The Effects of Reality TV on Children

By Damon Verial
John Lund/Sam Diephuis/Blend Images/Getty Images

Reality TV shows such as Project Runaway, the Jersey Shore, and American Idol have become huge hits in modern culture. But the name of this genre is a misnomer: These shows do not accurately depict reality. Because of this, some parents are concerned about the influence these shows have on their children. Though some good reality TV shows exist, most such shows present false expectations.

The Good

Any time spent focusing on an activity in childhood could have positive effects, even if that activity doesn’t seem inherently good, such as reality TV. Children who watch reality TV, which is usually intended for adults, tend to see themselves as more mature than their peers, which leads to confidence and a sense of leadership, according to a study performed by the Girl Scouts. The author of “Violence in the Media,” Desire Arnold, contends that reality TV has a cathartic effect, allowing children to live out their urges without personally engaging in them.

The Bad

According to Massachusetts General Hospital, reality TV shows tend to put a particular focus on hedonistic behaviors, including materialism and premature sexuality. This could rub off on children. Moreover, these shows overemphasize the physical side of beauty, deemphasizing the importance of inner beauty. Overall, reality TV gives children -- who are still highly malleable -- an expectation of superficiality for the teenage and adult years.

The Ugly

For the sake of story-telling, reality TV depicts much more conflict than is normal in day-to-day life for most people. A fact-sheet published by the Girl Scouts suggests that children aren't aware of the true prevalence of real-life conflict. Children who watch reality TV might come to believe that intentional drama and aggression are normal, and that could lead to dangerous behavior, such as bullying.

The Side-Effects

The indirect effects of reality TV are plentiful. Easy-to-produce weekly and even daily, reality TV is sequential and draws several watchers into a habit of TV watching, which could limit time spent on homework, with family or socializing. In addition, the time spent on watching reality TV is time spent sedentary, often with snacks -- increasing the risk of obesity, hypertension and diabetes.

About the Author

Having obtained a Master of Science in psychology in East Asia, Damon Verial has been applying his knowledge to related topics since 2010. Having written professionally since 2001, he has been featured in financial publications such as SafeHaven and the McMillian Portfolio. He also runs a financial newsletter at Stock Barometer.