teen watching tvBy Remy Marin, Teen Editorial Manager with a personal mission to help every teen de-stress and recognize what truly matters in life.

In general, my mother is pretty lenient about what I watch on television. However, when she saw an ad for Bravo’s

 reality show “NYC Prep”, she turned to my sister and me and said, “I don’t want you girls watching that show.”  That certainly got me thinking about what she thought was so terrible about this particular show.

Out of curiousity, I decided to take a closer look at the reality shows that have been on television lately. While flipping through the channels, I found Bravo’s “The Real Housewives” series, MTVand VH1’s various dating shows, CBS’s “Big Brother,”  MTV’s “16 and Pregnant,” and FOX’s “More to Love.”  Some critics aresaying that a number of these newer reality shows, particularly those involving teens, have crossed the line. It’s one thing to watch a show about fictional characters engaging in fictional behavior. You know they are for real. It’s a whole other ballgame watching real people behaving badly.

Date or Dare?

Let’s start with reality dating shows. Dating shows are supposed to be about people finding their perfect partner.  Somehow, they end up being about people doing completely crazy things to find love. For example, romantic hopefuls on MTV’s “A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila” were forced to eat random bull body parts and get tattoos to impress Tila. It goes without saying that nobody does this in real life. Contestants on dating shows often find themselves in unrealistic social situations. As a result, people end up fighting with each other and throwing themselves at the pursued person.

Something that’s really shocking to me is that teens have now found their own place in the reality television world.  While “16 and Pregnant” and “NYC Prep” depict what it supposedly is to be a teenager, I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking that these shows portray kids who lead completely different lives from ours! These programs show teens who drink, party, fight, max out credit cards, and engage in sexual behavior that, in the case of “16 and Pregnant” results in pregnancy; in other words, they show the extremes.  These shows suggest that this is life and are sending the wrong message about how teens should, and do, act.

What the Experts Say

What kind of impact could these teen shows, as well as other reality shows, have on the teens who watch them?  In a scientific article by Diana L. Hayes, a Professor of Systematic Theology at Georgetown University, says of the kids who tune in, “Many are increasingly prone to alcoholism and drug addictions, seemingly immune to violence, irresponsible, and promiscuous.”  In other words, they are more likely to engage in the inappropriate behavior they watch on reality shows.

Hayes continues, “Has anyone wondered what impact these primetime shows, with their endless, sexually tantalizing commercials, are having on all of us but especially on our children? We chastise our children for the language they use, the clothes they wear, and the music they listen to while wondering where they have learned these bad habits.”

Both the University of California and the University of North Carolina conducted a study about the impact of the media on teens; researchers found a strong correlation between the exposure to sexual content on television and the progression of teen sexual activity.

Clearly, the bad behavior and poor messages seen in reality television are having an effect on today’s teens. I don’t see these shows being changed anytime soon, so I think it’s important to remember:

It’s a Choice

  • First of all, you don’t have to watch reality shows, or at least the ones that could be particularly harmful.  I may take my mother’s advice to avoid “NYC Prep.” I’m not sure I find it all that interesting anyway.
  • If you’re not willing to turn reality shows off completely, then keep one thing in mind while watching them: the behavior you see is not normal or right.  The people on these want money and publicity and are willing to act desperately to seek fame.  If you’re looking for a role model, don’t turn to people on reality shows; think of them more as a “what not to do.”
  • Finally, if you’re doing anything that you can imagine someone on a reality show doing, chances are you shouldn’t be. Just keep it real.

Last reviewed Nov 24., 2014.