These days I don’t think it’s even possible to purchase a TV that is not connected to the internet, or “smart” as they would have you believe. Since most people have ditched standard cable or satellite service in favor of streaming platforms, it just makes sense that the TVs you buy these days would be able to download those apps.
There is a big downside though to the smartification of all of our devices. That is the unbridled access to all of the good AND the bad of the internet for our children. This leads many parents to want to make sure they have some protections in place that will help shield their children from the content the parents don’t want them to see.
Unfortunately, most of the smart TV platforms are still WAY behind the times when it comes to Parental Controls. They are extremely limited in what they can do, and are often confusing as to what the settings actually mean.
The Best Way to Control a Smart TV
Since these platforms are so limited, you actually need to look outside of the TV to get some really good parental controls. This means that the best way to control a smart TV is through a WiFi router that has parental controls built in. I use a Gryphon Router. Through the Gryphon, I can either assign the TV to one of my children’s user profiles, or I can create a separate profile just for the smart TV’s in the house if I want them all to follow the same rules.
Through the router I can cut off access to the internet on the TV’s during the night, so kids aren’t staying up late watching shows after everyone has gone to bed. I can also block specific apps from playing on those devices like YouTube or Netflix. I can even set up hours of the day when specific apps are available or not available to view.
The one caveat here is that if you allow access to a specific app, you are allowing access to the entirety of the app. The wifi router would not be able to control content within the app. You would need to control that through profile PINs. However, a router like Gryphon CAN enforce YouTube to only display videos available through “restricted mode” but at that point it would be up to YouTube on what it considers is “restricted”.
Parental Controls Available on Each Platform
While Roku is actually my favorite user interface for browsing TV, it’s probably one of the worst when it comes to what is available for parental controls.
First, only Smart TVs built on a Roku operating system (not a Roku device plugged into the TV), you can control the ability to watch TV shows with specific age ratings, but only for the channels coming through the broadcast network. Meaning, you would need an antenna plugged into the TV for those ratings blocks to take affect. However, you can use this setting to block mature shows from the over the air programs.
The content filter block does also affect the Roku Channel, since the channel is made by the same company. There is quite a bit of content on the Roku channel, so it is good to at least be able to filter some programs out. This will NOT affect content within any of the apps you have downloaded though. If you allow Netflix, you allow all of Netflix.
The other thing you can do with a Roku TV is block the ability to install apps without a PIN. So if you remove Netflix from the TV, you would not be able to reinstall it without the PIN. If this is a shared family TV it would be a huge pain to keep adding and removing the application when you don’t want other people to view it.
In order to set the PIN and toggle this setting on, you will need to login to your Roku account on the web.
A rising star in the Smart TV world is Google TV. Many top name brands are using Google TV as their underlying operating system for their devices including Sony.
With Google TV you can set up Restricted Profiles, which will allow you to choose exactly which apps will be available when it is on the restricted profile. Which is great, but you would have to remember to switch it to the restricted profile any time you are done watching your shows.
Of the main Smart TV platforms available today, I will say that the Fire TV handles parental controls the best at the moment. The Fire TV allows you to PIN protect the launching of any apps. So if you want to watch Netflix, you would have to enter your PIN code to launch the app. Handling it this way makes it easy to protect the apps you don’t want your kids watching when you are not around, but also makes it easy for you to watch the applications when you want. You won’t have to remember to set it back to a protected mode, you just have to enter the PIN when you want.
The Fire TV also has content filtering, but again this will only apply to broadcast channels like the Roku and the Amazon Prime Video channel. It will not filter content on any of the other apps.
Samsung bucks the trend of having one of the more popular platforms built-in and opts to use its own operating system. Fortunately, they have taken some of the best ideas and incorporated it into theirs. Namely, Samsung TVs have the ability to PIN lock apps. Similar to the Fire TV this allows you to PIN protect the launching of any applications, so you don’t have to remember to switch to a restricted profile or mode, you just have to take a quick extra step in launching apps you do want to watch.
The Samsung TVs also have a program rating lock, which sounds like it might affect other applications. However, like the other content filters for the other platforms, this will only affect broadcast/over-the-air channels brought in through a coax cable or through an antenna. This will not affect the content available inside individual apps like Netflix and Hulu.
If your home is drowning in Apple products, you may also have an Apple TV. While there aren’t any TVs that have this operating system built into them like the other systems I have mentioned, there are still enough people using the platform to put it on this list.
Like the Roku and Fire, the content filter or age rating you set in the Apple TV restrictions will only affect what apps are available to view and what shows will be available to view inside Apple TV+. Since Netflix is rated 12 and over in the app store, if you set the filter to 12+, they will have the ability to watch anything that is inside of Netflix. You can set a PIN to protect changes to the settings, but you won’t have to enter that PIN to launch applications.
Setting Content Filters Inside of Apps
Since all of these platforms really only have the ability to prevent access to specific apps, and filter content within their own branded streaming services, how can you restrict content inside of apps like Netflix or Hulu?
Most of these streaming services offer the ability to set up different profiles for different members of your family. You can set up the content age rating through these profiles. Just make sure you set a PIN on the adult profiles so they can’t easily switch over to the unrestricted profile. You can usually do this through logging into the apps website. Sometimes the options for these settings are pretty limited within the TV itself.
You just need to make sure you set up these user profiles inside of every app you have downloaded onto your smart tv.
A Word About Your PIN
All of these platforms have PIN code protections, even if they aren’t on the TV itself, inside the apps will definitely have PIN codes. Just make sure you don’t choose a code that your kids will easily guess. Make it something that has nothing to do with their birthdays, your anniversary, or any other special numbers you may have. Since it’s not going to be your typical PIN code, you may want to write it down somewhere safe so you remember it if you don’t have to enter it frequently.
You will also want to make sure your kids aren’t watching you when you enter the PIN code! Kids can be very sneaky when they want to know information! So send them out of the room while you enter your PIN.
With most people ditching satellite and cable subscriptions, smart TVs are going to continue to be the standard, let’s just hope that soon the manufacturers will start improving the parental control settings!
TL:DR; ?? Or watch the video for how to find the parental control settings on each platform…