Worried about the affect reality TV is having on your child? You aren’t being overprotective – there's increasing evidence that these programmes can have a big impact on young people.
When our children are young, we tend to give careful thought to how much TV they’re watching and whether or not it's good for them. But as they grow up, most parents let their kids make more independent choices about their viewing.
Recognise gender stereotypes in your child's TV viewing
However, if you’ve got children, you may want to stay attentive. Research indicates that some reality TV shows can be every bit as damaging for teenage girls as too many cartoons are for toddlers – perhaps even worse.
The truth is that reality TV is anything BUT reality – but that’s not necessarily what our children believe. A study for the Girl Scout Research Institute in the US found that eight out of ten girls aged between 11 and 17 who regularly watch reality shows believe these programmes depict real life, are unscripted and spontaneous.
In fact, much of reality TV is a heavily manipulated view of what’s really happening, and the worst of it bolsters the sort of female stereotypes women have spent decades trying to remove.
What are the women in reality TV teaching our children?
Many of the women on reality TV shows are acting out lives as teenage mothers, cheated-on girlfriends or scheming drama queens – the antithesis of the sort of role models we want for our daughters.
Strong, hard-working, purposeful young women with ambitions beyond their looks and sex lives are rare in these programmes. There's an all-pervasive emphasis on the value of women being about how they look and dress, which gives young viewers the message that being a woman is all about style and appearance, not what you do or stand for.
A report from the Parents Television Council in the US (2011) found disturbing evidence of the messages teenage girls in particular are getting from reality shows. Only 24% of what women said about themselves on reality TV was positive, and overall, women were more disparaging than men when talking about themselves or someone else of their own gender.
Males on reality TV programmes tended to refer to females as ‘cool’ when they displayed ‘male-like’ characteristics, such as not viewing sex as an indication of commitment, not seeking romance prior to intercourse, and not being jealous when males were sexual with other females.