When I was a kid, my parents had it easy in terms of what to let me watch. Shows like South Park, anything on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, and all of the good horror movies were locked behind an easy to set up door called “bed time.” Not that getting me to bed was an easy task, but whenever I would pop out of my room for “water” there were my parents, keeping me away from the “forbidden shows” I so wanted to watch.
These days, however, things are a bit trickier. While Adult Swim was once time-locked, now adults can get their Rick and Morty fix whenever they want. But that means kids can as well, even if it’s just on accident, or because it’s a cartoon and they like cartoons.
Not all is lost though. There are plenty of great choices for parents who want to give their kids some freedom in their TV time, without risking any too scarring. Here are the best streaming apps directed specifically at kids.
Netflix Kids (Ages 3+)
The dedicated kids section on Netflix is relatively safe, and you can set age restrictions on individual profiles, going as specific as “Kids” and “Little Kids,” which is a nice touch. You will have to occasionally double check that everything that is recommended is still age appropriate, but it shouldn’t become an issue. Another bonus to Netflix is that the first row is characters that they can recognize, so you don’t necessarily go through it with them reading the title cards to them.
Amazon Freetime (Ages 3+)
For a low monthly fee of $2.99/month you get access to Amazon’s great kids offering. Freetime serves as a launch pad for a whole slew of kid friendly shows, movies, books and audio books, games, and educational apps. It also features some of the best parental controls for kids apps, with a sliding scale of age restrictions, screen time limits, easy to manage web browsing and content usage, and even set daily educational goals before games and shows can be accessed. You can even add content from other content providers like Netflix and YouTube as you see fit. This app is best when paired with Amazon’s Freetime Fire tablet, but can be used on any Android or iOS device.
PBS Kids (Ages 3+)
PBS Kids is PBS. For kids. For free. Do I really need to say any more? Available on Android, iOS, and Kindle Fire, this app is not only safe, content-wise, but it is designed so kids can easily navigate it on their own. The app also offers a live feed to whatever is on the air, as well as a wealth of on-demand options.
DisneyNOW (Ages 4+)/Disney+ (Unknown)
We all know that Disney is getting into the streaming game, but unlimited Marvel movies is not their endgame (sorry). Disney is the gold standard for kid friendly content, and they are not forgetting their roots in their foray into the streaming world. The app has content from Disney Channel, Disney XD, Radio Disney, and Disney Junior. Upon signing up, your child can pick a series of “favorites” from a range of character thumbnails. There is also a selection of games, original shows, and access to their live TV offerings. While some of the content is free, you will have to sign in with a TV provider for full access.
On a similar note, Disney+ will be launching this November. At $6.99/month, it is cheaper than Netflix, and can be bundled with a Hulu and ESPN subscription. While we don’t know many specifics about how the app will deal with parental controls, we do know it will have them, and those settings will automatically update any child profiles under the account. There are also indications that even with the 21st Century Fox deal, Disney will be keeping the app with the Disney name on it on the more family friendly side of things just in general, and leave the more adult content on Hulu, which it holds a majority stake in.
Cartoon Network (Ages 9+)
Sitting on the older side of things, Cartoon Network has a solid app experience with all of its original shows, even the classics like The Powerpuff Girls, as well as a suite of games based on their shows. Older classics, as well as some new hits like Teen Titans Go!, The Amazing World of Gumball and Steven Universe have some full episodes for free, but to get full access, you will need to sign up with your TV provider.
Nickelodeon (Ages 4+)
Nickelodeon actually offers three separate apps, Nick, Nick Jr., and Noggin, with content separated by age range. Nick and Nick Jr. are accessible through a TV provider log-in, Noggin is a monthly subscription running at $7.99. For this, you get a whole host of age appropriate content for pre-schoolers, including shows, interactive videos, and educational content. It is supported on iOS, Android, Amazon, and Roku.