Family with tablet

Best Streaming Services for Kids and Families (updated for 2021)

Family movie nights are a fantastic way to spend some quality time together. They’re an affordable and convenient way to enjoy some family bonding time. They’re fun and beneficial for the kids too. Now more than ever, the choice of movies and TV shows that you can watch at home is growing. However, having young children can make finding that perfect movie or show a little more difficult. Wondering which are the best streaming services for families? We’re here to help narrow down the decision and help you find the best streaming platform for your whole family.

Every family is different, but for the widest variety of entertainment and the best selection of movies and shows, we like Disney Plus and Amazon Prime Video. Hulu and Netflix are also good choices if you have older kids in your family. Read on for more about these services in-depth.

Are streaming services really that different?

Yep. Streaming services really can be that different. They’re quite different actually, especially when it comes to the family-friendly content they have to offer. Many factors go into which streaming service to select for your family. The ages and maturity levels of your kids are crucial considerations. And so is the type of content your family is most interested in. So here is a breakdown of a few options that you might consider.

Do all streaming services have parental controls?

First of all, no, not all streaming services offer parental controls. So, if this is something that you feel is important, you will want to make sure to choose something that gives you that control.

And then you might also be asking, “Do I really even need parental controls on my streaming services?”

This is a much more personal question that you’ll have to answer on your own. In order to answer that for your family and feel safe about your content streaming situation you should consider the following:

How much control do you feel like you need?

Whether or not you’re a helicopter parent, you should be monitoring what your kids watch to some extent.

Maybe you’ve gotten to a point where you trust your kids and feel they need to make their own choices. Having parental controls, in your opinion, removes that decision-making process unnecessarily. If that’s the case, then you probably won’t bother with setting up parental controls anyway. So, you can remove this from your list of needs.

Maybe you’re of the mind that kids will be kids and will find inappropriate content whenever and however they can. If so, you’ll definitely want to install some parental controls to help direct them.

If you’re somewhere in between this spectrum, which my family is (although we do lean towards the “helping direct them” lane very often), then you’ll still want to go the parental control route and just make the settings more lenient.

Stanford Children’s Health has some great recommendations for watching shows and movies with your kids. Here’s a good example:

Choose programs for your child to watch. Always plan what your child will be watching. Don’t turn on a viewing device randomly. Give choices between 2 programs you think are appropriate for your child.

How old are your kids?

If you have very young kids, you might be lulled into thinking that they won’t be able to figure out the remote or the streaming service interface anyway, so parental controls aren’t necessary. Just make sure to watch them as they play with your iPad or your phone. They’re a lot smarter and more capable than you might think at first. It doesn’t take long to set up parental controls, and they’ll be there as your kids get older if you don’t quite need them today.

If your kids are older teens, it might be tempting to just let them have free rein to the TV and devices in the house. Just remember that the services many of us choose to stream also contain shows that probably shouldn’t be watched by anyone if we’re honest. And, if we’re still being honest, who wouldn’t want to watch those shows? Make sure you’re aware of what programming your teens might stumble upon. Then make the decision to either block it or trust them to avoid it.

The most difficult age, I think, is that in-between age…the tweens and early teens. These are the kids who will look for whatever programming they can find, and may also be highly impacted by it. They also probably know more about the remote and the streaming service interface than anyone in the house. This is a great age to introduce some classic movies and shows to your kids. Also, it’s a good time to start watching programming where your kids will ask important questions, so watch with them. Parental controls are highly recommended for this age group.

How often do your kids watch TV alone?

If you’re always with your kids when your family watches TV, then parental controls are pretty unnecessary.

But most of us allow our kids, at least to some extent, to watch TV on their own or with friends. It can be a good way for them to unwind. And alone time is important for kids too, at least it is in our house. Protecting them from inappropriate content is a lot easier with parental controls set up.

The Stanford Children’s Health article mentioned above also recommends that we watch TV with our kids and talk with them about what happens. But when you do allow your kids to make decisions on their own, you can make it easier for them by setting your own boundaries beforehand.

