The increase in the number of reality-based TV shows has led to concern over the effects such programs have on children. Reality shows can have a more immediate and lasting impact on children than traditional programming if they interpret behaviours in the shows as appropriate ways to act in real-life situations. It remains uncertain, however, whether absorbing such behavioural templates is harmful to children or whether it can act as a useful tool for preparing them for later life.
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Reality TV shows usually have a competitive element. People compete against one another to win a prize, often deceiving one another and engaging in outrageous dares or antisocial exploits in the process. Such behaviour may seem unscrupulous, but it could be argued that witnessing such behaviours prepares children for the travails of later life. Children need to witness negative behavioural templates as well as positive ones as these are the same varieties of behaviour they will experience in school and in the workplace.
The growth of talent shows and fly-on-the-wall family reality shows means children are not only observing behavioural templates but also appearing on screen themselves. Dominic Patten, writing for The Wrap, says the exploitation of children on reality TV is a growing concern. Patten highlights the potential for causing mental trauma by putting children in exposed or highly competitive environments. Stricter guidelines on how both parents and producers treat children during the production of such shows could assist in allaying such fears.
Some reality TV shows are scripted and edited for entertainment purposes, so little "reality" remains. William Booth, writing for the Washington Post, cited comments made by writers who admitted that many reality TV show segments are carefully structured to extract maximum emotional impact or cause the greatest amount of havoc among a show's contestants. If children interpret such shows as reality, their attitudes and actions can suffer as a result.
However, certain talent shows and programs that portray individuals trying to perfect a skill can hold positive messages. They demonstrate that hard work and dedication can yield positive rewards, which could serve as laudable behavioural templates for children.
Although reality TV has the potential to impact negatively on children, it's difficult to locate alternative forms of viewings that don't have similar risks. Once children grow out of cartoons and enter adolescence, there is often a period in which they are too young to watch material intended for adults and too old to identify with younger children's programming. Watching adult shows, which often contain scenes of sex and violent behaviour, may be more harmful to children than the reality TV alternative.
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