Explicit Content in 7 Top Music Apps - A Parent's Guide
Chances are, your kids love to listen to music and share it with friends.
With so many music apps out there, which one is right for your family? Especially since so much music has explicit lyrics that you don’t want your kids boppin’ to!
The American Academy of Pediatrics warns,
“Music plays an important role in the socialization of children and adolescents. Parents often are unaware of the lyrics their children are listening to because of the increasing use of downloaded music and headphones. Lyrics have become more explicit in their references to drugs, sex, and violence over the years. It is essential for pediatricians and parents to take a stand regarding music lyrics.
Some music streaming services definitely make it easier than others to to block objectionable content. To help you out, we have a reference guide to help you compare seven main music apps. (Note: We prioritized parental controls over other considerations.)
What parents need to know about music streaming, explicit content, and kids
Some of these apps allow you to block playback of explicit music. However, none of them block “thematically mature” music that doesn’t have explicit lyrics. We interpret “thematically mature” as references to sex, violence, drugs, alcohol, and otherwise inappropriate content for young people. Talking with kids about your values and why some music can be harmful is always a parent’s responsibility!
In addition to music, also be aware if the app shows music videos, podcasts, album art, and ads that don’t meet your standards.
- All of the apps are available on both IOS and Android.
- Most of the apps are for ages 13+, usually with parent permission for the teens. The exceptions are noted below.
- To keep kids from upgrading their music accounts to versions with more features, restrict in-app purchases on their devices on iOS and Android.
- Paid family plans cost pretty much the same, around $14.99 per month for 6 members.
Here's the rundown on music apps from safest to scariest!
What is Apple Music?
- Apple Music is a paid service that lets you stream 50 million songs plus your iTunes library. Family accounts give access to 6 people.
Risks and Parental Controls on Apple Music
- Apple has good parental controls that prevent explicit content in music, music videos, podcasts and news. If there is an edited "clean" version of a song, it will play that in instead of the explicit version.
- Parents can set a code so that kids can't change the settings.
- Learn to turn off explicit content in Apple Music on Android or how to set up parental controls on iPhone, iPad, and iPod.
- Apple Music has the best parental controls for families.
What is Amazon Music?
- Amazon Prime Music is available free with an Amazon Prime membership, or you can upgrade to paid Music Unlimited plans with more music and features. It’s easily accessible through Alexa and Echo voice-enabled devices.
- An Unlimited Family Plan (paid) allows 6 members access. Everyone on the plan will be able to make purchases with the credit card on the account.
- Perk: always ad-free!
Risks and Parental Controls on Amazon Music
- Kids can easily purchase explicit music through the app. Parents would need to restrict in-app purchases through controls on iOS and Android.
- You can block playback of explicit music, but not “thematically mature” music. Learn how to set up explicit filters for Amazon Music on any device here.
- Kid’s Edition Echo Dot and Kid’s Edition Alexa-enabled devices come with the explicit filter turned on automatically.
- Amazon Music isn't perfect, but with some set-up and monitoring it's better than apps that don't have explicit filters.
What is Pandora?
- Pandora is a music streaming app that allows users to create custom channels tailored to their preferences.
- Free version with ads; can upgrade to ad-free paid plans with more features. Family plan available for six members. Learn more about subscriptions here.
Risks and Parental Controls on Pandora
- You can restrict Pandora from playing songs or displaying ads with explicit language on Pandora radio stations - but not from “on-demand” content including podcasts and playlists. (On-demand content is only available in the Premium subscription.)
- It's easy for kids to go turn off the explicit filter setting.
- Explicit tracks are identified with the “E” label. The explicit filter only removes explicit language. It will still play songs with “mature themes” and show suggestive album artwork.
- Learn to set explicit content filters on Pandora here.
What is iHeart Radio?
- Plays live radio stations, podcasts and songs. Free version, or users can pay for more features.
- iHeartRadio Family is a free, kid-friendly app rated ages 4+. It has a curated collection of music and stories that young kids would enjoy. Parent permissions allow you to remove access to any of the collections.
Risks and Parental Controls on iHeart Radio
- The main iHeartRadio app does not offer parental controls to remove explicit content. The Live Radio stations do have to meet standards for broadcasting set by the FCC, so there are some restrictions in place there.
- For those with younger kids, iHeart Radio Family is a good option. We don’t recommend the main iHeartRadio service since it has no explicit content filters.
What is Spotify?
- One of the biggest and most popular music streaming apps with millions of songs and users. It has a free version with ads, paid ad-free plans, and a family plan for 6 members.
Risks and Parental Controls on Spotify
- Explicit content is tagged with “E” only when users report it. Spotify doesn’t guarantee that all explicit content is marked.
- It has an explicit content filter, but it needs to be set for every individual account and every device (i.e. no “one button” setting on family plans).
- Profiles and playlists are automatically public unless set to private. Also, Spotify is one of the most social music apps, allowing kids to follow the listening activity of friends or celebrities and share what they are listening to.
- Keep in mind that Spotify has also ignored parental concerns about filtering content for years.
- We don’t recommend Spotify as a good choice for kids and families.
What is Google Play Music?
- With Google Play Music, you can listen to curated radio stations for free, or pay to stream 30 million songs ad-free. You can also store 50K of your own songs.
- Age: 13+ to have their own Google account or parents can create an account for their child under 13 with Family Link.
Risks and Parental Controls on Google Play Music
- Google's music service allows you to block explicit songs in radio channels, but this only works on the website, not the mobile app. Also, the filter doesn't apply to the library of streaming music, which is arguably the whole point of subscribing.
- Contrary to what it sounds like, even using Family Link does not block inappropriate content.
- This app doesn’t have the parental controls you want in place to protect your kids.
What is TIDAL?
- TIDAL is a subscription-based music streaming app owned by singer Jay-Z. It features exclusive agreement contracts with various music artists (e.g., Beyoncé) and is known for high-quality sound.
Risks and Parental Controls on TIDAL
- There are no parental controls or labeling for explicit content. It provides both songs and videos, so explicit content can be heard and seen.
- Read this mom’s story about her frustration discovering profanity and suggestive lyrics in TIDAL’s Kids Corner playlist. The company’s refusal to correct this situation is even more disturbing!
- Strong Caution! We wouldn’t recommend this app for anyone who wants to avoid explicit content.
The most-used music apps
Now that you know more about the parental controls in these music apps, you might be interested to know which ones are used by the most people!
Teaching Kids to Choose the Best Music
We listen to an average of 4.5 hours of music each day! Music absolutely does influence us. A study from University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston reported that
Youth in 7th grade who listen to rap music for three or more hours each day are more likely to believe that their peers are having sex, and are 2.6 times more likely to have had sex by ninth grade.
At some point kids will have control and decide what music they want to listen to. Here are some questions to start conversations that can help them evaluate what messages they want to accept in their music.
- What does that song teach us about bodies? Does it encourage respect for our amazing bodies?
- What does that music teach about relationships? Is it in line with our values for healthy, happy relationships?
- What does that song teach about sexuality? Do you think it is trying to influence what people think is normal and appropriate?
- Lots of music seems to be designed to make people think about sex. Why do you think that is? How can we hold on to the important values and beliefs we have?
When you teach your kids to be aware of messages in music, it gives them power to choose! It's actually easier than ever to take control and create your own playlists filled with good music. It will be worth the effort!
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