Journal Archive > 2001 > September

Yeah, 'Arnold'

When members of the Eliot-Pearson Department of Child Development decided to create an award honoring TV shows for children, the first program they selected was about a kid with a football-shaped head whose friends are equally odd-shaped.

They may look peculiar, but the kids on “Hey Arnold,” a program on Nickelodeon, addresses such issues as prejudice, responsibility, religion and conscience, according to Julie Dobrow, coordinator of the Tufts Family and Media Initiative and a lecturer in the department. “It’s one of the few shows on TV that deals with real problems that real kids have in ways that are sensitive and developmentally appropriate and humorous,” she said.

The show received the Eliot-Pearson Award for Excellence in Children’s Television. Craig Bartlett, the program’s executive producer, accepted the prize. The award, presented during the spring, will be given every other year and will include all forms of media for children, including software.

Dobrow said the show’s writing “is so good, so clever, that adults can sit there and watch it right along with kids.” The show, which debuted in 1996, is about Arnold who lives with his grandparents in a boarding house. “He is a good kid with good instincts and is kind and considerate of his peers,” said Dobrow. “He is never afraid to go the extra mile to help somebody, and in the end, is always rewarded.”

Dobrow said the story lines deal with issues that are quite real for children. In one episode, a child who is supposed to be hall monitor is overlooked by a teacher who forgets and chooses someone else. “The show will take something like this to the extreme and develop a whacky story line around it. But it comes back to the very real feelings that children experience,” Dobrow said.

Among the characters is Helga, who has a crush on Arnold but doesn’t want him to know how she feels. A discussion with a psychologist helps her understand that it’s all right if she’s not ready to tell Arnold about her feelings.

“Hey Arnold is a special show,” said George Scarlett, assistant professor of child development and an expert on children’s play and ethical development. “So many shows that try to model good behavior or send messages to kids flop because they are dull, sugary or preachy. They really are about a world that doesn’t exist. ‘Hey Arnold’ is like great literature in that it provides messages but doesn’t do it at the expense of art.”