Prime account, you can create a “Household” that allows you to have multiple profiles with different age groups.
- Within each profile, you can restrict what that account is allowed to watch and disable the ability to make purchases.
What to stream
Shows like Fleabag and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel make Amazon worthy of it’s higher price tag for a full membership. Parents are sure to love the variety of action packed blockbusters and provocative comedies that make their way to Amazon’s service. A few highlights include:
- Fleabag: With just two short seasons, this BBC Three dark comedy is a bingeable story of a young woman’s journal of sexual and internal liberation.
- Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan: Bringing this series of novels to the small screen, Jack Ryan (played by John Krasinki from The Office) is a CIA analyst who takes on a dangerous assignment.
- Catastrophe: Parents are sure to relate to this modern take on romance and parenthood from Britain that is often dubbed as an anti-romcom romcom.
If your kids are big fans of popular YouTube stars, Amazon is a great choice as many of their favorite creators have videos on Amazon as well. This is particularly great for parents as Amazon allows for much more control over what your kids can watch than YouTube does. Outside of YouTube content, Amazon has a variety of other options for younger viewers. Here are a few streaming suggestions:
- Stuart Little: Kids will love following the tale of Stuart Little, a spunky mouse who sets out for adventure after moving in with his adopted human family. (Age range: 7+)
- Ready, Jet, Go!: Take an out of this world adventure with Jet, an alien from planet Borton 7, as he and his human friends learn about science and explore outer space. (Age range: 4+)
- Wonder: This book adaptation will tug at your heartstrings and instill valuable lessons in the importance of acceptance long after the credits have rolled. (Age range: 10+)
Another newer service in the streaming market is Apple TV+. Unlike their competitors, Apple TV+ hosts a majority of original content meaning families won’t often be hopping on to enjoy older movies or bingeable sitcoms. But, the original shows they have put out so far have received rave reviews, meaning it might be worth it for a family hungry for new and creative entertainment.
Cost: One of the cheapest options on the market, Apple TV+ runs at just $4.99/mo.. And when you buy any Apple device, you get one year free.
Apple has a variety of restriction options that allow you to control your account and media setup with ease, and prevent others from messing with it. The most important restrictions parents need to know about are:
- Through the General tab in your account settings, you can restrict access to certain shows, movies, videos and apps based on their ratings or your personal preferences.
- Parents can also restrict things like Siri’s use of explicit language, the ability to make purchases without a PIN or podcasts and music that have adult language or content.
What to stream
While Apple is relatively new to the production game, their current series are not to be missed and appeal to both kids and adults alike. And since most consumers own at least one Apple device, many people will be hopping onto Apple TV+ for the first time without a clue what to watch. While their category pages can be helpful, below are some great ones to start with:
Check out this new and upcoming content slated for release on Apple TV+ that is sure to captivate once the kids are in bed:
- The Morning Show: This inside look on TV show hosts has a star-studded cast including Jennifer Aniston, Reese Witherspoon and Steve Carrell.
- Dickinson: This twisted comedy allows for a new look at writer Emily Dickinson as she observes the antiquated rules of her time and pushes societal norms.
- Truth be Told: A thriller centering around a podcaster who tries to uncover the truth after realizing the role her successful podcast played in putting an innocent man behind bars.
Several new cartoons and spin-offs of old favorites are in the pipeline for Apple TV+, making this a perfect streaming add on for kids who are wanting something new.
- Ghostwriter: Kids will love the mystery and sci-fi elements of this 90s reboot about a heroic group of teens that can communicate with a ghost through writing. (Age range: 8+)
- Helpsters: This unique take on a children’s show centers around new Sesame Street characters who work together to solve problems and teach young children the importance of math and coding. (Age range: 4+)
- Snoopy in Space: The Peanuts story continues in this new film about Snoopy’s dream of going to space and the lengths his friends will go to get him there. (Age range: 4+)
Family streaming and screen time rules
No matter which service you choose for your family, it’s important to set rules with your children to make sure that they not only watch age-appropriate content but that they don’t spend too much time in front of the TV as well.
The following are some example rules to implement within your family to help keep tech time at a healthy level. With every family rule, it’s important to be firm with your children about what is and isn’t allowed and set a good example by following the same rules as well.
- Set a tech time limit. Either by number of hours a day or during a set time in the day, setting a time limit for screen time helps encourage outdoor play and socialization.
- Use router Wi-Fi controls. This will help parents restrict when kids have access to the internet.
- Invest in monitoring services. Softwares and programs like Norton, Disney’s Circle and Bitdefender can help parents control every device in their home, set bedtimes for tech use, monitor search history and much more.
- New shows must be reviewed. Even with all the parental controls in the world, it’s possible that some things you would rather not have your children watch can slip through the cracks. This rule will help to combat that issue, allowing you to research the premise (and it’s Common Sense Media grade) before they watch it.
- Turn off the TV during family time. This allows your family to grow closer as you aren’t distracted by outside entertainment.
- Co-watch their favorite shows. Not only does this give you the opportunity to make sure they are watching age-appropriate things, but you can also start important conversations about the shows themes to help them absorb valuable lessons.
- Explain repercussions. It’s important to make the consequences of breaking these rules clear to your children, and follow through with them when they break the rules. This will help ensure the boundaries are followed and that TV is viewed as a privilege not a right.
- Only allow streaming in mutual locations. Bringing their shows into the living room or dining room helps prevent them from going off on their own and exploring content they know they shouldn’t be watching.
Additional resources for parental controls
Outside of the parental controls provided in these popular services, there are extra steps parents can take to help their children stay safe on all their devices. Below is some recommended reading to help parents manage the impact tech has on their children’s lives.
- Safety Detective – Parents’ Guide for Safe YouTube and Internet Streaming for Kids
- Kids Health – How Media Use Affects Your Child
- Healthychildren.org – Kids & Tech: Tips for Parents in the Digital Age
- Family Online Safety Institute – Parenting in the Digital Age
Streaming services can serve an important purpose in a child’s life, showing them positive role models, helping to develop their critical problem solving skills and introducing positive lifestyle habits that can help them grow up to be better people. However, it’s easy for them to accidentally view content they shouldn’t, so it’s important for parents to be especially diligent of what their children watch and when. By allowing TV and movies to be a small part of a child’s well-rounded life, parents can help set important boundaries and set their children on a lifelong path of exploring and learning.