As a kid, I couldn't get enough of Batman: The Animated Series. I would legitimately get home from school every single day, plop myself down on the floor in front of the TV, and watch it until I was forced to step away and do homework. For my son, that show seems to be PAW Patrol. When I think about it, though, PAW Patrol tends to be a rite of passage for so many children these day, not just my boy. This made me wonder: why are kids so obsessed with PAW Patrol? I may be hesitant to plan a trip to Legoland, knowing that my 4-year-old may suddenly lose interest in Legos by the time we pull into the parking lot, but somehow PAW Patrol has remained a constant in our lives. Why is that, exactly? It turns out, there's a reason youngsters just can't get enough of this show.
The cartoon began in 2013 and is still going strong today. According to Common Sense Media, kids typically become interested in PAW Patrol around the time they're 3 years old. However, the love of the show never really goes away. Even younger kids seem to enjoy it as soon as they have the attention span to sit down for more than two seconds. Sure, my son has developed other interests over time (lately he can't get enough of Peppa Pig), but every so often he'll bust out some random anecdote or quote from PAW Patrol like he's still the show's number one fan.
So what is it about PAW Patrol that keeps kids addicted for so long? This was a question I just couldn't let go unsolved, so I decided to do some digging. I reached out to fellow parents on social media to ask why they thought their kids love PAW Patrol so intensely. I also chatted with Dr. Tovah Klein, the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of How Toddlers Thrive — and the insights I was provided with were fascinating.
One common conclusion that many parents had was that the show's popularity has something to do with the fact that the characters are dogs — an animal that many kids are familiar with at a young age and even have as pets. "There is something about puppies that attracts little kids," says Alicia, 37, mom to a 3-year-old boy. "I wonder if the show would have the same effect if it was bears, or birds or something."
Besides being a cartoon about animated dogs, though, PAW Patrol is also about those dogs saving the day through teamwork, while using fun rhymes and songs along the way. Some of the parents I reached out to believe this could also play a part in why kids are drawn to the show. "He really loves the rhymes like 'Rubble on the double' or 'Chase is on the case,'" says Jennifer, 37, of her 2-year-old son's interest in the show. "He repeats them constantly."
Meanwhile, others think it stems from an admiration their child develops from watching these dogs save the day, effectively making them superheroes, in a way. "I think [my daughter] likes to see them helping and saving people," says Sarah, 35, about her 4-year-old daughter's interest in the show. "When she role plays PAW Patrol, that seems to be the theme."
Songs are commonly used in school to help kids memorize important things. Take the alphabet, for example. Who can't remember singing the letters out loud in their elementary school classrooms? It makes learning more fun and it sticks with you for years on end, so it makes sense PAW Patrol's songs would produce a similiar impact. That being said, though, one could argue that many shows and movies incorporate songs and dance numbers into their stories. So what sets PAW Patrol apart from all the rest?
Dr. Tovah Klein has an idea of why this show really resonates among children that extends beyond just enjoying a few catchy tunes. "There is always a problem to be solved and young children love to 'figure things out' and help solve problems," Dr. Klein tells Romper via email. "Helping adults and being involved in the adult world is exciting to young children and that is what happens here." In other words, while adults might sometimes prefer to watch something that doesn't require a lot of thinking after a long day at work, kids crave the exact opposite. Their minds are still developing at this age, so they want something that challenges them and gives them a problem to solve.
Dr. Klein goes on to further explain how dogs specifically in PAW Patrol serve as a metaphor for kids, even if they don't directly realize it:
The lead character is a child, but he is a 'big kid' and that represents the bigger, adult world. The puppies are the small world and they are given responsibility to solve the problem, usually a big problem. That is where the excitement comes in. The children may be small but they can do big things, just like the pups.
This could explain another reason why children connect with the animated dogs so much — not just because they're familiar with this particular animal or have them as pets, but because they see themselves in the characters. They may be little, but that doesn't mean they're incapable of accomplishing big things.
Perhaps that's also why some parents may not watch PAW Patrol with their kids like they would if they were watching Moana or Coco — two movies that are arguably beloved equally by adults and children alike. Dr. Klein believes that's because kids enjoy the repetition that can be found in shows like PAW Patrol, whereas adults tend to prefer over-arching storylines that connect one episode to the next. "The format is similar and somewhat repetitive each episode, and the smallest characters, the pups, who represent the children, get to do big things," she explains. "Interesting to children, but not so to adults."
Then again, this could also be because as adults, we're much more in tune to flaws or inaccuracies that shows like PAW Patrol may represent. For example, there is just one main female dog by the name of Skye who's dressed in pink and flies a primarily pink or purple plane. As a parent, you can't help but notice such a huge error in the show, especially since both boys and girls watch the series. Sarah, 35, says that her 4-year-old daughter is also "obsessed with PAW Patrol," but that it's not exactly ideal for Sarah as "the gender imbalance is horrible." And when looking at the show from that perspective, it's kind of hard to get on board with loving it as much as your child does.
To be fair, your kid could be obsessed with far worse things than a seemingly innocent cartoon, even if it does have some improvements to make on its gender equality. PAW Patrol allows kids to live vicariously through these heroes and believe that they too can accomplish anything. Not a bad life lesson to take away from a kids' show.