Sometimes when I’m really feeling like giving my brain a vacation, I watch reality TV…
This is (was) my dirty little secret. But the REALITY of reality TV is how poorly women are portrayed across the board. The ‘famous’ moments include the RHNJ fist fight at the christening party or the mother who showed up on “Dance Moms” yelling obscenities at Abby Lee while Abby called the police. Who can forget June “the Coupon Queen” and Alana, her daughter, who “hollers for the dollar” from Toddlers & Tiaras? Their behavior has earned over 2,440,000 views on YouTube. And what about the seemingly endless wave of women vying for a coveted spot on “The Bachelor,” desperate to get a rose from a complete stranger and then shattered to tears when they aren’t chosen. What is that all about? I could go on and on, but I won’t because it would lead the reader to believe I watch more of this form of entertainment than I do.
The truth is women aren’t the only one watching these shows. The number of tween and teen girls enjoying reality TV is on the rise – 43 percent are regular viewers and 30 percent said they sometimes watch. Teen Mom, a show that follows the lives of young pregnant girls—many of whom have trouble with drugs, alcohol and the law—is one of the most popular shows among this set. My 14-year-old daughter now loves “Dance Moms” and this new found excitement has led her to ask if I can encourage my younger 9 year old daughter to go into dance. I’m not sure I follow why she thinks it would be interesting to see her mother join the ranks of angry dance moms. Maybe she has a mature and ironic sense of humor for a 14 year old girl. It made me wonder what kind of effect this is having on her (and what kind of mother am I to allow her to watch this crazy show).
This question and concern led me to a recently published survey conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute and I was surprised by what I learned.
“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.”
According to the survey, girls who view reality TV regularly are more focused on the value of physical appearance. 72 percent say they spend a lot of time on their appearance vs. 42 percent of non-viewers, while more than a third (38 percent) think that a girl’s value is based on how she looks. In addition, the study found that the vast majority of girls think reality shows pit girls against each other to make the show more exciting (86 percent). Also, viewers of reality TV versus non-viewers (78 percent vs. 54 percent) felt that “gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls.”
Interestingly, there are some positive attributes associated with girls who watch reality TV. For example, girls who watch reality TV are more self-assured than non-viewers when it comes to a number of personal characteristics, with the majority considering themselves mature, a good influence, smart, funny, and outgoing. (This would certainly describe my 14-year-old daughter and her confidence levels!) Reality fans 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).
The study revealed that reality TV has many upsides as well: 68 percent of girls agree that reality shows “make me think I can achieve anything in life” and 48 percent that they “help me realize there are people out there like me.” Seventy-five percent of girls say that reality TV depicts people with different backgrounds and beliefs.
When I read these survey results I must admit I was stunned that girls can receive such a positive benefit from reality TV. Who would have thought that these programs actually raise girls’ awareness of social issues and causes? I’m still finding it difficult to accept that the reality of the impact these shows have is actually the opposite of what I imagined among young girls. I suppose I’ll be needing to find a new reason to trumpet when I want my children turn the box off. I’m curious to see if these results would be echoed if a study were done comparing adult women who watch reality TV to those who do not. What do adult women get out of reality TV?
Well, other than giving your brain that vacation, of course.