Mean Girls & Reality TV…Is There a Connection?

Posted: November 29, 2011 in Entertainment/Media, Parents & Families, Youth Culture & Trends
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Reality TV is the big boy on the television block right now, and has been for a couple of years.  Each show has different characters, plots and sub-plots, challenges, rules…and audiences.  It’s hard to not get wrapped up emotionally and psychologically when you commit to watching a show/series (my mind ran out of space to run around in with Lost!).  So if it’s pretty much intrinsic in our human nature to immerse ourselves within a particular experience, in this case a television series, then it would be logical to ‘assume’ there would be varying levels of influence we would absorb from those experiences…right?

Well enter the world of media and entertainment data and study.  Yes friends, there’s some new research released…this time by the Girl Scout Research Institute (yes…Girl Scouts…) re: the influence reality TV can have on teen/pre-teen girls.  Here’s a quick glimpse @ some of the negative consequences reality TV has 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…

Okay then…if you’re quasi-coherent to reality, the above shouldn’t be a huge shocker to you.  But on the flip-side of the research, here’s some possibly surprising insight into the positive effects, according to the study, of reality TV & girls:

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).

There’s a ‘captain obvious’ factor that shouldn’t be overlooked here in terms of whether reality TV has a positive or negative effect on girls, and that has to do with exactly what shows are involved!  Our family watches a few reality shows together on a regular basis, including Amazing Race, Cake Boss, America’s Got Talent, and sometimes Wipeout (although the commentators can sometimes drift to inappropriate innuendos).  A show like Amazing Race offers some good character lessons and conversation points throughout the episodes.  Each episode (or race leg) presents challenges to the contestants face, and opens the door for conversation on topics like the importance of perseverance, and paying attention, and being kind to others even when you’re frustrated.

As someone who’s worked directly with teens and families as a youth pastor, I’ve been hearing the term of ‘Mean Girls’ for a while now (at least since the 2004 movie Mean Girls came out!) and have seen first-hand some of the nasty effects on young ladies.  There’s different theories out there, of which I don’t have the time nor the experience to dive into, on the causes of the ‘mean girl syndrome.’  These range from family/social environment, chemical imbalances, emotional experiences of hurt/betrayal/loss, as well as media consumption.  All of these are certainly factors in how we live out life based on how we process our experiences.  But with the onslaught of shows/movies out there that promote an image to young girls that the way you get ahead and gain power in life is to use whatever you can (sex, relationships, integrity, morals) to your advantage, it’s not an evasive notion that shows like The Bachelor, Bad Girls Club, Keeping Up with the Kardashians…and of course…the cesspool of sexuality known as Jersey Shore.  There’s also some good and positive shows out there worth watching and talking about as a family- The Biggest Loser, The Sing Off, and as mentioned earlier, The Amazing Race.

Remember that you have the power to say no…parents can set TV boundaries for their families, but in doing so I think it’s beneficial to create conversation around decisions, as opposed to saying no “because I said so” or “because it’s just not a good show.”  As well, teens…you have the power to choose what you allow yourself to watch, and just because you feel ‘everyone else’ might be watching it…does that mean you should?  Ask yourself these questions about what a particular show says about;

  • sexuality
  • morals, integrity, character and values
  • purpose/goals of life
  • relationships/friendships
  • authority and accountability

So whether your kids are in elementary or high school, what TV shows have been positive catalysts for conversations in your family?  And if you want some insight into the Mean Girls dilemma, check out Hayley Dimarco’s best-selling book- Mean Girls: Facing Your Beauty Turned Beast

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