Parents beware: Tween and teen-aged girls who watch lots of 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,” according to a national survey conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute for a report Real To Me: Girls And Reality TV. Reality TV watchers are more likely than non-watchers to believe that “gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls” (78% vs 54%), that “girls often have to compete for a guy’s attention” (74% vs 63%), and that girls are happier when they have a boyfriend or significant other (49% vs 28%). Reality TV watchers also focus more on their physical appearance (72% vs 42%). “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,” says Andrea Bastiani Archibald, 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.”
The effects aren’t all bad. Researchers found that girls who regularly watch reality TV are more likely than non-watchers to aspire to leadership (46% vs 27%). They also believe that they are currently seen as a leader (75% vs 63%) and consider themselves role models for other girls (75% vs 61%). What’s more, 75% of girls say that reality TV depicts people with different backgrounds and beliefs. “We know that many girls receive inspiration and comfort from reality TV and that 62% of girls say that these types of shows have raised their awareness of social issues and causes,” says Kimberlee Salmond, Senior Researcher, Girl Scout Research Institute.