Streaming services like Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu put a vast library of movies and television shows at your fingertips. But the sheer size of the repository makes it easier than ever for youngsters to stumble across inappropriate content.
So the companies that provide all this digital media have integrated a number of parental controls into their platforms. However, you may not know how to find all the settings. Here’s how to establish protections for younger eyes and ears.
When you decide to control what your kids watch on Netflix, you have two options: Create a new, limited user profile, or set up password protections for mature content.
First, you can set up a dedicated user profile for your children. This has the added benefit of keeping their viewing separate from your own, preventing your recommendations from filling up with children’s shows and cartoons. However, it’s not perfect: This method relies on kids to stick to their own profiles, but they can easily switch from their account to yours.
To take this step, visit the Netflix web interface, hover over your account avatar on the top right, and click Manage Profiles. Click Add Profile, give the new account a name, tick the Child box, and hit Continue. Then select the profile and choose an option from the Allowed TV shows and movies list. You can choose between a few categories. For Little Kids only limits viewers to content rated G, TV-Y, or TV-G; For Older Kids and below allows them to watch those little-kids videos as well as those rated PG, TV-Y7, TV-Y7-FV, or TV-PG; and For Teens and below expands to encompass anything rated PG-13 or TV-14. Finally, click Save to confirm your choice. This will add your new child profile, with the appropriate content blocks built in.
Your second option is to require that users enter a 4-digit PIN in order to view mature content. This applies across all the profiles, so your kids can’t side-step it by switching to your account.
To set up your PIN, log into the Netflix website, hover over your account avatar on the top right, and click Account > Parental controls > Create PIN. Once you’ve saved a number, you have to decide what to hide behind it. You can block shows and films of a certain maturity level, individual titles, or both.
If you’d prefer to set up these controls from your phone, you can access the same two options via the mobile apps (for Android and iOS). If you tap More in the bottom-right corner, you can either create one of those new child-friendly profiles or access the Account menu option, which redirects you to the web interface to establish your PIN.
Before you set up restrictions on your YouTube account, think about how you and your kids use it. Do you primarily watch through your web browser? In that case, click your avatar on the top right and select Restricted Mode > Activate Restricted Mode. This setting blocks all videos “with potentially mature content”…but it only works in the current browser account, which means your kid can avoid it by opening an incognito window. So this mode acts as a quick and easy fix, but it’s not the most long-term or reliable option.
If you prefer to watch on your phone or tablet, then you can still find the same Restricted Mode option. Open the YouTube app (for Android and iOS), tap your avatar on the top right, and choose Settings. Again, these restrictions only apply to the one device—and if your kids have enough chutzpah, they can just disable the mode when you’re not looking.
Luckily, your phone offers a more effective option: Install the YouTube Kids app (for Android and iOS) on the devices your kids use to watch videos. This version of the streaming app will only play videos suitable for younger people, and you can exert full control over what your youngsters get to see.
Once you download the app and open it, it will ask you which restrictions you want to put in place. For example, you can set the age of all the children who will access the app, so it can tailor the allowed material accordingly. You can also choose whether or not to block the search function. If you decide to change these options at a later date, simply tap the lock button on the bottom right and hit Settings. From this screen, you can also enable Approved content only, which limits viewers to only specific videos and channels that you’ve approved in advance. The lock-button menu also includes a Timer option, which gives your children a limited window in which they can use the app. When the timer runs out, they won’t be able to access the app until you reset it again.
For the iTunes app, your parental-control options include not only videos, but music and books as well. The steps will again vary depending on whether you’re watching on a computer or a more portable device.
On a PC or a Mac, launch the Edit menu (on Windows) or the iTunes menu (on macOS), click Preferences, and switch to the Restrictions tab. Here, you can limit music, films, TV shows, and books by maturity rating, or completely switch off components of the app, like the iTunes Store and podcasts. Once you’ve set your limits, click the lock icon to prevent future changes. Now anyone trying to tinker with the settings will have to enter the password associated with your Windows or macOS account.
Although you can’t put iTunes on an Android device, you can adjust the parental controls on iPhones and iPads. To block access based on age ratings, open the iOS settings and tap General > Screen Time > Content & Privacy Restrictions. Turn the Content & Privacy Restrictions toggle switch to On, and then tap Content Restrictions. Now you can set age limits for all content on the device, including music, podcasts, movies, TV shows, books, apps, and websites. On the previous menu page, you can set even bigger restrictions: Hit iTunes & App Store Purchases to prevent the installation of new apps and block in-app purchases, or tap the Allowed Apps option to completely turn off access apps like Safari and the iTunes Store.
These parental controls make up part of a broader suite of Screen Time controls. In addition to content restriction, you can set time limits on specific apps (in Settings > Screen Time > App Limits), or create a schedule when certain apps won’t open (from the previous menu, hit Downtime). To prevent little hands from changing these options without your permission, tap Use Screen Time Passcode and set a PIN.
To control what your family watches on Google Play, you need to put a block on your Android devices. Even if you share a device with your kids, you should set up those restrictions—you can always override them when you want to watch something geared toward adult viewers.
Open the Play Store app, tap the Menu button (three lines) on the top left, and choose Settings > Parental controls. Toggle the top switch to On, set a PIN, and go into the different content categories to set some age limits. If you need to lift the limitations, enter that PIN to turn parental controls off again.
Another way to manage your family’s screen time is to download Google’s Family Link app (for Android and iOS). It acts as a hub that lets parents monitor and control a child’s Google account. From the opening screen, tap your child’s name and hit Manage settings > Controls on Google Play. Then go through the categories setting age restrictions on each one.
However, app restrictions won’t stop your kids from accessing Google Play on the web and installing apps or viewing movies from there. So if your youngsters use your computer as well, you’ll have to establish restrictions there as needed. Plus, the same Google account can use YouTube to access any videos it has purchased on Google Play Movies & TV. To avoid this workaround, use the earlier instructions to put parental controls on Youtube as well.
Like the other streaming services, Hulu let you set parental controls on your account. The main way to do this is similar to Netflix’s solution: Create individual profiles for your kids. Again, this requires that you make sure your children won’t log out of their profiles and into yours. But if they play by the rules, they won’t be able to accidentally stumble across movies and TV shows they shouldn’t see.
To add a new profile, open the Hulu website, head to your account page , and click Profiles. Enter a name for the new account and turn on the Kids toggle switch. Then enter a birth date to establish your child’s age, preventing him or her from viewing content rated inappropriate for that age level.
You can also configure a kid’s profile through the Hulu apps (for Android and iOS). Tap the Account tab (the image of a person), choose the current profile, and tap New Profile. Then specify a name and birth date, and mark this as a child’s profile, to set up the appropriate restrictions.