The real problems with 'reality' TV

It would be nice to think that when it comes to reality TV, young girls are watching the more wholesome shows offered by this well-known genre, such ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” or Fox’s ratings winner, “American Idol.” 

If you’re thinking that this is actually the case, then you might be in need of a reality check. Not only are girls huge fans of reality TV, but it’s the not-so-wholesome shows that are at the top of their lists.  

A new report shows that young girls are being negatively influenced by these shows in more ways than one. 

A study released in mid-October by the Girl Scout Research Institute, “Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV,” found that among the more than 1,100 girls surveyed, “Jersey Shore” was one of their favorite reality shows. The survey referred to reality TV as — yikes — an “entertainment staple” for young people. Many girls also believe (50 percent of those questioned) that reality TV shows are “mainly real and unscripted” when quite the opposite is true.  

It doesn’t take much brain power to figure out that there is a game plan here in terms of the producers and network officials going for the shock value with reality TV. The cast members are encouraged to be as over the top as possible. Their outlandish, crude and lewd antics are part of the plan in hopes of increasing ratings and revenue. Most adults realize this and, as the researchers explain, might consider these shows to be no big deal. That’s not the case with young people. 

The Girl Scout Research Institute reported that it found significant differences between girls who view reality TV regularly and those who don’t. Reality TV fans have much different views on what to expect in their everyday lives and in relationships. Among the girls around the country questioned for “Real to Me,” those who make these types of programs a regular part of their TV diet expect to experience a higher level of “drama, aggression, and bullying.” The report also found they are more likely than those who don’t watch these shows to agree with the following statements: 

Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls (78 percent vs. 54 percent). 

It is in a girl’s nature to be catty and competitive (68 percent vs. 50 percent).  

It is hard to trust other girls (63 percent vs. 50 percent). 

You have to lie to get what you want (28 percent vs. 18 percent). 

Being mean earns you more respect (37 percent vs. 24 percent). 

Self-image or self-esteem problems are also a big issue among girls today, and this survey was no exception, with 72 percent of reality TV viewers admitting they spend a lot of time on their appearance versus 42 percent of nonviewers, and 38 percent think a girl’s value is based on how she looks compared with 28 percent of nonviewers. The survey also found a few positive spinoffs, including exposing girls to diversity in our culture, but the bad news definitely out weighed the good when it came to the impact on impressionable young women. 

The Girl Scout Institute survey did provide some tips for parents. At the top of the list is developing alternative activities for the entire family, activities that don’t involve a TV or a computer, as well as taking a closer look at what types of reality TV shows their children are watching. You can find the survey at www.girlscouts.org/research.  

Maybe with fewer young people watching, Snooki and company of “Jersey Shore” fame will have to take their big hair, potty mouths and stiletto heels and drift out with the Atlantic tide. One can hope and pray. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 160.