The study, entitled Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV was conducted by the research firm TRU for the Girl Scout Research Institute and surveyed 1,141 girls ages 11-17. It found that nearly half (47%) of the respondents were regular viewers of reality programs such as Keeping Up with The Kardashians and Jersey Shore with most believing the shows depict reality. Another 30 percent said they watched these shows "sometimes" with only 23 percent saying they rarely or never watched.
The overall finding of the study was that these shows promote bad behavior in girls such as:
- 78 percent of regular reality TV viewers think gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls and 68 percent think it's in a girl's nature to be catty and competitive with each other.
- Nearly 40 percent of regular viewers believe "you have to lie to get ahead" (vs. 24% of non-viewers).
- More than 70 percent of regular viewers say they spend a lot of time on their appearance, with 38 percent saying they believe a girl's value is based on how she looks (vs. 28% of non-viewers);
- Almost 30 percent of regular viewers would rather be recognized for their outer beauty than their inner beauty (vs. 18% of non-viewers);
"Girls today are bombarded with media - reality TV and otherwise - that more frequently portrays girls and women in competition with one another rather than in support or collaboration. This perpetuates a 'mean-girl' stereotype and normalizes this behavior among girls," states Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D. Developmental Psychologist, Girl Scouts of the USA. "We don't want girls to avoid reality TV, but want them, along with their parents, to know what they are getting into when they watch it."
Besides issuing this warning, the Girls Scouts, which has come under increasing fire during the last two decades for its affiliation with Planned Parenthood and promotion of a feminist ideology among girls, claims there is also a bright side to the study.
"We also want to emphasize the many positive benefits to reality TV, including its role as a learning and motivational tool," states Kimberlee Salmond, Senior Researcher, Girl Scout Research Institute. "For example, we know that many girls receive inspiration and comfort from reality TV and that 62 percent of girls say that these types of shows have raised their awareness of social issues and causes."
The survey found that girls who view reality TV tend to be more self-assured than non-viewers, with viewers considering themselves to be more mature, smart, funny and outgoing than non-viewers. They are more likely than non-viewers to both aspire to leadership (46 percent vs. 27 percent) and to think they are currently seen as a leader (75 percent vs. 63 percent). In addition, they are more likely to see themselves as role models for other girls (75 percent vs. 61 percent).
While these statistics are encouraging, they hardly outweigh the much more serious negatives such as approving of gossiping, lying, and the basing of one's personal value on physical appearance.
Teresa Tomeo, bestselling author and radio host, says the study should be a wake-up call to parents.
"Adults, at least for the most part, are savvy enough to realize that 'reality' TV is anything but real life" Tomeo said. "The genre gains viewers by sensationalizing and dramatizing every day activities and providing a shock value.It's different for impressionable children who can't distinguish between fact and fiction. This study shows that girls are particularly impressionable as those who watch Reality TV regularly readily see the antics often highlighted on these shows such as fighting, gossiping, and in general treating people badly, as perfectly normal and acceptable."
She concluded: "This means parents and guardians should get serious about setting media guidelines for young people and sticking to them."
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