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Reality TV and its Influence on Children
Values portrayed on reality television programs are viewed by millions of people all around the world. One of the biggest audiences watching is children. Parents have been using the television since its invention to entertain children. On average, children watch at least four hours of television a day. By the time they graduate from High School they will have spent more time in front of the television than they have in a classroom. If television is used right it can have an educational value, but too much television portraying improper values can harm children (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2001). This paper discus the negative effect reality television has on children.
Concerns about reality television and its effect on children
Children are like sponges and they soak up the many things that they see others doing on television, and often repeat what they see on TV. In the 1980 Bugs Bunny cartoons where edited because of the fear that kids would imitate Elmer Fud shooting a gun in Daffy Ducks face. Many things go into making a well rounded child. Children need exercise, friends, family interaction, school work, and reading to name a few. Friends encourage good social skills and give children someone to confide in and learn from. School work and reading stimulate the brain and ready children for their adult life. Family interaction is the most important. Children need to know that they are loved and there is nothing like spending quality time with mom and dad to show them this. Now with reality TV most of these important values are not portrayed. Instead, children watch and learn how to undermine friends in order to win, Survivor is a good example of this. The players start as a team but at some point a player must turn on the team mates to win. This is just one harmful value from reality TV and there are many more.
Upon looking at the values that reality TV portrays it was easy to see that its effects on children are endless. People have been discovering for years the many things in this world that negatively affect children and as a result make for disturbed adults. Reality TV is arguably a bad influence on children. Violence portrayed in reality television can affect the way children play with others. Children don’t become official TV viewers until around the age of two-and-a-half. At this point they are able to understand a small amount of what they see and hear and are likely to imitate it. At ages three to five years they start to search for the meaning in what they are watching but are still very attracted to the bright features such as the movement of characters, scenes, and sounds. TV violence is common in cartoons and this is the type of things that preschoolers are attracted to. Ages six to eleven is considered a critical period for understanding the effects of television and aggression.” Children of this age are able to understand the plot and violence contained in a program and are more likely to imitate it if it is set in a real life setting such as reality TV (Josephson, 1995).
While watching reality TV shows such as Jersey Shore children are exposed to women who are half dressed with their butt cheeks and breasts hanging out because they think it’s sexy. They walk around smoking, cussing and fighting with their housemates. The men are just as bad walking around in jeans or boxer shorts not wearing shirts. They have multiple tattoos and piercings and show no respect to the women. The men and women have multiple sex partners and sex is openly shown on the show. Jersey Shore gives children the idea that it’s okay to live like this. Reality television can add some annoying if not downright dangerous new ideas to kids' imaginations. It also shows kids a distorted view of "reality," since these television programs don't bear much resemblance to the actual reality of daily life (Langholt, 2010). It gives the idea that premarital sex, smoking, cussing, fighting, and dressing in a revealing style is normal. There are many video’s floating around the internet of children imitating various characters from this show. (The examiner, 2010) To view video go to:
The problem is that children take these ideas and apply them to their own lives. Children need to watch TV programs that are age appropriate. Examples would be The Suite Life of Zach and Cody or Wizards of Waverly Place. Both of these programs show real to life problems that children have and then suggest the right way to handle them. In an episode of The Suite Life of Zach and Cody and Indian boy comes to stay at the Tipton Hotel and agrees to help the boys impress their girls if the boys will take him bowling before he leaves. The boy holds up his end of the bargain by spending time making a special dinner for Zach’s girlfriend and showing Cody a Japanese dance to impress his girlfriend. When the boy comes to Zach and Cody and is ready to go bowling because he is leaving the next day the boys say they can’t go because they have dates. Zach and Cody’s mother expresses her displeasure and in the end all the boys and their girls go bowling. In Wizards of Waverly Place Alex is a wizard and Harper is a very eccentric girl who makes her own dresses out of random items. The two aren’t a like at all but they have put aside their differences and have become best friends who support each other in every way and Harper is forever getting Alex out of difficult situations. There are many other child appropriate shows available. As examples, Sesame Street (PBS), Dora the Explorer (Nickelodeon), and Dragon Tales (PBS) are popular prosocial and educational programs for preschoolers. Arthur (PBS) and The Wild Thornberrys (Nickelodeon) are prosocial shows that are well liked by younger elementary school children, and The Suite Life of Zack and Cody (Disney) and Drake and Josh (Nickelodeon) are prosocial shows popular among older elementary school children (Wilson, 2008).
These are the situations that children face every day. An American child who watches an average of three hours a day of children's television programming will see 4,380 acts of altruism and 15,330 acts of violence each year (Wilson, 2008). If we as parents would expose our children to more acts of altruism this world could be a better place.
