The short story about parental controls on Roku is that there aren’t many.
Although Roku devices are used by millions of people, they are surprisingly minimal on parental controls when compared to Apple TV or Chromecast. In fact, the National Center on Sexual Exploitation (NCOSE) has named Roku to its Dirty Dozen List for two consecutive years due to the proliferation of hardcore pornography readily available through the device. NCOSE goes as far as saying:
“Pornographers…widely advertise for their private channels and applaud Roku in forum after forum for being the go-to streaming device to permit this material.”
The only step parents can really take is to set a 4-digit pin that limits the addition of new channels to the Roku account. This will come as a difficult surprise for many families who love their Roku and/or their Roku TV, as the For Every Mom team points out in their blog post about the lack of parental controls and proliferation of porn that streams through the device.
A few important definitions:
Roku Private or Hidden Channels – there are thousands of channels that can be browsed and added at the viewers discretion. These are referred to collectively as private or hidden channels. Companies can develop and distribute their own content through this channel listing.
4-Digit Pin – this is set in order to limit what channels are added to the Roku account. This pin does NOT prevent X-rated channels already loaded from being watched nor does it prevent browsing X-rated channel titles.
How to set your Roku Pin
Setting the 4-digit pin is important for preventing young people from adding and watching pornographic content.
Log in to your Roku account through a web browser on a computer or mobile device.
SelectUpdate underneath PIN Preference and then select the option to always require a PIN to make purchases and to add items from the Channel Store.
Enter a 4-digit number to create the PIN, selectVerify PIN to confirm, and then selectSave Changes.
How to Remove Roku Channels Using the Pin
Once the PIN has been established, channels can be removed. Items like the Movie Store, TV Store, and News – can also be hidden from the main screen.
Using the Roku remote, selectMy Channels from the Roku home screen.
Navigate to the channel you want to have removed and then click the Options button (the * key) on the remote.
SelectRemove Channel and then clickOK. Do this once more when prompted to confirm removal of the channel.
Repeat the above steps for any other channels you want to have removed. Channels can also be removed via the Roku app for Android/iOS.
To hide items (Movie/TV Store and News), access the Roku device’s Settings Menu and selectHome Screen. From there, selectHide for the Movie/TV Store and/or News Feed. You can always choose to Show them again.
BUT, the issue for parents is that although the 4-digit pin prevents inappropriate channels from being added and watch, it doesn’t prevent someone from browsing the channels. Here is just a sample of the private channel titles (and related descriptions) that anyone can browse.
TRIGGER WARNING – these titles are suggestive.
These are quite tame compared to what else is available. The difficulty with the lack of parental controls is that I don’t want any young person even browsing these titles, which could give rise to unhealthy curiosity.
Additional Steps for the Roku TV
If you have a Roku TV, you can restrict access based on TV/movie ratings. Programs will be blocked if they fall outside the specified rating limits. Follow these steps:
Using the Roku remote, access the Roku device’s Settings Menu and selectTV Tuner. Wait for the device to finish scanning for channels (if it does).
SelectEnable Parental Controls and then turn it on. Then, set the desired TV/movie ratings limits and/or choose to block unrated programs. Blocked programs will not show video, audio, or title/description (unless the Roku PIN is entered).
What About Netflix, Amazon Video, Hulu, and YouTube?
Parents will want to set parental controls on each of these accounts, which are not governed by anything with the Roku device. These channels are simply using Roku as another exit point for their content therefore it’s entirely up to parents to ensure the accounts on each of these streaming services is set up appropriately.
For YouTube, the viewer must be signed into Google, which has a birthday attached to it and shows content accordingly. You can set Restricted Mode in YouTube in Roku, but it’s easy to toggle back off. This video shows the steps.
If you ever want to review a child’s Google activity, which includes their YouTube viewing, you can access it here: Google My Activity
Roku Bottom Line for Parents
Roku just isn’t family-friendly. The company continues to rebuff NCOSE’s efforts to have them make improvements. You can take action by signing the NCOSE petition through the “Dirty Dozen” blog post link below, if you’re interested.
In the meantime, if you have a Roku, please take the steps above!
Bonus: Don’t forget to always have your router controlled. Everything WiFi in the house has to connect to the internet through your router, including Roku. You can’t watch porn on the Roku if porn is blocked through the router. Learn more about that by understanding clean DNS.