Reality TV: A Positive Influence for Girls?

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Though reality TV is often criticized as being vacuous trash with little or no redeeming social value, a new poll from the Girl Scout Research Institute finds that girls can in fact benefit from the shows.

Girls told the survey that reality TV helped in "opening the lines of communication, serving as a learning and motivational tool, and encouraging girls to be active in social causes."

Seventy-five percent of surveyed girls said the programs have inspired conversations with their parents and friends. Some girls even said they take inspiration from the shows, with 68 percent agreeing with the statement that the shows "make me think I can achieve anything in life," while 62 percent said the shows have "raised their awareness of social issues and causes."

For the survey from the Girl Scout Research Institute (an "internationally recognized center for research and public policy information on the development and well-being of girls"), the same questions were asked of two groups, one of whom regularly watched reality TV shows, while the other did not.

Besides the suprising findings on the positive influence of reality TV, the survey found image may not be as critical in teen girls' minds as expected.

The majority of girls in both groups reported that they did not think a girl's value is based on how she looks. Sixty-two percent of reality TV viewers (and 72 percent of nonviewers) responded "No" to a question asking, "Do you think a girl's value is based on how she looks?"

Thus only 28 percent of nonviewers (which represents most teens) say a girl's value is based on how she looks, and (perhaps even more surprisingly given appearance-oriented reality TV shows) only 38 percent of reality TV viewers endorse that "beauty myth" idea. That most girls reject the idea that their value is based on their appearance is encouraging news.

The survey also found that regular reality TV viewers are more confident and self-assured than nonviewers when it comes to virtually every personal characteristic they were asked about.

The majority of regular reality TV viewers considered themselves mature, a good influence, smart, funny and outgoing. They are also more likely than nonviewers to aspire to leadership (46  vs. 27 percent) and to think they are currently seen as a leader (75 vs. 63 percent).

In contrast to the popular image that most teen girls are obsessed with being beautiful and getting a boyfriend, this poll comes to many of the opposite conclusions; for example less than half (42 percent) of the non-viewing girls said they "spend a lot of time" on their appearance.

Overall girls also reported being more independent than widely assumed: Less than one-third of girls who don't watch reality TV said they are happier when they are dating someone or have a boyfriend — and less than half the girls who watch reality TV said the same thing.

This survey's results support previous studies and research showing that most girls generally have good self-esteem and are happy with their bodies.

The survey was conducted in April 2011 with the research firm TRU and consisted of a national sample of 1,141 girls aged 11 to 17.