Girls who regularly watch reality TV accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives; they are more likely to believe that being mean and lying will earn you success. Furthermore, they place higher value on their physical appearance than non-viewers.
These are the alarming but unsurprising findings from new national research gathered by the Girl Scouts.
The research, entitled Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV, states that 47% of girls ages 11 to 17 watch reality TV regularly, and they believe it to be an accurate depiction of real life.
Consider some of the findings, which indicate how reality TV has distorted girls’ perceptions:
In Areas of Relationship Drama
- 78% of regular reality TV viewers think “gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls” versus 54% of non-viewers
- 68% of regular reality TV viewers believe “it is in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with each other” versus 50% of non-viewers
In Areas of Self-Image
- 72% of girls who regularly watch reality TV say they spend a lot of time on their appearance, vs 42% of non-viewers.
- 38% of girls who regularly view reality TV programs think that a girl’s value is based on how she looks, compared to 28% of non-viewers
In Perceptions of How to Gain Success
- 37% of regular reality TV viewers believe that “you have to lie to get what you want” versus 24% of non-viewers
- 37% of girls who regularly watch reality TV say that “being mean earns you more respect than being nice” versus 25% of non-viewers
I spoke with Maria Wynne, CEO, Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana, about why the Girl Scouts decided to conduct this research.
“As a council,” Wynne explained, “we had great curiosity and impetus to understand what it is that girls consider to be real or not. As much as Girl Scouts is a voice for girls, we need to be able to perceive the world through their eyes.”
Wynne is concerned by the implications of reality TV on bullying. “There is a special type of bullying that girls do,” she said. “Mean girl syndrome is very damaging and it is something they are seeing on reality TV. It is not okay to make your way through the world at someone else’s disadvantage.”
Fortunately, given the vast numbers of girls that watch reality TV, there were also some positive findings. Regular reality TV viewers reported higher levels of self-confidence than non-viewers, and they also feel they the reality shows expose them to people with different backgrounds, beliefs, ideas and perspectives.
Specifically, in terms of uplifting results:
- 62% of girls say that reality TV has increased their awareness of social issues and causes
- 46% of regular reality TV viewers aspire to leadership versus 27% of non-viewers
- 75% of regular viewers see themselves as role models for other girls versus 61% of non-viewers
The Girls Scouts plan to capitalize on the positive findings and use them as a way to connect with girls while trying to mitigate the negative findings. Wynne believes that “the point of intervention is now.”
Girl Reality Check
This is why the Girl Scouts have launched Reality Check, an interactive video campaign that calls on girls to share the REAL realities of their lives. From October 13 to November 30, 2011, all girls ages 13-17 are invited to create a short video (two minutes or less) that answers one of the following questions:
- If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and why?
- What is the best part of your day and why?
- In your experience, what makes being a teen harder than being a kid?
Girls can learn more about the Girl Reality Check contest at www.girlrealitycheck.com. Entries should be uploaded to the Girl Reality Check’s YouTube channel. Winners will be announced on January 18, 2012.
I asked Wynne how younger girls can participate in the Reality Check campaign. “Once we are through the process of receiving the video entries, there will be the opportunity for girls to view each other’s stories and combine it with the Girl Scouts journey- It’s Your Story – Tell It,” she responded.
“The videos from the older girls are a great conversation starter. What we are trying to do with these dialogues is counteract the lasting impression that bullying gets you places or that the world is easy.”
The Girl Scouts has created a helpful piece for parents called Tips for Parents- Real To Me. You can find it at http://www.girlscouts.org/research/pdf/real_to_me_tip_sheet_for_parents.pdf . Wynne advises that parents talk about reality TV with their girls.
“Help her realize that what she is seeing is not the norm. Reality-based TV serves on a platter so many things that are provocative. It can open the door to discussions about values. We can ask the girls, ‘What is right sometimes? What falls into the never-right category?’ and teach them about acceptable behavior.”
The Girl Reality Check videos will help us bring our girls back to reality. Their own reality. Let’s remind our girls that there is a lot more to their lives than drama and bullying. They will hear the stories coming from their own mouths, and it will remind them that shows like Jersey Shore do not need to define social norms.
As Wynne said, “Ask the girls what they think. Remind them that the footage on reality TV shows is heavily edited. What do they think went on behind the scenes? Is it really real?”
Out of curiosity, I asked my second-grade daughter, Katie, two of the questions from the Girl Reality Check. Her answers are in italics.
1. If you could change one thing in your world, what would it be?
I would change everything to chocolate. (giggles). OK, seriously, I would make no more bullies in the world.
2. What is the best part of your day and why?
Today it was playing soccer, because I like being on a team called The Presidents.
And there you have it, the reality check of an eight-year-old! What do your girls have to say?
(The Girl Scouts survey was conducted with the research firm TRU and consisted of a national sample of 1,141 girls ages 11-17. The survey took place April 6-26, 2011. The facts reported in this article are taken from GSGCNWI press releases.)