Parental controls on streaming devices

It’s good to point out that if you choose the right device, it can be a great first layer of protection across all of the services and apps that you subscribe to. Some are better than others, but it really depends on your family situation and your needs. Here are just a couple of examples.

Roku does allow you to set up parental controls, but the “streaming device does not offer a global parental control setting to restrict access to content across all streaming channels.” So, you’ll need to set up the controls through the Roku Channel if you want that protection. More info is on the Roku parental control support article.

Amazon Fire TV Stick does have global parental controls that you can set for all content. This, coupled with the settings for each service you stream, can be a really good way to monitor and control the content that your kids can access.

Is Hulu good for families?

Hulu’s most basic plan now costs $5.99 a month, and you can watch thousands of movies and shows at all subscription levels. When it comes to network television, this service has you covered. They also offer many of the hit shows currently airing on cable. You can binge-watch entire seasons with Hulu. You can keep up with new episodes that are added to the service the day after they air. From Comedy Central to Cartoon Network, Hulu’s inventory of shows is extensive. There’s also a wide selection for the kids, both young and old.

When you select a plan, you have options to customize your experience as well. You can opt for viewing with no ads, or you can add the Starz network, HBO, Showtime, or Cinemax. If you need to entertain the kids for a while but won’t be able to watch alongside them, Hulu also offers parental controls. So whatever device they’re watching on, you’re can make sure they’re watching safe, appropriate content.

If you like to keep up with live TV, Hulu also has an option called Hulu with Live TV. On top of the already expansive catalog of shows, movies, and original Hulu content, this option allows you to watch 60 channels of live and on-demand TV. It’s an alternative to cable, but starting at $64.99 / month it’s a pretty pricey one. You can use your Hulu subscription to log into their network of partner websites and stream content from NatGeo, Travel Channel, and Disney to name a few.

One of Hulu’s downsides is its smaller selection of good movies. Though the choices are growing, Hulu’s strong point is definitely the selection of network TV shows. So, if you’re looking for a streaming service that satisfies your cinema needs, you might want to look elsewhere.

So, is Hulu a good family choice?

Not our main family choice, but still highly recommended especially if you’re only subscribing to one service.

  • Parental controls / Kid profile
    • Yep. Hulu offers the ability to create profiles, including Kids profiles that restrict users to the Kids hub and protects them from mature content.
  • Variety and selection of programming
    • Hulu is one of our favorites for adults, but it’s harder for us to find a lot of kids and family programming. There are some great programs for the family though, such as The Voice, The Masked Singer, Adventure Time, and Over the Garden Wall. If you haven’t checked out Over the Garden Wall by the way, it’s great!
  • Good for younger kids
    • You’ll find some decent older shows like Spongebob Square Pants, The PowerPuff Girls, Rugrats, and Pinky and the Brain; however, it’s harder for us to find really good content for this age group on Hulu.
  • Good for older kids
    • Older kids will find plenty of good movies and some classic TV shows on Hulu.
  • Good for tweens
    • Hulu offers a decent selection of shows from Cartoon Network and Disney XD that this age group will love. Who doesn’t love a good Adventure Time binge now and then? Did we mention Over the Garden Wall?
  • Good for the entire family
    • Hulu isn’t our go-to service for family fun time. I can definitely see this working really well for some families though. I recommend checking into the service to see if it fits your family.
  • Some specific shows available that we like
    • While it can be harder to find family programming on Hulu than it is on other services like Disney+, they do still offer a decent selection. The Princess Bride, Megamind, and Night at the Museum are all available on Hulu.

Is Netflix family-friendly?

Originally a DVD-by-mail service, Netflix has become the top online, on-demand streaming platform. Netflix plans start at 8.99 per month and get more expensive based on the streaming quality you choose. Unlike Hulu, Netflix’s original focus was on movies, which has made their selection better. Plus, their critically-acclaimed original content only increases their selection. However, over time the streaming service’s catalog has shifted, frustrating some of its viewers.

