Since we now live in a digital age, long gone are the days when parents thumb through their own music collection to find the least-inappropriate music to share with their babies, toddlers and children. No more plopping a kid down on his play mat and tossing a James Taylor or Hall & Oates cassette into the boombox for playtime. Now that we’re plugged into the matrix, we’ve got tons of sources for music these days – and those options also filter down to our young ones (for better or worse).

Today, I’ll take a look at three popular online music streaming services – Pandora Radio, Slacker Radio, and Radiotime.com – and the options that they offer you in the Children’s Music genre.

See how they stacked up after the break.

Here’s the problem, and I’ll tell you this up-front because we’re friends, and I like you. The problem is that all three of these options are great. The variance is actually more about your own gear than about the services. That being said, read on for the major differences I can see.

Pandora Radio: Pandora has become synonymous with online music streaming. Millions of people use Pandora, and it’s got a simple interface that is really hard to beat. You don’t need an account to sign up, but signing up allows you to save your custom stations and preferences. The Pandora window is simple – once you choose an artist, Pandora does the footwork for you, figuring out music like the artist you entered, and creates a station around that artist. As songs play, you can give them a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” to let Pandora know you like or dislike the song. If you dislike a particular artist three times, they don’t play on that station again. Pandora also added Genres, which allow you to choose pre-populated playlists. Pandora has a “Family” section – which includes Lullabye, Toddler, Tween and Children’s Folk Songs. They also let you know ahead of time who some of the artists are on the stations so you’re not flying blind. Pandora offers a pay service for $36/year that will remove ads from the stations and won’t time-out for 5 hours. Otherwise, you’ll have commercials sprinkled in with your music, and you’ve got to babysit Pandora to let it know you’re still listening. Pandora Radio is available at www.pandora.com as well as in app form for Android phones, Blackberries, the iPhone, Palm Pre, and selected Windows Mobile phones.

Slacker Radio: Slacker Radio is less-known than Pandora, but gives the user more control over their playlists. Again, it’s not necessary to sign up for an account, but again, are able to save playlists if you do. What’s great about Slacker is that you’ve got a bunch of customization options for your playlists. Once you search for an artist, you can then “fine tune” the station to play just the hits, or include more obscure songs. You can also choose to include more newer or older songs, or a mix of both. You can also dig into the specific artists and tracks on your stations – designating “loved” and “banned” artists and songs more simply than Pandora. For this reason, Slacker is a little more complicated visually than Pandora. There’s kind of more stuff than Pandora – but once you learn what each little link and button does, you’ve got an incredibly deep experience for FREE (or $4.99/month, or $47.88/year, which gives you a little bit of a discount). A paid account is like Pandora’s – basically you’re paying to go commercial-free. Slacker’s got a host of genre stations also, and has some great options beyond the standard genre. There is a “Youth” section with Toddlers, Kids, Teen Pop and Teen Rock. Really to me, the only child-friendly stations were Toddlers and Kids. The Teen Rock and Teen Pop stations really are Teen-with-a-capital-T. I mean, the first song that came up on the Teen Rock station was by “5 Finger Death Punch”, which as you can imagine, is not a child-friendly band. Anyway, if you like Slacker, it’s available at www.slacker.com or as an app for Android phones, Blackberries, the iPhone, Palm Pre, Windows Mobile phones, and for their own weirdo portables. You’ll have to check that out for yourself.

Radiotime.com: Just for contrast, I thought I’d throw in Radiotime.com, since they include a “Children’s” genre. What’s different is that instead of customizable playlists or stations that you customize yourself, you’re basically just jumping into someone else’s pre-existing stream, just as if you had turned on your radio to a local station. Radiotime.com wins points for having more stations than Pandora and Slacker, but loses points because you’re dealing with a web interface that doesn’t have as much polish as the other two. You have to narrow down a large list of stations from across the world – and clicking on the one that you want opens its profile page, where you then have to click another link to open a smaller window that contains the player. Then, you’re at the will of the station. So if you don’t like a song – there’s no skipping songs, there’s no down-voting. You just close the station and move on. Maybe the station will have commercials…maybe they won’t. Everything’s up in the air with Radiotime.com – but hot damn, there are a LOT of stations. And who knows, maybe you DO want to listen to a Children’s radio station from Stockholm, Sweden (SR Knattekanal – Barnmusik Pa Webben!). I mean, you’re going to find everything here on Radiotime – religious kids music, audio and music from Disney parks, lullaby songs, and on and on. Radiotime is also available on mobile devices under what seems to be different programs – Radiotime, Radio Companion, WunderRadio, and TuneIn Radio are all apps that seem to be related to RadioTime – probably because RadioTime released their API for developers.

It seems like the best thing about these options is that you don’t have to choose one. Since all of them provide fully-functional free accounts, you can bookmark them all and give them all a shot. I, personally, am a more devoted fan of Slacker Radio because my phone doesn’t support Pandora Radio, and I’m able to connect my phone to my car stereo. I do like the Pandora options for Children’s Music more, though, so if I’m not on-the-go and listening in the car, I’d prefer Pandora at home. If I’m not mistaken, Slacker cranks their tunes out in a higher bitrate than Pandora, but it’s friday, and that’s research that I just don’t want to do on a friday.

So really the only question that remains is how you’re going to listen to toddler tunes for more than 5 minutes without hanging yourself – because let me tell you, toddler songs are a rough bunch to get in quick succession. My suggestion is to shake things up from time to time and play an Electronic music channel. If you can find the club hits stations, they’re usually songs about love and generally poppy enough for your kid to like.

If you’ve got another good option for kid-friendly streaming radio, let us know in the comments!