How does reality TV affect young girls?

Professor Bob Thompson

If you're channel surfing, it's hard to avoid reality TV. Now, we're investigating how this genre is affecting young girls.

The Girl Scouts have released a study that analyzes the effect of reality TV. You can view the study here.

Of the girls surveyed for the study, 86% say reality TV shows pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting, and 73% say the shows make people think fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship. The majority of girls (70%) also say reality TV makes people think it's OK to treat others badly.

The study shows that girls who regularly watch reality TV are more likely than other girls to believe the statements "Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls," "It's in a girl's nature to be catty and competitive with one another," and "It's hard for me to trust other girls."

We spoke with members of a local troop of girl scouts to see if they have concerns about reality TV shows. Every member said they watch at least two reality shows every week.

Some say shows like "Jersey Shore" portray women badly.

"It's kind of like saying they just like to drink and party, and they don't really care about anything, and they just go from one man to the next," says 8th grader Hannah Perry.

"Some girls that watch that might think that that's the right way to be, and try to change their appearance and change who they are to be more like that, and that can really lower your self esteem," says 8th grader Preston Arment.

The study also showed there are some benefits to reality TV. Of the girls surveyed, 75% say that reality shows have inspired conversation with their parents and/or friends, and 65% say shows introduce new ideas and perspectives. Many girls were also inspired by reality shows, including 68% who said the shows make them think they can achieve anything in life.

The girl scouts we spoke with say shows like "Survivor," "Amazing Race," and "The Voice" demonstrate how much women can achieve.

"They're just as brave as guys, and they can do as much as they can," says 8th grader Annika Knutsen.

"I kind of admire them because it shows how much determination and passion and perseverance they have for what they're doing," says 8th grader Elize Oliverio.

The girls we interviewed say they watch reality TV primarily for entertainment, and they say the most important way to stop young girls from being negatively influenced is to give them a strong foundation.

"You kind of can know what's right and wrong that they're doing, and if you see something that they're doing is wrong, you can know that you shouldn't do that," says 8th grader Camerin Plew.

Bob Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communication, says while the portrayal of women in reality TV is, for the most part, bad, the genre does not necessarily have a negative effect on young girls.

"If we buy in to the idea that every TV show is a role model, and we are what we watch, then we're in big trouble," says Thompson.

Thompson says if young girls are only allowed to see positive role models, that would eliminate a lot of great literature, even William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet."

He says young children shouldn't be watching shows like "Jersey Shore," but he thinks most people watch reality TV simply because it's entertaining.

"I think a lot of these kids are watching these shows and making fun of these people," says Thompson. "Just like the pleasure I get from 'The Bachelor' isn't because I admire these people and want to be like them. It's because I want to feel superior to them. I like to make fun of them. That's what's fun about reality TV."

Tune in to CNY Central tonight at 5 & 6pm for â??Reality Check: How Reality TV Affects Young Girls.â??

What do you think of reality television? Do you think it has a negative effect on young girls? Should there be more restrictions? Post your comments below!