Best Music Apps for Kids? We Compared Spotify, Spotify Kids, Amazon, Apple & Gabb for Safety
Did you know there’s porn on music streaming apps? It’s going largely undetected by parents–even those who have parental controls and filters set up. So what can parents do so their kids can safely listen to music streaming apps? We compared several to find the best music apps for kids. We’ve listed out the pros and cons of each and put it all in a handy comparison chart at the end of this article to help you choose the one that’s right for your family.
Wait, there’s porn on music apps?
Absolutely, especially on apps that allow user-generated content.
Here are some of the most common ways explicit material slips in through music streaming apps:
- Album cover art with explicit imagery. Album art doesn’t get blocked by filters and there’s a current trend of pornographic images being uploaded to Spotify and other services as podcasts.
- Lyrics that graphically describe sexual acts and violence. Explicit lyrics filters only block out common expletives. Songs detailing rapes and killings slip through as long as they don’t use those keywords.
- Podcasts featuring erotic narratives, explicit discussions of sex and sex noises and sounds. It’s called “audio porn” and its showing up on music apps without explicit tags.
What’s the best music app for kids?
We compared the most popular music apps to find which one is best for kids. We’ve highlighted the pros and cons of each app regarding safety and the most important features for parents, including:
- cost and the number of accounts,
- filtering capabilities,
- ability to whitelist or blacklist content,
- whether the service has user-submitted content (like podcasts),
- how secure the service’s parental controls are, and
- if it works with monitoring software like Bark.
Spotify & Spotify Kids
Spotify is the music streaming service that revolutionized the industry and is perhaps the most well-known. Though it has a reputation for being on the lax side in policing user-uploaded content, Spotify recently jumped ahead in the family-friendly space with its new Spotify Kids service. The blend of Spotify and Spotify Kids accounts under one family plan and the robust custom filtering offered on Spotify Kids make it a great value for families and may make it one of the best music apps for kids--but it's not perfect (see our warning below).
To access Spotify Kids, you’ll need a Spotify Premium Family Plan which gives you six accounts for $15.99/month. Spotify Kids is a separate app from Spotify and lets your kids access two hand-picked libraries of content, one for ages 0-6 and one for ages 5-12. Each library includes age-appropriate music, podcasts, and even audiobooks providing kids with a rich library of content to explore. You also have the option to have regular Spotify accounts for teens that are monitored from the parent account.
Because all families have different standards, even this hand-curated library is eventually going to include some things you don’t approve of (or are annoyed by) and exclude some material that’s important for you (perhaps religious songs or classical music). Luckily, Spotify Kids allows you to blacklist or whitelist any songs as needed.
To blacklist a song:
- Login to the “Grown-ups Only” area of Spotify Kids on your child’s device.
- Find the song in their listening history.
- Click “Block” in the options menu.
To share content with your kids that isn’t normally included in the library:
- Create a playlist in your Spotify app with the songs you want to share.
- On your child’s device, login to the Grown-ups area of Spotify Kids.
- Find the playlist and use the menu to make it available to your child.
Any songs you add to that playlist in the future will be available to your kids. Note that Spotify’s curated playlists cannot be whitelisted and neither can podcasts.
Monitored Spotify account for teens
There’s no reason kids older than 12 can’t use Spotify Kids, but they may not like the kiddy interface and the limited selection of music. Fortunately, Spotify provides you with the option of creating a monitored account for teens on the regular Spotify app. The only difference between this account and a full account is that you have control over whether the account has access to play explicit music.
WARNING: Even with a monitored account, there is still a great deal of inappropriate content on Spotify. The National Center on Sexual Exploitation even named Spotify as one of their targets on the 2023 Dirty Dozen List--a list of mainstream contributors to sexual exploitation. You can read more about why Spotify is on this list here.
Here are the drawbacks to Spotify:
- Spotify relies on creators to correctly tag their work, so some explicit content may get through.
- Songs and podcasts often go unlabeled.
- Explicit song titles and album covers are still visible. The teen account has the option to hide “unplayable songs” including blocked explicit songs, but this option can’t be locked down and there’s nothing you can do about explicit album art.
- User uploaded podcasts have unmonitored images and can feature audio porn.
Recommendations if you choose to use a Spotify Monitored Teen account
If you decide to allow your teen to be on Spotify, make sure you talk with them about how to avoid this content and what to do when they see it.
We also suggest parents use Bark with Spotify so it can warn you if your child listens to a song with questionable lyrics. Spotify’s extensive library of lyrics works well with Bark’s capabilities and it’s the only music service that does. But please be aware that Bark does not solve all the problems outlined above.
Amazon Music Unlimited
How do Amazon options stack up? Amazon Music has an array of different services at different price points—it can be confusing to figure out which one has the features you want. The different plan options all fall under these three umbrellas:
- Amazon Music Free is an ad-supported service with limited skips.
