Reality TV's Impact on Bullying and Student Behavior

Is there a link between physically, mentally and verbally aggressive reality TV shows and bullying? Many experts are now saying, yes. Recent studies by the Girl Scouts and other organizations show a potential potential correlation in violent behavior, bullying, and cyberbullying, among adolescents who frequently watch such shows.

Reality TV has spread from one end of the channel spectrum to the other, which 30% of TV programming now classified as "reality TV."* While there are many types of reality TV shows, those focused on young people living together or being placed in temporary group settings are packed with violence, especially girl-on-girl or woman-on-woman. Shows such as Jersey Shore, the Kardashians, Real Housewives of..., TeenMom, and others are packed with violent verbal and physical exchanges. Some reality TV shows are blatant about violence, such as Bad Girls Club.

A typical night's viewing might include fights in or outside of clubs, hair pulling, verbal and physical assaults on room mates or co-contestants, public drunkenness. What might be considered assult and battery by law enforcement, is now entertainment for an increasingly younger and younger audience.

Shelba Waldron, training manager for the St. Petersberg/Tampa Juvenile Welfare Board, thinks there is a direct correlation between what kids see on these shows and they way they behave in school and out of school. "On these shows, girls are being told that they must beat down another girl, in order to get ahead," commented Waldron. "Studies have shown that girls who watch these violent realty TV shows have a higher incidence of bullying, cyberbullying and other bad behavior than girls that do not."

TV shows influence what kids wear, the gadgets they buy, how they dance, and where they go. Advertisers know this and pour millions into TV shows, both regular and reality to position their products in front of young viewers. "Tweens are a prime audience of reality TV," said Waldron. "The problem is that 'tweens' were originally defined as 8-12 year-old's, but now the definition has been expanded to 6-12 due to age compression - a term stemming from more life experience and knowledge gained at younger and younger years."

If TV shows influence what kids wear, the gadgets they buy, how they dance, and where they go, is it logical that they also influence how they act and behave? "Yes" says Waldron. In her workshop session at the recent School Safety Advocacy Council Bullying Conference, as proof, Waldron cites these stats from the Girl Scout Research Institutes survey on the impact of reality TV.

Girl Scouts Research Institute:

1,100 around the country were surveyed ages 11-17

  • 75% believe that competition shows are real and unscripted
  • 50% believe that real-life shows are unscripted

Regular reality TV viewers accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives than non-viewers

  • 78% vs. 54% believe gossiping is a normal part of a relationship
  • 68% vs. 50% believe it's in the nature of girls to be catty and competitive
  • 63% vs. 50% state it's hard to trust other girls
  • Self Image of girls who watch reality television regularly are more focused on the value of appearance -- 72% say they spend more time on the outer beauty as opposed to 42% of non-viewers
  • 37% believe being mean earns you more respect than being nice (37% vs. 25%)
  • 37% believe you have to lie to get what you want (37% vs. 24%)

The first statistic above may be at the root of the matter. As noted, majority of adolecents believe that reality shows are real and unscripted. "Kids at a young age see what they believe is real behavior and that influences them greatly, much more so than watching a crime drama." claimed Waldron.

Science has proven that the human brain does not develop its full reason and logic functions until the age of 21-24. Young brains are very susceptible to suggestion because they lack the full ability of reason and logic. "Like a sponge, kids soak up cues from their outside world and incorporate them into their belief systems," as Waldron explained to a riveted audience at the SSAC bullying conference. "Factor in a steady diet of violence, both verbal and physical, from shows that today's youth believe are real and unscripted, and you start to see how TV violence can creep into the class room."


*Source: Media Education Foundation