A recent study finds that girls who watch reality TV shows on a regular basis have a sharply different and often unrealistic view of human behavior more so than their peers who do not watch similar programs. The finding should alarm parents, said an expert on media and modern culture.
The recently released Girls Scouts Research Institute survey of more than 1,100 girls showed that the dramatic difference was between their expectations of peer relationships, overall self-image, and their understanding of how the world works.
All of the girls surveyed agreed that reality shows promote bad behavior, according to the institute. A large majority believe that reality TV shows “often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting (86 percent), make people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship (73 percent), and make people think it’s okay to treat others badly (70 percent).”
The study showed that regular reality TV watchers accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives as well. These viewers are considerably more likely than non-viewers to agree that: “Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls (78 percent vs. 54 percent); It’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another (68 percent vs. 50 percent); and it’s hard for me to trust other girls (63 percent vs. 50 percent).”
Teresa Tomeo, author of Extreme Makeover: Women Transformed by Christ, Not Conformed to the Culture, said “maybe the genre should be called ‘Fantasy TV.’” Tomeo, who is a Catholic radio show host, often speaks at events about the impact of media on culture.
“What was most alarming were the percentage rates of just how many girls in the survey actually believe that these shows reflect real life,” Tomeo told The Christian Post. "Many in the Girl Scout study also said they see the bad behavior often exhibited in some of the reality shows as normal. This is, well, disturbing – especially if we're talking about shows like ‘The Jersey Shore,’ which was actually mentioned in the report."
The survey should serve as "yet another wake-up call for parents everywhere," she said.
The study also found that girls who watch reality TV regularly are more focused on the value of physical appearance. Seventy-two percent say they spend a lot of time on their appearance verses 42 percent for non-viewers.
“So many young girls I meet during my speaking events around the country are struggling with self-esteem issues, depression, and eating disorders. While we can't blame the media for everything, we can't ignore the fact that the media are so pervasive in young people's lives today, and they are taking many of their cues from what they watch and listen to,” Tomeo said.
In Extreme Makeover, Tomeo said that she challenges women “to shed the messages and toxic images like those in reality programs, and instead embrace the truth about their human dignity.”
When asked about what that shedding might look like, she said, “I encourage women to take what I like to call a media reality check. How much media are they consuming, and what type of media are they consuming?
“When women are constantly told through TV commercials and programs that they have to look, act, and dress a certain way to be accepted and loved, then this is going to impact their self-esteem. And if they are getting their news about faith issues from the mainstream media, then they are going to be sadly misinformed about who Jesus is and how He is our biggest liberator.”
Tomeo said that having a relationship with Jesus is key.
“If girls knew who they were in Christ, they would see themselves so much differently. They will feel truly loved and cared for,” she highlighted.
“This doesn't mean that a young Christian girl is not going to have problems or feel pressured to look or act a certain way. But it does mean that at the end of the day, she knows there is more to life than how many friends she has on Facebook or whether she saw the last episode of ‘The Hills’ or ‘American Idol.’”
“It gives her something else to look forward to and reach for because she knows life is bigger than what's on TV,” she said.