Girl Scouts’ Research Illustrates Impact of Reality TV

The impact of reality TV on girls In the past few years, reality TV has gone from a novelty to a network staple. And as this sort of programming has become more prevalent, it’s started to influence some viewers, especially tween and teenage girls.

According to “Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV,” a national survey released by the Girl Scout Research Institute, “tween and teen girls who regularly view reality TV accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression and bullying in their own lives, and measure their worth primarily by their physical appearance.”

Not exactly the best message, right? Yet it’s hardly surprising, given the amount of fighting and aggression that typically takes center stage during a reality TV show—the more drama, the better.

In addition to influencing viewer expectations, reality TV may also perpetuate harmful stereotypes.

“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,” said Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D., developmental psychologist, Girl Scouts of the USA. “This perpetuates a ‘mean-girl’ stereotype and normalizes this behavior among girls. 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.”

Of course, that being said, the Girl Scouts research found that the effects of reality TV aren’t all bad. For example, girls surveyed who regularly watch reality TV are typically more self-assured when it comes to a number of personal characteristics, including maturity, intelligence and humor. They’re also more likely than non-viewers to aspire to leadership and to think they’re currently seen as a leader.

Despite those positive findings, perhaps reality TV would be best in moderation—and balanced with literature and movies that promote messages of empowerment and positivity.

What’s your take on the Girl Scouts research? Do reality shows comprise a large part of your television viewing? And parents, do you limit the amount of reality programming that your kids watch?

Image by leunix via Creative Commons

  • This is an excellent issue and I’m glad to hear that there is a group out there willing to start the conversation about it. Reality TV has never really influenced my life, although I have grown up around it I never viewed it as “reality,” at least not my reality. I think distinguishing what is staged and what is real on TV is what allows not only teenage girls but also boys to understand where they stand in society. There definitely needs to be a filter for all this information that is accesible to children.

    • Brenda Chapman

      Agreed… and although it’s not always possible, it starts with the parents.

  • I find the more reality shows the are the less I am watching them. I’ve lost my appetite for them. There are so many now, each trying to find some new angle with more extreme stuff for us to *gasp* at. I liked it when it was genuinely watching real people in real situations. You would get drawn in and think what would I do in that situation? You root for people. The genuine people would shine over the rest.
    However these days a certain type of person is chosen. Mostly those who are only interested in fame or who are more likely to behave in extreme ways. Have you noticed the situations seem less real with more things clearly being set up or even re-shot? I don’t see that much empowerment and positivity in these shows but there is still some e.g like the biggest loser. That’s pretty inspiring.
    My two boys are two young to watch reality shows at the moment but when the time comes I think I’ll be careful how much they watch and what they see.

    • Brenda Chapman

      You sound like a good mom! 🙂

  • Elliot Cowan

    We call reality TV, “period television”.
    This is what my wife watches when she’s PMSing and requires something meaningless and undemanding to stare at.
    We also have a selection of “period movies” to be viewed under the same circumstances.
    They are different from the traditional period movie, but may still involve actors in fancy costumes.

    • Brenda Chapman


  • Fweetieb

    Time to get rid of cable. We did this two years ago and my girls are much healthy for it (not to mention more mentally stable).

    • Brenda Chapman

      If only I could get my husband to agree with that!

  • Toniweiss

    And that’s the thing, ain’t it ? “Reality TV” has nothing to do with reality. Which, I hope, even kids can detect. I am astounded that there isn’t a documentary around revealing the practices of these shows: the castings, the scripted bits, the falseness of practically everything. Oh, and I find casting shows even more sinister: we all fear being judged, it is one of the most stressful social interactions. Yet casting shows make it seem OK to trample on somebody and constantly judge them. I quit TV more than 10 years ago. And I am a director. It’s not even a problem. I don’t live like an Amish-like outcast. I just don’t watch the nonsense – and am still doing fine. Get Breaking Bad on iTunes, if you must. No one needs to suffer through “The Biggest Loser” or “Big Brother” or any of that digital refuse to watch television storytelling or movies. Just skip TV. Don’t stop at cable: all TV. No one’s gonna notice. Apart from you and your inner peace.

  • After an evening of horrible shows on TruTV – the channel has been dubbed the “Angry Channel” in my house! Gets my heart rate up just thinking about it! It is especially problematic to think as a result of watching such shows our children – male or female – would begin to “accept…a higher level of drama, aggression and bullying in their own lives”. What the positives tell me is that girls actually have more confidence to perpetuate the cycle, not circumvent it!

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