What parents, not just children, can learn from watching ‘Bluey’

cartoon family of blue heeler dogs from the show Bluey on the front steps of a house
Image: ABC

For decades, Pixar has made a name for itself by creating animated movies that can appeal, move and touch both children and parents. But nowadays there’s a new king in the world of animated content with crossover generational appeal: “Bluey.”

If you’re a parent, you’re probably pretty familiar with Bluey Heeler, the 6-year-old Blue Heeler puppy. Created by Joe Brumm and produced in Australia by Ludo Studio, “Bluey” follows the adventures of energetic, curious Bluey; her younger sister, Bingo; father, Bandit; and mother, Chilli. It’s also a massive hit.

When the third season hit Disney+ in the U.S. in 2022, the show ranked in the top 10 most streamed acquired shows, according to Nielsen’s streaming ratings. With 298 million streaming minutes, the show ranked among the likes of “Seinfeld,” “New Girl” and “Downton Abbey.”

Headshots of Meryl Alper and Benjamin Yelle
Associate professor of communication studies Meryl Alper and associate teaching professor of philosophy Benjamin Yelle. Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern and Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University.

Meryl Alper, an associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, says “Bluey” is one of the few shows that supports co-viewing among children and their parents. Alper teaches a class on kids, media and technology at Northeastern and also has more than 15 years of experience consulting on shows like “Sesame Street” and with Disney and Nickelodeon. “Bluey” is a big hit with her and her children at home.

“It does operate on two levels where there’s jokes that are definitely for parents and there’s jokes that are very easy for kids to get,” Alper says. “There’s a lot of physical humor and maybe that’s for your 3-, 4-, 5-year-old, but there’s also some deep emotional issues that ‘Bluey’ tackles that are very relatable for early grade schoolers. There’s a lot of heart to it.”

But the show is more than just entertaining for parents, Alper says. “Bluey” has plenty to teach parents as well. 

“You watch it and you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe in the car we can play that game too,’” Alper says. “Or, ‘Maybe the next time we’re on the playground, I’ll try to use that language too.’”

Alper has watched the episode “Sleepytime,” named one of 2020’s best episodes of TV by The New York Times, by herself on numerous occasions because she “found it to be so beautiful.” The episode tackles the struggle that both parents and children can have when a child is “outgrowing the habit of sleeping in somebody else’s bed or having somebody sleep with them” in a gorgeously animated dreamscape. 

The show focuses just as much on Bandit and Chilli Heeler grappling with the demands of modern parenthood as it does Bluey and her adventures. For parents like Alper, it’s deeply relatable.

“They seem stressed sometimes,” Alper says of the parents on the show. “They seem like they wish they could take a break. They’re trying to juggle errands and bringing kids along that you need to entertain and not wanting to have to rely on a screen to do it. These are very contemporary dilemmas that these dogs in the show are fully living out.”

At the same time, the show’s depiction of parenthood is very aspirational. Despite the challenges of daily life, Bluey’s parents still find time and creative ways to “indulge their child’s requests for play,” Alper says.

“They do so in a way that they are fully invested when they are supporting kids’ imaginations and are attentive to when they’re kids are playing what other kinds of issues they’re working through in their play,” Alper says. “It’s like the best kind of parenting.”

Benjamin Yelle, an associate teaching professor of philosophy at Northeastern who teaches a course on philosophy for children, specifically points to the ways Bluey’s parents play along with and encourage their children’s imaginations and sense of play.

“A big part of parenting is we are trying to socialize our children to live in our world,” Yelle says. “This show really does a good job of modeling or showing parents or creating awareness of parents inhabiting their kids’ worlds.”

At the same time, Yelle also half-jokingly wonders whether Bluey’s parents might set an unrealistic example for modern parents.

“As a parent, it’s fun to watch with kids because it’s funny and you’re watching the parents deal with the same issues with their kids that you’re dealing with,” Yelle says. “On the other hand, I watch it sometimes and I’m like, ‘Man, Bluey’s dad is making me feel like a bad dad.’ … Bluey’s dad has way too much patience, God bless him.”

Cody Mello-Klein is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at c.mello-klein@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @Proelectioneer.