New Girl Scouts research exposes the impact of reality TV on tween and teen girls

Nov 15, 2011 at 2:00 p.m. ET

Is there a correlation between the amount of reality TV that teen girls are watching and the lessons they learn from it? A new study from the Girl Scouts Research Institute shows just how much young girls are influenced by reality TV in particular.


Does reality TV help or hurt?

With reality TV becoming more and more popular, girls are turning to these shows for entertainment value and life lessons. According to a national survey by the Girl Scout Research Institute, tween and teen girls are taking mental notes on "acceptable" physical appearances as well as expecting and accepting a higher level of drama, aggression and bullying in their own lives.

"Girls today are bombarded with media -- reality TV and otherwise -- that more frequently portrays girls and women in competition with one another rather than in support or collaboration. This perpetuates a 'mean-girl' stereotype and normalizes this behavior among girls," states Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Ph.D., Developmental Psychologist with Girl Scouts of the USA.

"We don't want girls to avoid reality TV, but want them, along with their parents, to know what they are getting into when they watch it."

Bullying, gossiping, relationships and appearances

The national study included tween and teen girls based on viewers and non-viewers of reality TV. Following are some of the findings:

  • 86 percent of all tween and teen girls believe that reality shows "often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting."
  • 78 percent of tween and teen girls who view reality TV shows stated that "gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls," while only 54 percent of non-viewers agreed.
  • 74 percent of tween and teen girls who view reality TV said that "girls often have to compete for a guy's attention," while only 63 percent of non-viewers agreed.
  • 72 percent of tween and teen girls who view reality TV said they spend more time on their appearance, while only 42 percent of non-viewers agreed.

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Confidence and assurance

Even though the findings show that tween and teen girls who regularly watch reality TV are more interested in their appearance, believe that gossip is simply a way of life, think competing for attention is normal and believe that bullying is a way to make a TV show more interesting, the study also revealed that these girls were more self-assured than the non-viewers.

The majority of the girls that watch reality TV consider themselves mature, smart, funny and outgoing, and a good influence.

These girls also towered over the non-viewers when asked if they aspire to leadership positions (46 percent vs. 27 percent) and believe they are already leaders amongst their peers (75 percent vs. 63 percent).

75 percent of the girls who view reality TV also view themselves as role models, while only 61 percent on the non-viewers said the same.

Boost your teen girl's self confidence >>

Life lessons from watching reality TV?

There is an upside to tween and teen girls watching reality TV, according to the study. 75 percent of all girls believe that diversity -- in the form of showing different backgrounds and beliefs -- is one of the positive life lessons they take from reality TV. The girls also noted that they obtain positive lessons from reality TV:

  • 68% of girls say reality shows "make me think I can achieve anything in life"
  • 48% of girls say reality shows "help me realize there are people out there like me"

"We also want to emphasize the many positive benefits to reality TV, including its role as a learning and motivational tool," states Kimberlee Salmond, Senior Researcher with the Girl Scout Research Institute. "For example, we know that many girls receive inspiration and comfort from reality TV and that 62 percent of girls say that these types of shows have raised their awareness of social issues and causes."

Tell us:

Do you see the positives in reality TV for tweens and teens? Or do you feel reality TV is a bad influence?

More about TV and children

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Kids and TV: How much is too much?

TV and toddlers