Unlike other services, Netflix has a separate folder for a kid’s account. This separation means your kids can easily browse TV and movie selections without having to sift through more mature content. However, when it comes to content available for kids, the selection is a little lacking. Netflix tends to cater to young children, and the number of shows or movies specifically dedicated to tweens and teens is low. So be prepared to wade through a lot of material if your children are on the older side and you’re looking for something for family movie night.

The fact that their collection is constantly changing has also been a complaint from many of their customers. However, if you’re looking for a service with a good movie selection and you have younger kids, Netflix would be a good option.

Is Netflix right for the whole family?

While this was our main source of streaming entertainment in years past, it’s become harder for us to find content for our entire family. There is still some excellent programming on though, especially if you’re not dealing with tweens and young teens.

  • Parental controls / Kid profile
    • Yes, Netflix does offer a Kid’s profile, and it does shield users from more mature content.
  • Variety and selection of programming
    • The selection of programming overall is geared towards young adults, millennials, and young kids. There is a lack of programming for kids in the middle grades, at least that’s what we’ve been experiencing.
  • Good for younger kids
    • Lots of programming for younger kids and easy to allow them to be online safely in their own profile.
  • Good for older kids
    • I think this really depends on the family. There seem to be plenty of shows for older kids and families like the new Lost in Space that isn’t quite appropriate for young kids.
  • Good for tweens
    • This is the most challenging age group for Netflix content. However, with shows like The Great British Baking Show, Somebody Feed Phil, Nailed It, and Enola Holmes it seems like more shows might be appearing over the horizon.
  • Good for the entire family
    • This depends on the ages of your kids.
  • Some specific shows available
    • In addition to the ones mentioned above, there are also The Repair Shop, Tiny House Nation, Floor is Lava, and the Sherlock Holmes movie with Robert Downey Jr.

Is Amazon Prime Video a good family streaming service?

Initially known as Amazon Unbox, Amazon’s streaming service was released in 2006 as a way to rent or buy movies and TV shows. Amazon Prime Video is a great deal if you shop online often or already have a Prime account; however, they do offer subscriptions just for video streaming if that’s all you’re looking for. This is referred to as Prime Video, not Amazon Prime, and the content available to you is slightly different. The prices change from time to time, so check to see what it is currently. Prices normally range right around $9 per month for Prime Video only.

Amazon boasts a large number of HBO series, as well as Amazon originals that have gone on to win Golden Globe awards and Emmys. Though the number of shows and movies for adults is fantastic, Amazon’s selection of cartoons and anime is lacking. Also, some of the Amazon original children’s shows are at times similar to the Hallmark channel in feel, which might not be a bad thing for some families. There are some dramatic exceptions to this, however, with some excellent family shows to be found.

Similar to Netflix, they have a large library of cartoons for very young children, but when it comes to older kids, the choices are more limited. Moreover, the best titles are sometimes offered for rent at an additional cost. One critique that users have also voiced has been about the search options. Often, when you’re searching for a title, Amazon will include titles that aren’t Prime, which can get confusing.

Overall, we actually like Amazon Prime for family viewing. So much so that we wrote up a review of the best family shows on Amazon Prime. Check it out.

Is Amazon Prime the answer for family streaming?

We like it and use it a lot. It’s definitely not perfect, but it has a lot to offer.

  • Parental controls / Kid profile
    • Yep, Amazon has a global parental control setting that filters content below a rating that you determine in your settings.
  • Variety and selection of programming
    • Good variety and selection for many age groups. It’s easier for our family to find content here than almost anywhere.

For more detailed info on Amazon Prime, check the link mentioned above.

Is Sling a good family streaming choice?

Another streaming option for people who want to transition away from cable or are looking for more live TV options is Sling Television. There are two main packages with Sling TV, Sling Orange, and Sling Blue. Sling Orange is probably the best option for the whole family as it features channels for news, comedy, sports, travel, and home & lifestyle. It also has the Disney Channel and Cartoon Network to appeal to the kids.

