How to Set Parental Controls On Your Smart TV
Keeping your child from watching the racy stuff is easier than you think
A few innocent clicks of the smart TV remote, and your pre-schooler goes from watching “America’s Cutest Pets” to the season premiere of “Games of Thrones.” Instead of stashing away money for future therapy sessions, why not activate automatic controls that limit what types of shows your child can access?
Here, advice on how to set your smart TV set’s parental controls. Plus, a few important notes on the limits of streaming TV controls.
Set the V-chip first
By law, TVs made after Jan. 1, 2000 that are larger than 13 inches must come with a built-in chip that filters content based on a Federal Communications Commission rating system. (The chip is known as a “V"-chip because it was created to filter violent TV programming.) Your TV owner's manual probably walks you through the steps for accessing the setting for ratings. If you’ve lost the manual you can try to find it online or search it out from the manufacturer’s website. Your cable set-top box should also have a prompt to get you the settings.
Using your remote control, locate the parental control settings page. From there, you can filter viewing by a specific level of TV ratings:
- TV-MA (mature audience)
- TV-14 (programs appropriate for 14 or older
- TV-PG (parental guidance)
- TV-G (general audience)
- TV-Y7 (for 7 and above)
- TV-Y (all children)
There are a number of nuances inside the broad age categories, each with a letter code warning you about the type of content, such as Coarse Language (L), Intense Violence (V) and Sexual Situations (S). You can read complete descriptions online.
On most new TVs you can set a PIN that will allow an adult to override a blocked program temporarily. You should remember to re-enable the PIN, however, once you're done watching.
Using streaming TV controls
Enabling the V-chip should handle content coming from broadcast and cable sources. Online streaming is harder to manage but not impossible.
Netflix, for instance, allows you to set up profiles for each user with content settings similar to the V-chip, although simplified: Little Kids, Older Kids, Teens and Adults. The downside is that if you set up an adult profile for yourself, you cannot set a PIN to block your kids from using your profile instead, except in Germany.
Amazon Prime has a PIN system for purchases, which is useful for keeping your budget under control. The same system also allows you to pick a level of viewer (blocking, say, content above TV-14) for the entire account. Amazon sticks to the conventions of the V-chip for its rating system. The PIN keeps kids from changing the ratings limits, as long as they don’t learn your number.
It’s best to do all this online, not through your TV, at your Amazon Prime account settings page. Also, Amazon suggests that if you have an Amazon Fire phone, tablet or TV, or an Xbox game console that streams TV, you use an Amazon app on your Android phone or watch video on the Amazon website rather than on your TV. Parental controls are separate from the Prime settings and must be set on each device.
The streaming service Hulu has no parental control settings and instead steers concerned parents toward a separate channel, Hulu Kids.
Similarly, while it’s relatively easy to set up YouTube parental controls on a computer browser or smartphone, the TV versions of the popular Internet video software (which many new TVs come with) offer much less or no control at all, depending on your set.
Talk to your kids
Remember, it’s not the job of technology to be aware of what media your children consume in your own house. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends talking to your kids about what is appropriate and what’s not. Software is good at avoiding accidental exposure to violence or sex, but communication can go a long way toward keeping things clean on your TV screens.