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Should your kid watch Bluey?
What research can tell us about tuning in to the Heeler family
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6 min read
“...a triumph of good-natured naturalism, a clarion understanding of what play really feels like and its importance in childhood.” - Vulture
“...about the power of music to transform us…the scoring has a cinematic quality.” - The New York Times
“The emotional specificity is just as crucial as the precision of the physical humor, and the density of the world building.” - The Atlantic
What elevated cinematic masterpiece has earned such rave reviews? Let’s check in with the show’s creator:
“Well, there’s not a great deal to the idea of Bluey. It's talking dogs. I'm not the first to do talking dogs, and I'm sure I won't be the last.” - Joe Blumm, speaking to NPR
That’s right, sapiens. The time has come. We’re talking about Bluey.
Good on ya, mate!
For those unfamiliar, Bluey is currently one of the most popular preschool shows on TV. The Australian series, now at over 150 episodes,1 follows a family of blue heeler dogs: six-year-old Bluey Heeler, her younger sister Bingo, and her parents, Bandit (dad) and Chilli (mom).
Unfortunately, we don’t have any research directly evaluating Bluey (unlike some educational shows like Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood and Sesame Street), but more general research on parenting and child development would suggest there may be benefits.
So, let’s dive in. And given that my two-year-old son and I recently watched our first episode (Magic Xylophone), I’ll provide his take on the show’s potential benefits, too.
Some children’s shows (not naming names, but rhymes with Schmoco-Schmelon) make many parents want to cover their ears and run screaming in the opposite direction. Bluey is one of those rare shows that is tolerable—some might argue enjoyable—for parents, too. This is by design, and has resulted in a passionate following among adults.
Why does this matter? Research suggests that co-viewing, or watching TV alongside our kids, is good. For example, this 2020 meta-analysis of 42 studies, published in JAMA Pediatrics, finds that co-viewing is associated with stronger child language development. A show like Bluey makes co-viewing more likely, and (thankfully) more pleasant for everyone.
My son’s take: On multiple occasions in the hours and days following our first viewing, he spontaneously proclaimed “You had fun watching Bluey.” Note: he has not yet mastered personal pronouns, so refers to himself exclusively in the second person, but I (mom) did have fun, too.2
2. Benefits of Play
Inspired by the creator’s experience of playing with his two daughters, most episodes involve simple, imaginative play between the young dogs and their parents or friends. This can provide ideas for games children (and their parents) might recreate at home. Here for example, is a list of 10 Bluey-inspired games.3
This matters because decades of research have emphasized the importance of play in childhood. A Pediatrics review highlights the benefits of children’s play, which include opportunities to: learn to work in groups, negotiate, resolve conflicts, self-advocate, get physically active, conquer fears, and build confidence and resilience.
My son’s take: The episode Magic Xylophone4 involves Bluey, Bingo, and their dad playing a game of “freezing” one another with strikes of a xylophone. During the show, a neighborhood dalmatian walks by Bluey’s house as the xylophone game spills out into the yard.
My son, pointing at the TV: “That’s a dog!”
He seemed to enjoy the depicted game, though it’s unclear whether he’s noticed all the characters are, in fact, dogs.
3. Skills for parents
You know a show is doing something right (or very wrong) when academic commentaries start making their way into journals. In the case of Bluey, for example, we’ve got a 2021 editorial in Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health.
Here’s an excerpt:
Marc de Rosnay, a professor of child development at the University of Wollongong, says Bluey ‘expresses something and demands something of the viewer that 1000 developmental psychology or parenting books would struggle to do as well’. Rosnay said that if a young couple today asked him for parenting advice, he would tell them to watch Bluey.
Okay, I’m not sure Bluey would be my first line of defense on parenting advice, but the show does offer some useful tips for parents. Parents can take notes on some of Bluey’s parents’ behavior, including asking open-ended questions to foster their children’s creativity and problem-solving, using logical and natural consequences, and coaching them through difficult emotions.
My son’s take: In one scene, Bluey and Bingo argue over the xylophone. It flies in the air, landing in their dad’s arms and subsequently “unfreezing” him. “Got it!” He says, “You ding-dongs were too busy squabbling!”
Me (internally): “Natural consequences! Good! But do I really want my two-year-old learning to call people “ding-dongs?...”
