Facts About the Effects of Reality TV on Teenagers

Written by joanie reeder
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Facts About the Effects of Reality TV on Teenagers
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Reality television has roots in the 1970s with PBS' "An American Family," but it took off in the cable era with MTV's "The Real World" in 1992. By 2011, reality shows, which are cheaper to make than scripted dramas or comedies, were commonplace on broadcast and cable channels. Their true influence on teens was still not clear as of 2011.


According to the article "How Reality TV Fakes It" in a January 2006 issue of "Time" magazine, "quotes are manufactured, crushes and feuds constructed out of whole cloth, episodes planned in multiact 'storyboards' before taping, scenes stitched together out of footage shot days apart" in many reality shows. What teens may see as "reality" is in some cases entirely scripted for entertainment value. The behaviour of teens on reality television isn't standard teen behaviour, but teen viewers don't realise that.

Shock Value

Commonplace behaviour on programs such as "Jersey Shore" and even "The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills" includes profanity, drinking, smoking and sexually explicit behaviour. Reality shows combine with streaming videos online to inundate teens with displays of this type behaviour. A study completed in 2006 by the Kaiser Family Foundation said, "while reality TV draws viewers from virtually all demographic groups, it is disproportionately popular among preteens, adolescents and young adults." The Foundation concludes that type of programming has an unhealthy influence on teen behaviours.

Unhealthy expectations

The Kaiser Family Foundation also contends that "reality shows may provide inaccurate or unhealthy information to viewers (for example, showcasing multiple plastic surgeries or more rapid weight loss than most experts would recommend)." The Foundation's conclusions are this can produce expectations among viewers to duplicate the behaviour they have witnessed, often with unhealthy and unrealistic results.

Reality Check

The "Cleveland Plain Dealer" published an article in 2008 that asked directly if reality TV induced bad behaviour in teens. Bob Abelman, director of the media arts and technology division at Cleveland State, told the paper reality shows made the role of parents and teachers more important than ever. According to Abelman, any influence a show might have on a teen could be countered by a parent aware of what the teen is watching.

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