Reality TV makes girls more confident, inspired, but also leads them to accept bullying, bad behavior

A survey of 1,141 girls conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute examined the effects that reality TV watching has on girls ages 11 to 17. It found that “regular reality TV viewers are more confident than non-viewers” but that “regular reality TV viewers emphasize being mean and/or lying to get ahead” and “are more focused on the value of physical appearance.”

More disturbingly, the survey’s results show that “Regular reality TV viewers accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives as well,” and the majority of those surveyed agreed that reality TV shows “make people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship” and “make people think it’s okay to treat others badly.” The survey didn’t specify what shows girls watch, but identified them as people who are regular viewers or people who watch only sometimes or rarely/never.

Impressively, the authors of the study aren’t using the results to offer a blanket vilification of reality TV. Girl Scout Research Institute Senior Researcher Kimberlee Salmond said in a press release that “We also want to emphasize the many positive benefits to reality TV, including its role as a learning and motivational tool. 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.”

And Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a developmental psychologist with the Girl Scouts, said that media “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. Our national leadership program equips girls with the skills to decipher media fact from fiction and make healthy decisions for their own lives-separate from their sources of entertainment.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.