Is Reality TV a Catalyst for Mean Girls?

Kara Powell | Oct 18, 2011

Today’s our middle child’s ninth birthday, so in honor of Krista, I decided to blog a bit about girls, especially given some new research released by the Girl Scout Research Institute about the influence of Reality TV on preteen and teenage girls.

I need to confess that the methodology of this study isn’t altogether clear to me, so please take this blog with a grain of salt. But here’s a summary of some of the negative consequences of reality TV on girls:

As reality TV has become staple entertainment for young people and adults alike, 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…

That’s not all that surprising, right?

But here’s something that is a bit surprising. Reality TV can have some positive effects also, according to this study:

Girls surveyed who regularly view reality TV are more self-assured than non-viewers when it comes to an overwhelming majority of personal characteristics, with the majority considering themselves mature, a good influence, smart, funny, and outgoing. 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).

I think a MAJOR factor in whether reality TV is a burden or blessing for girls has to do with WHICH Reality TV shows are involved. In our family, we just started watching “Amazing Race” together. Why? Because I saw a few minutes of it once in a hotel room and thought to myself, “There are some good character lessons in here.” In the first few episodes of the show, the challenges the contestants face have been a good catalyst for conversation on topics like the importance of perseverance, and paying attention, and being kind to others even when you’re frustrated. In fact, as we start watching the TV show, I have told the kids that I want them to keep an eye out for things they can learn about life and relationships. (Granted, our kids are young enough that it’s easy to frame TV shows that way; that is WAY less likely to work as our kids get older.)

Whether your kids are elementary school aged or teenagers, what TV shows have been positive catalysts for conversations in your family?

Kara Powell

Dr. Kara Powell is the Executive Director of the Fuller Youth Institute (FYI), a faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary, and Fuller's Chief of Leadership Formation. Named by Christianity Today as one of “50 Women You Should Know,” Kara serves as a Youth and Family Strategist for Orange, and also speaks regularly at parenting and leadership conferences. Kara is the author or coauthor of a number of books, including Growing Young, Growing With, The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, Sticky Faith Curriculum, Can I Ask That?, Deep Justice Journeys, Deep Justice in a Broken World, Deep Ministry in a Shallow World, and the Good Sex Youth Ministry Curriculum. Kara lives with her husband Dave and their three children, Nathan, Krista, and Jessica, in Southern California.

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