- Amazon Music Prime comes with your Prime membership and can only be used on one device at a time.
- Amazon Music Unlimited has the most features and is the only service built for families.
The Amazon Music Unlimited Family Plan costs $15.99/month and includes up to six accounts. The Unlimited tier comes with ultra-HD audio quality and support for surround sound, which may be a selling point for audiophiles. Amazon is also known for hosting a large library of ad-free podcasts, including popular kids’ shows.
The parental controls features of Amazon Music are routed through the Alexa ecosystem. You can block explicit content per device, which allows you to continue listening to adult music on your phone while protecting family devices. The exception is that all Echo devices connected to your account will follow the same rule. Sound confusing? It is. You’ll have to remember to turn on the filter for every device and remember to check new devices as they come in. Amazon Music also doesn’t work on Amazon’s Fire tablets if they are running the ages 0-6 theme instead of the ages 6-12 theme.
Amazon’s explicit filter also works differently than Spotify’s: it uses AI to identify explicit language and filter it. While it’s nice that they don’t depend on creators to self-report, it does mean that the filter doesn’t pick up on mature themes in songs if they don’t use the specific words the AI is looking for. It also won’t filter explicit album art and there’s no feature to blacklist or whitelist songs to customize your child’s catalog.
Additionally, the explicit filter cannot be locked down. Amazon simply restricts it to anyone with access to the Alexa app, assuming that kids won’t be able to get access. If you’ve ever had a kid run circles around you with technology, you’ll see why we think this is a pretty naïve assumption and a poor way of protecting kids.
The first music service to introduce good family features, Apple Music allows families to share a subscription through its Family Sharing ecosystem. It’s a bit more expensive than Amazon or Spotify at $16.99/mo for six accounts, but it has high quality audio features as well as an expanded library of classical music that other services don’t have.
You’ll want to enable two separate filters on Apple Music which are locked behind a parental pin code:
- The explicit filter for music, podcasts, and news, which is based on a blend of creator reports and AI-detection. Apple is known for being strict about kicking off incorrectly labeled content, so its filters may be more accurate than Spotify.
- You’ll also want to turn off Music Profiles, which gets rid of the bio pages for musicians which can sometimes have explicit content or suggestive photos.
Like Amazon, Apple won’t let you customize the filtering by whitelisting content. Kids can block individual songs from the app, but there’s no way for parents to do this or prevent kids from turning it off. However, you could choose to disable Apple Music and simply purchase individual songs through the iTunes store as a work-around.
One nice feature is that Apple will show your child’s most recent listens through the Family Sharing app so you can keep tabs on what they are listening to. Overall, Apple Music is an adequate system for families, especially if they are already invested into the Apple ecosystem.
Gabb Music is the most secure music app we reviewed and for that reason may be the best music app for kids. This service is only available on the Gabb Phone, but since that’s one of the safest phones for kids, it’s worth looking into. Subscribing to Gabb Music adds $4.99 to your monthly bill.
Because Gabb Music doesn’t allow user-submitted content, you don’t have to worry about adult-themed music or porn masquerading as a podcast. Your child will have access to a hand-selected library of real songs with no questionable content. And there’s no need to mess with complex filters and passwords to get it to work.
The cons? Gabb Music is missing a few features that have become standard. The service is still operating on a radio model with a limited number of skips per hour on pre-selected playlists. Eventually, the upgraded Gabb Music Plus will allow full song selection and playlist creation, but for now it’s still unavailable and your teen might be disappointed in the lack of features. You also can’t add any additional songs to the pre-selected collection. And if you’re looking for podcasts, this won’t be a good fit as there are none on the platform.
Which is the best music app for kids?
The best service for your family depends on your individual needs. Gabb Music has the advantage of a ready-to-go safe environment with no effort required, but with serious limitations on devices and features. Spotify Kids is providing parents with the ability to customize their child’s library, but may be too babyish for teens. Regular Spotify, along with Amazon and Apple, provide similar levels of protection from the most obvious problems, but pornography and other explicit material continues to find a way to slip past detection. Spotify with Bark doesn't block it all out, but can warn you if your kid is listening to music with inappropriate lyrics.
To help you keep it all straight, check out this handy chart:
Don’t forget the internal filter
In our search for the best music app for kids we did not find the perfect solution. That’s why it’s so important for parents to have regular talks about family media standards, why they are in place, and the many benefits of practicing online safety. In other words, help your kids develop an internal filter to make them resistant to pornography wherever it creeps in. The Good Pictures Bad Pictures series of read aloud books is a great way to start and the Brain Defense: Digital Safety course is a solid follow-up.
Brain Defense: Digital Safety Curriculum - Family Edition
"Parents are desperate for concepts and language like this to help their children. They would benefit so much from this program - and I think it would spur much needed conversations between parents and children.” --Jenet Erikson, parent