Girls and reality TV are a potent combo, Girl Scouts report says

In the future, what will our well-dressed, mean girl leaders have in common? A childhood filled with a lot of reality television.

A revealing survey released this week from the Girl Scout Research Institute exposes the good, bad and ugly influences reality TV may be having on our impressionable female youth. The survey included 1,141 girls across the U.S. age 11 to 17 who were asked about their reality TV-watching habits as well as their opinions on relationships, self-confidence, self-image and success. A little less than half of the girls who took part considered themselves regular reality TV-show watchers, and about a quarter said they rarely or never saw those shows.

Overall, the girls weren't clueless--everyone surveyed thought reality shows promote bad behavior, 86% felt the shows often set girls against each other to make things more exhilarating and 70% believed that reality TV leads people to think it's all right to treat people badly.

But when they were divided into regular viewers and non-viewers, differences began to appear. Given this statement: "You have to lie to get what you want," 37% of regular reality TV-show viewers agreed versus 24% of non-viewers. On "Being mean earns you more respect than being nice," 37% of viewers agreed versus 25% of non-viewers, and for the statement, "You have to be mean to others to get what you want," 28% of viewers said thumbs up to that, versus 18% of non-viewers.

On the subject of self-image, 72% of regular viewers said they spent a lot of time on their appearance, while 42% of non-viewers said they did. When asked if they would rather be recognized for their outer rather than inner beauty, 28% of reality show watchers said yes, versus 18% of non-watchers.

Getting a picture here? Don't be so fast to judge--there's more.

Girls who watched reality TV on a regular basis were more self-assured than non-viewers, with most thinking of themselves as mature, a good influence, outgoing, funny and smart. More aspired to leadership than non-viewers (46% compared with 27%) and were more apt to regard themselves as role models (75% versus 61%).

The shows proved helpful in other ways: 68% thought reality TV made them think they could achieve anything in life, 75% said reality shows featured people will different backgrounds and beliefs, 62% said the shows have made them more conscious of social issues and causes, and 59% reported they found out about new things they may not otherwise have learned. Just what those new things were isn't known. Here are some things we've learned from watching reality TV: Histrionics and flip-outs are much better when there is some action to go along them, such as table-flipping, hair-pulling or object-throwing. If you have to be restrained by several people, that's a win. Also, if you lose at something, make sure you blame everyone and everything within a five-mile radius for your woeful underperformance. And always, always, cry.

"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," said Andrea Bastiani Archibald, a developmental psychologist with Girl Scouts of the USA, in a news release. "This perpetuates a 'mean-girl' stereotype and normalizes this behavior among girls. 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."

We have to wonder if this is a chicken-or-egg thing: Are girls who have a predisposition to being mean, shallow, but also confident and driven drawn to reality TV, or does watching such shows make them that way?

Do you let your children watch reality TV and if so, do any of these statistics ring true? Let us know.

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