A Clever Puppy for Clever Kids? How “Blue’s Clues” Fits into the Debate Over Media Exposure During Infancy and Young Childhood

Lucy Le Bohec           U0901182

Blue’s Clues Ad.: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/30891947421648273/

I decided to investigate the well known, slightly outdated television series, Blue’s Clues, an educational program that dynamically combines animation and live action for preschoolers. As a 4 and 5 year old, I regularly watched this program and found it fairly fascinating, though I do not remember feeling particularly enlightened after having watched my allotted one episode per day (if that). As we all know, there is immense debate over the effects of exposure to television on infants, from how much exposure is healthy and at what age exposure is acceptable, to which programs are okay to let children watch and what their effects on children may be. These are all valid concerns; as Bornstein states in Development in Infancy (5th edition), the age bracket these programs are targeting is extremely sensitive to sensory and cognitive input with regards to development of attention and social skills and visual perception. In the context of the television debate, attention skills are of supreme importance. They dictate what cognitive and social information the infant absorbs as the infant’s attention is attracted to various stimuli. In other words, even from a very young age, infants’ attentions filter through information, and the information that captures an infant’s attention may have a significant impact on the infant’s development of cognitive and social skills. In the words of Bornstein, “attention is the gateway to perception” (142).

In the article, “Media and Young Children’s Learning”, the authors review research pertaining to the effects of television on infant development. It turns out, such effects are highly variable and depend on a host of factors including age, quantity of exposure, and content. The authors walk the reader through a brief history of theory and research about children’s exposure to media, which leads into a breakdown of the specific areas of cognitive development that are involved in viewing media; these include perception, the ability to learn and attention skills, which the the authors relate to research done about specific shows, one of which is Blue’s Clues. As the authors go through research, it becomes clear that the most important factors in developmental effects of media on children are content, followed by age. Educational programs (versus purely entertaining ones) at the right age are positively correlated with later academic and social achievement. As for age, research shows that children younger than two struggle to distinguish between reality and what happens on a screen, and furthermore cannot distinguish between program content and commercials, meaning they cannot truly perceive programs and absorb the potential positive effects, rather they are left with the issues conventionally associated with media exposure, namely poor attention skills. From here, the article explains techniques that both parents and producers of programs can use to maximize the positive results of media on infants based on the reviewed research, such as greater integration of educational and narrative content, repetition of ideas and themes, consideration of viewer demographics and parent coviewing. The article also addresses difficulties with research in this domain. It is often hard to separate the effects of media from the effects of family composition and socioeconomic status because children from different backgrounds are more or less likely to be exposed to different kinds of media and different quantities and types of engagement with media; for example, a child from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is more likely to watch programs designed purely for entertainment as he/she is more likely to be left to his/her own devices while his/her parent(s) is working. So research about media effects on infant development must be considered carefully.

The specific research the authors present regarding Blue’s Clues is relatively simple but has significant entailments for the value of the show. As a program that focuses on problem solving, it is natural to test whether children who watch Blue’s Clues have better problem solving abilities than those who don’t; researchers led by Jennings Bryant monitored two groups of preschoolers who either did watch the show (Group 1) or did not (Group 2), making sure that the two groups did not differ in problem solving skills prior to the study. After two years, Group 1 faired much better than Groups 2 in a variety of aspects, particularly problem solving. In another study, children were assigned an episode of Blue’s Clues to watch either once or five times (once daily for five days) or not at all. This study showed that those who watched the episode once outperformed those who did not watch it, and those who watched the episode five times showed better comprehension than those who watch it only once. Both studies show that Blue’s Clues does positively impact learning in young children, particularly in the domain of problem solving, and does so even more for those who watch regularly.

I guess Blue is indeed “a puppy every parent can say ‘yes’ to”.

 

Citations:

  • Kirkorian, H. L., Wartella, E. A., & Anderson, D. R. (2008). Media and Young Children’s Learning. The Future of Children, 18(1), 39-61. doi:10.1353/foc.0.0002
  • Bornstein, M. H., Arterberry, M. E., & Lamb, M. E. (2014). Development in infancy: a contemporary introduction. New York: Psychology Press.
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2 thoughts on “A Clever Puppy for Clever Kids? How “Blue’s Clues” Fits into the Debate Over Media Exposure During Infancy and Young Childhood

  1. I remember the good old days of “Blues Clues.” I never watched that show, but I heard about it. I find a statement from your blog post very interesting. Some researchers said that media doesn’t sink in for toddlers before the age of two. It makes perfect sense what you are saying and all because before the age of two, most parents are attending to their infants. It was suggested that if toddlers cannot absorb the television content, then they would be incapable of retaining positive or negative effects as a result of watching television. Do we really know that infants aren’t able to process what is happening on television. How did these researchers come to this conclusion? What experiments did the researchers conduct in order to determine this? A longitudinal or cross sectional study would work in order to determine the effects a television program had on infants before the age of two.

    With reference to the “Blues Clues” problem solving group and the control group, how many infants were in each group? It is important that studies be done with enough participants in order to take into account other variables. Other variables might include socioeconomic status, culture, quantity of siblings, age of parents, etc. I am always curious as to whether or not other variable were taken into account when choosing from a specific population; in this case the “Blues Clues” watchers.

    Nic Duke
    u0660012

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  2. Julia Hohl U1059478

    I have such fond memories of Blue’s Clues as a child, but many of these are faded, so I am glad you brought them to light again! From your writing, and what I remember, Blue’s Clues certainly promotes love and prosocial behaviors, arguably some of the most important lessons to learn while growing up. Much research points to the fallibility of educational television series for children, and I too remain on the skeptical side; however, I do think behaviors and attitudes can become transparent through screen time with children, so the social cohesion promoted in Blue’s Clues makes it worth the watch for many children. You mentioned Blue’s Clues being a little outdated; while it was certainly produced many years ago, many of the ideas are quite modern and liberal. For instance, the gender assumptions that are so rampant in society are broken in this show: Blue, the blue dog, is a female, while his best friend Magenta, a pink dog, is a male. These broken barriers may challenge a child’s stereotypical thinking and expand their love and acceptance for all.

    With regards to the research study at hand, it is important to understand the participants background. Such as, how much screen time do they engage in weekly as this may affect their absorption of messages through the media. Other similar differences may appear minor but could affect and sway the results. However, the findings are encouraging and it seems that Blue’s Clues and other shows like it will definitely not be harmful to children as long as they are appropriately stimulated throughout development.

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