The Kids Extra add-on, for only $6 a month, includes Nick Jr., Nicktoons, TeenNick, Disney Jr., Disney XD, Boomerang, Baby TV, and Duck TV.

Though the on-demand features for some of the channels are somewhat unreliable, it’s a great deal if you don’t take advantage of every channel your cable service offers. In addition to the Kids Extra add-on, Sling also offers dozens of other packages at various prices, such as add-ons for comedy, news, and sports.

Does Sling TV win the must-have streaming service for families award?

Maybe not. There are some great things about Sling though. It’s a good choice if you’re looking for something very close to cable TV. Also, similar to Hulu, it’s a decent choice if you’re going with only one streaming service.

Disney Plus: Did we save the best streaming service for families for last?

Yeah, we probably did.

So, this is the no-brainer family-friendly streaming service available these days. It’s the easiest to let your kids run around unsupervised on, and it features what is a much more solid lineup of quality programming. There are more shows and movies for all of the age groups we’ve mentioned in this article, and there’s plenty for parents to love too.

I would highly recommend at least trying Disney+ for a month and seeing whether or not it fits your family’s lifestyle. With all of the classic Disney movies and shows, Marvel, Star Wars, National Geographic, and Pixar…there’s just really a lot there. For most families, it won’t disappoint.

The downsides that we’ve found are more along the lines of frustration with buffering during peak viewing times, like Friday and Saturday evenings. We’re also not big fans of the $30 early release movie idea. But, we ignore those and move on.

Will your family love Disney Plus?

I think so! Ours does. Seriously, give it a try…if you hate it, cancel it.

  • Parental controls / Kid profile
    • Not only is it one of the best for family content, but it also offers a great parental control feature if you feel like you still need that. Kid’s Profiles, profile PINs, the whole bit. Check out the Disney+ parental control support article for more.
  • Variety and selection of programming
    • Great variety and selection. A surprising amount of content overall.
  • Good for younger kids
    • Yep
  • Good for older kids
    • For sure
  • Good for tweens
    • Definitely. This is one of the main reasons it’s become a go-to for our family.
  • Good for the entire family
    • This isn’t just princesses and cartoons. There’s plenty of that too obviously, but there really is something for the whole family here.
  • Some specific shows available
    • This could get extensive, but here is a very short list of what our family watches, both together and separately.
    • Plenty of the classic, older Disney Movies that are great for younger kids such as Cinderella, Aristocats, Hercules, Pocahontas, and Lilo and Stitch. There are newer Disney movies too such as Soul, Mulan (live-action), Aladdin (live-action), Onward, and Ralph Breaks the Internet.
    • There are also Marvel movies, Star War movies, and shows such as Once Upon a Time, The Mandalorian, and WandaVision that will interest the older kids and parents. And then there’s the Pirates of the Caribbean movies that will get the whole family excited too.
    • I would be remiss in leaving out the High School Musical franchise, as that’s become something of a new obsession in our household lately as well.

Free network apps for family streaming

If you’re looking for a cheaper option where the kids can be entertained on their own with safe content, network apps might be the way to go. There are many options out there for kids of all ages, both for network television and non-network, that are often free.

The PBS kids app has full episodes and clips from their favorite shows for free. You can also watch PBS live. The only thing you need is a WiFi or mobile connection. Nickelodeon, the Cartoon Network, and Disney all have a similar app as well. Some apps, such as the Nick and Disney apps, also include games to play, keeping kids entertained for hours.

For families looking to cut the cord with cable, and who are looking for the best way to watch family-friendly TV and movies affordably, the search can be difficult.

Many of the popular streaming services offer network channels as well as original content, but depending on the age of the kids, some platforms are better than others. It’s important to keep in mind what you’re looking for when searching for the best streaming services for families. Some services focus on film while others focus on current hit TV shows. However, with the right research, there is no shortage of content to keep you entertained during family movie nights.

If you have any suggestions or family favorites of your own, let us know in the comments below.

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