A new 'Mean Girls' epidemic? Study suggests reality TV may be the cause


Image Credit: Jeff Daly/MTV/PictureGroup

The Girl Scouts have just alerted parents to a disturbing discovery: No, don’t worry, nothing is wrong with your order of Thin Mints or Tagalongs. And no, Larry David hasn’t been teaching them anything. Rather, a new study called “Real To Me: Girls and Reality TV”, which was conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute, found reality television could be encouraging Regina George-like behavior in young girls.

Some stats that stand out: Of the 1,141 girls (aged 11-17) surveyed, 86 percent of them think that reality shows “often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting,” while 73 percent think the shows “make people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship.” (Come on, Sammi and Ron-Ron, at least try and make it work for the kids!) On top of that, 70 percent of the young females surveyed thought reality shows “make people think it’s okay to treat others badly.”

Frighteningly, reality watchers in the study agreed with the following statement: “Being mean earns you more respect than being nice.” (Hey, it worked for mean girl Rachel on Big Brother, who won over slightly nicer girl Porsche. Though, to be fair, Porsche’s more of a Karen than a Regina and more of a car than a person. Beep Beep!) Girls who tune into reality shows also backed the statements, “You have to be mean to others to get what you want,” “Girls often have to compete for a guy’s attention,” and “It’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another” more than their non-reality watching counterparts. (There was a more unsettling find, though: “Many girls think these programs reflect reality, with 75 percent saying that competition shows and 50 percent saying that real-life shows are ‘mainly real and unscripted.'” Dear lord, stay in school, kids!)

Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Developmental Psychologist with the Girl Scouts of the USA stated in the study, “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.” Curious, considering that the ladies of Jersey Shore (pictured) have only used the nicest words to describe their male roommate’s many conquests, all of the The Real Housewives are the very definition of poise and acting like a lady at any age, and Sister Wives, uh, teaches the importance of sharing?

But it’s not all negative. The study did suggest that makeover shows like The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and competition-based shows like American Idol and Project Runway “have the most potential for inspiring conversations and … making girls feel like anything is possible.” But I must reluctantly admit, PopWatchers, sometimes these are the very shows that turn me into a mean girl. (I judged Project Runway‘s Olivier harder than a room full of eye-rolling Nina Garcias.)

The study also found that “75 percent of girls say that reality shows have inspired conversation with their parents and/or friends.” (It’s a safe assumption that 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom were the topic for plenty of those.) Of course, there could — and probably should — be an entirely separate study done to find the effects of My Super Sweet 16 on the psyche on people of every sex and age. So not fetch.

What do you think of this study regarding teen “mean girls” and reality television? Do the findings surprise you or does a lot of reality TV encourage the behavior? Share in the comments section below. But, hey, be nice in there, wouldja?

Read more:
Maci from ‘Teen Mom’ hangs with ‘Jersey Shore': Why we’re seriously worried
’16 and Pregnant': As good for kids as it is addictive to watch
10 Worst Reality-TV Shows Ever

Comments (28 total) Add your comment
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  • SareS

    I believe it. I also blame Bad Girls Club. These shows are making it look funny/okay to attack another person to their face and behind their back, because they’ll just be brought back for another season.
    I also think it’s scary the producers of Jersey Shore don’t allow them to have TV, movies or internet – they’re so bored and stir crazy, what else would they do but go out and drink? It’s like choose going to a bar and dancing or stay at home in a silent house staring at a wall. This is making ALCOHOL look more mainstream to teenagers. It’s not normal.

    • Tom

      I’m just pointing this out, but are they also forbidden from reading a book? Going on a hike? Painting? Writing? Being creative in any way? Going out to a movie? Doing something other than drink? But I agree, that show is about a bunch of troubled people and a terrible influence on anyone who actually chooses to watch it. I am proud to say I have never watched a whole episode. I have seen the show when a friend or my roommate decides to watch it, but I just can’t stand it. That’s usually when it’s time for me to pick up a book or go out for a cigarette (or ten.)

      • Ken Graves

        Good points, Tom. It’s scary to think some people think if there’s no tv, that only leaves bar hopping and drinking. The dumbing down of America is alive and well as evidenced by SareS’ post.

      • Kat

        Good for you – but neither Tom nor Ken is a teenage girl. Kids watch those shows because they are interesting and fascinating (to a kid) because the behavior is unusual and extreme. It’s “water cooler” TV for the pre-water cooler folks. And what, you’re just going to tell your kids that they will READ and they will LIKE it? Kids don’t work that way. Ideally, yes, they’d all love reading and physical activity and all that. But no parent can force a kid to enjoy those things, and watching crappy reality TV gives kids something to talk about in their social groups, and it has that similar air that cursing and driving recklessly and drinking have – your parents wouldn’t want you exposed to it, therefore you’re going to treat it like it’s no big deal to show how BEYOND your parents’ control you are. Anyways, the superiority complex of Americans is also alive and well as evidenced by these kinds of posts.

      • @Tom

        Not sure, but on Big Brother they’re not allowed to bring any reading material except for the Bible.
        And they do go to the gym on the show; there’s only so much exercise you can do on a daily basis. And sight seeing in a foreign country? There’s only so much you can do before going nuts.
        As for painting, let’s get real here.. they’re not smart kids to begin with.

    • Jay

      I’m glad you mentioned Bad Girls Club. It is the epitome of thrashy slutty girls. My wife watches it, so I can hear it in the background.
      Oh.. My… GOD!!! All they do is yell and scream at each other and get drunk for more yelling and screaming then go out to clubs for more drinks and more yelling, just to return home and, you guessed it, more yelling and screaming.

