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What Streaming Player Offers the Best Parental Controls? (Answering Your Questions)


Most streaming players offer parental controls that allow you to have control over what content is streamed to your house. This enables parents to feel safe letting their kids access content on their Roku or Fire TV to name a few.

I get asked about parental controls for cord cutters and, as a parent with a 4 year old, I also wanted to know what device offers the best parental controls. So I started to do a little digging and found out that I didn’t have to do that much work myself. Recently the Parents Television Council (PTC) released its rankings of streaming players based on parental controls.

The following paragraphs describe how PTC ranked parental controls and then my thoughts on the parental controls by streaming player.

Chromecast

The Chromecast received PTC’s highest ranking for one reason: the lack of a remote. According to its report, “The device is controlled via a mobile app (i.e., no remote control) and has no pre-loaded apps or menu screens.” It went on, “Therefore, whoever holds the smart phone controls the content, and since it’s unlikely a parent would hand their phone over to a child for an extended period, unsupervised, it all but guarantees that viewing will only be done with adult supervision.”

Now that is a great idea, but my 4-year-old daughter is more than capable of using my phone or tablet to cast videos to the Chromecast. More than once have I found my tablet missing because she was watching videos with it.

So while PTC may give them an A rating for not having a remote, I would caution you against the idea that just because it does not have a remote that your kids will not be able to access it.

Luke’s ranking: C. While the apps that use Chromecast typically have parental controls, there are no parental controls for Chromecast devices themselves.

Apple TV

The PTC gives the Apple TV a ranking of B for allowing parental controls to block purchases of movies, TV shows, and music unless you have a password. You can also set limits on featured content allowing you to not have MA-rated shows be promoted. Now that won’t stop them from being played, but you won’t receive recommendations for MA-rated shows.

For services, such as Netflix and Hulu, you will need to use the parental controls on each stream player.

Luke’s ranking: B. The ability to block purchases is not just great for limiting content, but it also prevents an unexpected high bill; however, I wish it would also allow us to prevent apps from being opened.

Roku

The PTC gave Roku a D rating. I’m honestly not sure why because it also reported that Roku offers the same parental controls as the Apple TV does. The Roku website notes: “Creating a PIN only affects the ability to purchase or add channels from the Roku Channel Store. It does not filter channels or block content from the Roku Channel Store.”

Once again, though, inside apps such as Netflix use their own parental controls.

Luke’s ranking: B. Once again I wish I could set a pin to open some apps such as HBO NOW; however, Roku offers similar parental controls to the Apple TV.

Fire TV

The PTC gave the Fire TV a ranking of C. Just like all the other devices, Amazon allows Fire TV owners to set a pin to block access to the Fire TV store; however, content outside the store can still be accessed such as Prime and apps like Netflix.

Luke’s ranking: B+. The Fire TV is heavily geared to the Amazon store. By locking down the Amazon Store you greatly reduce the amount of content your kids can get access to.

*Note: The Parents Television Council did not rank Android TV.

In Conclusion

All these devices offer similar parental controls. The big issue is not the device but the apps you add to them. The more apps and services you have the more parental controls you need to set up.

Luke’s Dream Parental Control 

My dream parental control system for streaming players is a pin that will be needed to launch select apps. For example, my kids could open PBS Kids without a pin but need one to access HBO NOW. Hopefully one day…

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  • This seems misleading, if not flat out wrong. I can’t speak for the other devices but on the Fire TV you can both restrict by rating for watching shows purchased or streamed from Amazon and turn on pin protection for all apps preventing any launches without the pin.

    I would love for them to introduce app-specific pin protection so you can allow launches of apps that have their own controls without requiring a pin (like Netflix), but to say there’s no controls other than on purchasing is plain wrong.

  • GersonT1000

    Parental controls is something that the device makers (and service providers) really need to improve a lot on. More and more people are turning to services like Sling, Vue, Netflix, Amazon Video and DirecTV Now and are buying all kinds of streaming devices because of this. It is very easy for kids to be exposed to inappropriate content. I have to be watching my kid like a hawk to make sure she doesn’t accidentally go into HBO or my Netflix profile. As a child ages, you also have to worry about them deliberately trying to access these to watch something they KNOW they shouldn’t watch. Roku sucks for parental controls, and FireTV only allows you to pin protect ALL apps or no apps. I chose to pin protect everything even if it’s annoying to me.

    I applaud Sling for the ability to pin protect shows based on their rating. Netflix should have a pin for the individual profiles if desired so a kid doesn’t wander into their parents’. FireTV, Roku and AppleTV (and all other device makers) should allow pin protection of specific apps and filtering of their home screen recommendations and/or ads based on parental options.