My son (in an Australian accent): “Squabbling!” [giggles].
4. Engaged parenting
In some children’s shows, parents are nowhere to be found. In others, parents, particularly fathers, are portrayed as either incompetent buffoons or the opposite—idealized figures without emotions, needs, or personalities of their own. Not so in Bluey. Here, both parents are actively involved, taking their children’s lead, but also, (relatably) showing occasional signs of stress or uncertainty. This is important, as television depictions play a role in shaping kids’ ideas about family.
Not to mention, we’ve finally got a portrayal of a dad who is actively engaged with his kids. This is good news because research suggests that fathers’ engagement in parenting is associated with children’s reduced behavioral and psychological difficulties. We’ve also got a mom who—wait for it—goes to work! We’re living in the future, people!
Of course, the Internet is not without its criticisms of Bandit (Bluey’s dad). Some argue he still falls into the “buffoon dad” stereotype—i.e., “the Australian larrikin: the likeable roguish male stuck between childhood and adulthood.” Others, including this 75k-member Bandit superfan Facebook group, disagree. Still others argue that Bandit is too good of a dad, setting unrealistic expectations for modern fatherhood (with at least one comparison to Obama?).5 Either way, it’s an improvement over the norm.
My son’s take: While brushing his teeth the evening after watching the show, my son looked at me and suddenly exclaimed, “He said ‘Come back!” It took me awhile to figure out what he was referring to, but I assume this was an (oddly specific) reference to a moment in the episode when Bluey and Bingo playfully run away with the xylophone, and Bandit calls out after them. Not sure my son picked up on the “involved parenting” themes of the show, but it seems he was listening closely.
5. Skills for kids
In addition to teaching children about imaginative, free play using “loose parts” (i.e., play objects without a clear purpose), Bluey models other important socioemotional skills. For example, Bluey and Bingo learn about self-regulation (e.g., waiting their turn), being kind to others, resolving conflict, building family relationships, and coping with strong feelings.
Note: parents can help these messages sink in by asking questions and reiterating the show’s lessons. For example: How do you think Bingo felt when Bluey said that to her? And Wow! It looks like Bluey is scared, but she’s practicing being brave.
My son’s take: The episode Magic Xylophone involves some expected antics (e.g., Bluey and Bingo drawing a mustache on their “frozen” dad, the team spraying each other with a hose), but ultimately, it’s about the young girls learning to share and take turns. After the show ended, I decided to try reinforcing that message.
Me: Wasn’t that nice when Bluey decided to share the xylophone with her sister?
Him: [no response]
Me: I think Bingo was feeling sad when Bluey wasn’t sharing. It’s important to share with other people!
Him: They were doing a silly hose.
We may have a little ways to go.
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All episodes of the show first air in Australia before international release. Interestingly, a number of episodes have been censored (i.e., details changed) or banned (!) for U.S. audiences. Some of these make obvious sense—e.g., removing the use of a racially-insensitive term in one episode; editing out a scene depicting problematic messages about eating and weight in another. Other deleted scenes—like that of a unicorn pooping, or of Bingo asking her dad how babies get into mom’s bellies—seem like a strange window into the delicate sensibilities of U.S. audiences.
My son has been consistently mixing up “you” versus “me” for a few months now. This, I’ve discovered, is impossible to explain to him (it turns into a bit of a “Who’s on First?” situation). It does make for great one-liners on his part, albeit a bit confusing for strangers, e.g. You have to go potty! or I’m drinking my beer!
For those really looking for inspiration on Bluey-inspired games, here’s a list that claims to include all 102 games depicted in Seasons 1-3. Note: I have not fact checked this.
People are really—like, really—into this show. In my research, I discovered a fandom page with Wikis for each episode, including “trivia” (e.g., “The "magic xylophone" in the episode is technically a glockenspiel, as its pitch bars are made of metal, not of wood”) and a podcast (for adults!) that recaps every single episode. It has 1.4 million downloads.
The creator’s response to this criticism (i.e., that Bandit is setting unrealistic expectations for parents)? “…what I usually answer to that is they are dogs. And if—dogs, probably more so than any other animal, they just love to play. And so if they ever did start walking upright and talking, I think it's a pretty accurate representation of how much they would play with their kids.” Fair enough.