      I seriously think my wife only puts it on to torture me. How could anyone actually enjoy that?

    • Kardashia

      Speaking of crap, anyone catch the latest Kardashian episode? Kim was in a hottub, being whiny of course. She had drank a bit too much, and accidently squeezed out a big old turd. The Kardashian turd floated up to the top of the water, and was bouncing around in the sudsy bubbles. Kim was freaking out, as the jets propelled the K-turd closer toward her. It was bobbing near hear head when she’d had enough. She stood up to get out of the hottub, but slipped and fell back into the water, right onto the K-turd! It broke up into little pieces, chunks getting stuck in between her toes and in her hair. I was a Kraptastic Kardashian episode!!!

      • JB Tom

        I can’t believe you took time to write that.

  • RK

    It’s about time people wake up. Parenting Council of Conservative Hooha gets all worked up about a TV show about the Playboy Club but kids are far more affected by Reality TV and so called “real” people rewarded for behaving very badly. Teenagers famous for nothing other than getting pregnant? Families famous becasue of an intimate act distributed via videotape? Grown women yelling expletives, pulling hair, throwing tables? Why is this entertainment? Talent competitions are one thing but turning classless behaviour into a path for fame has totally detroyed the Family values in this country. It’s almost ironic that we even have to debate gay marriage when overall values are in the gutter. I also believe that the internet allows us to let our mean girl flag fly under the cover of anonymous posting and websites should do a better job of monitoring the comments and have a strict no bullying policy. I sometimes wish we could go back to the pre-technology age when manners and ettiquette were practiced by everyone.

    • F

      Well said. Although it adds a new level when you consider the various meanings of “Hooha.”

    • jh

      RK – I couldn’t have worded a better reply if it were an assignment for a high school essay.

  • Jill

    This is why I a) hate Reality TV and b) think Reality TV should not even be called Reality TV. It really should be called quasi-Reality TV at best. There’s nothing “real” about it. I also agree with everything RK said above.
    I’m so glad I got to grow up with the MTV we had in the 80s, and not the disaster of teen crap Reality TV that it is today, along with all of the other Reality TV on every other station.

  • M

    This is very true, and about time something has been said about it.
    I do blame the industry, that keeps putting in the same “A” type personalities on these shows. Yes it made for good TV when reality first blew up in 2000, but as Don Draper would say, people don’t know what they want until you tell them.
    Oh and BTW – “Fetch” is still not going to happen.

  • Nan

    You hit the nail on the head. I agree with all you said. As long as networks keep these crap shows on TV and people continue to watch, it won’t get any better. I was afraid that kids would think tv emulates real life. All they seem to show is to go get drunk, get in fights, have sex, don’t have a job or be responsible in life. Seriously? This is so far from reality, they need to label these programs some thing else. Trash maybe. I’d be happy if all these derogatory shows were dumped. Society seems to imitate what they see on tv and think it’s ok. It is not. Really, really sad.

  • tomm

    What is funny is some women demand equality, and they should, but still expect men to provide for them. Snooki and all perpetuate this with all the fighting for men’s attention.

  • abadstroller

    Kids may be watching mean girl TV, but they still have lives with their families and friends outside of their television viewing. Parents and mentors still have influence on children, tweens, and teens and how they learn about relationships. Turn off the bad programming or, if you must watch it, talk about it afterwards. Don’t let Snooki or K-Goss parent your kids. From what I can tell, they can barely manage taking care of herself. I watched a lot of TV growing up and with good role models I ‘ve learned it’s bad ettiquette to drop anvils on people who bother me and that braking a vehicle with my bare feet (damn you, Fred Flintstone) is an ineffective way to stop a car. Don’t put blame it all on TV, folks! Take responsibility for raising your children and for your own behavior as well.

  • Michael

    Some of your inserted comments at the beginning of this piece make light of something potentially serious. I’m all for humor in odd places, but I don’t really think it was appropriate here.

  • JJ

    It’s about blaming tv it’s about understanding it better and not just brushing it off like when I grew up watching MTV. The shows today are VERY different. Also for those who say reality tv isn’t “real” let’s be more accurate because it’s painfully real. What you see on these shows are people devaluing themselves to gain air time, it’s real, it’s real scary too but it brings out the worst, the very real very worst, parts of people and young people especially are prone to this behavior and susceptible.

    This generation of parents is different than the ones of years gone by…no, not ALL parents, I realize there are many many great parents out there…but parent’s today are the ones that when their son/daughter gets in trouble at school instead of supporting the correction of bad behavior in conjuction with the school the parents will sue the school. A kid wears an offensive t-shirt to school, kid is sent home, parent is on tv with a lawyer. Ridiculous.

    Realtiy tv, you tube, it’s a lot for kids to take in and without mindful guardians to what they see and how it’s interpreted we’re looking at more bad tv for the next generation.

    Courtney Stoddard anyone?

  • kyle

    I knew this kind of crap would happen. Reality shows are killing this country.

  • Jenn

    These shows really just aren’t meant for kids, they’re for adults like me that just want to unwind after work with some meaningless drama for an hour or so.

  • Regina George

    Wait, I’m confused. How does The Biggest Loser make girls feel like anything is possible? What a dumb study.

  • Regina George

    But I do love Mean Girls!

  • Lauren

    I think it’s just tv in general. Disney Channel has taught kids that it’s funny to make sarcastic comments to adults.

  • Caitie F

    Wow – did they also show that the sky is blue? The correlation should not shock anyone. When being nasty gets rewarded on TV, then of course teens are going to do it too.

    And Porsche was the nice girl? Really? Wasn’t she in the “push Rachel down the stairs so she loses her possible baby” conversation? Last I checked, that wasn’t what nice girls do….

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