Reality television affects children in the area of school in many ways. One is academic scores and home work being completed. Another is the way children have learned to handle social situations. “Early exposure to age-appropriate programs designed around an educational curriculum is associated with cognitive and academic enhancement, whereas exposure to pure entertainment and violent content in particular, is associated with poorer cognitive development and lower academic achievement”(Kirkorian, Wartella, Anderson, 2008, para 3).
Children seem to be spending more time in front of the TV then they are doing school work. Two-thirds of infants and toddlers watch a screen an average of two hrs a day, kids under age six watch an average of about two hours of screen media a day and kids to teens ages eight to eighteen years spend nearly four hours a day in front of a TV screen and almost two additional hours on the computer (outside of schoolwork) and playing video games. This leads to more homework being done in front of television or multitasked with something else and less homework being turned in all of which leads to low academic scores. Children's advocates are divided when it comes to solutions. Although many urge for more hours per week of educational programming, others assert that no TV is the best solution. And some say it's better for parents to control the use of TV and to teach kids that it's for occasional entertainment, not for constant escapism (Gavin 2008).
It also affects their reaction to social situations in school. If they had just been watching an episode of Survivor the night before school it may seems socially okay for them to just take whatever they need from another child instead of asking for it nicely. Strong evidence shows that violent television programming contributes to children's aggressive behavior (Wilson, 2008). Children believe that whatever they see on TV is what actually takes place in reality. No matter what we as parents tell them. Parents teach their children that it is bad to hit, bite, pull hair etc., but when a child sees it on TV and it is being done by a “good guy,” then they view the violent behavior as okay. This can lead to confusion when kids try to understand the difference between right and wrong. And even the "bad guys" on TV aren't always held responsible or punished for their actions (Gavin, 2008). Children are going to school thinking that they can be superheroes and solving their problems with violence. Unfortunately violence leads to suspension and more missed school. It’s a vicious circle in the education world.
Ways to solve the growing problem
All of the problems mentioned above can be solved if parents would become more involved in what their children are watching and limit the amount of TV they are allowed to watch. There is an unlimited amount of ways to do this. Below is a list of just a few:
· Put a time limit on the hours that your children can watch TV.
· Put plenty of other non-screen entertainment items in the TV room such as books, toys, puzzles, and board games to encourage the kids to try something new.
· Keep TVs out of bedrooms.
· Keep TV off during meals and make meals a time for family discussion at the table. Ask your children about things that they are interested in. School, friends, extracurricular activities, etc.
· The TV should be treated as a reward not a privilege. Tell your children that they can watch X-number of minutes of TV only after their chores and homework are done.
· Try a weekday ban. Schoolwork, sports activities, and job responsibilities make it tough to find extra family time during the week. Record weekday shows or save TV time for weekends and you'll have more family togetherness time to spend on meals, games, physical activity, and reading during the week.
· Set a good example and limit your own TV watching.
· Check the TV listings and program reviews ahead of time for programs your family can watch together (i.e., developmentally appropriate and nonviolent programs that reinforce your family's values). Choose shows that foster interest and learning in hobbies and education (reading, science, etc.).
· View questionable programs before your children do.
· Make a family TV schedule that the whole family can agree on and make sure that everyone sticks to the plan including you. Post it were everyone can see it.
· Watch TV together.
· Talk to kids about what they see on TV and share your own beliefs and values. If something you don't approve of appears on the screen, you can turn off the TV, then use the opportunity to ask thought-provoking questions such as, "Do you think it was OK when those men got in that fight? What else could they have done? What would you have done?" Or, "What do you think about how those teenagers were acting at that party? Do you think what they were doing was wrong?" If certain people or characters are mistreated or discriminated against, talk about why it's important to treat everyone fairly, despite their differences. You can use TV to explain confusing situations and express your feelings about difficult topics (sex, love, drugs, alcohol, smoking, work, behavior, family life).
· Talk with other parents, your doctor, and teachers about their TV watching policies and what kid friendly shows they feel are appropriate.
· Offer fun alternatives to television. If your kids want to watch TV but you want to turn off the tube, suggest that you all play a board game, start a game of hide and seek, play outside, read, work on crafts or hobbies, or listen and dance to music. The possibilities for fun without the tube are endless — so turn off the TV and enjoy the quality time together (Gavin, 2008).
Values portrayed on reality television programs are viewed by millions of people all around the world. One of the biggest audiences watching is children. As shown in this research paper watching this sort of program can be damaging to children. Children who consistently spend more than four hours a day watching TV are more likely to be overweight. Kids who view violent acts are more likely to show aggressive behavior but also fear that the world is a scary place and that something bad will happen to them. Also TV characters often depict risky behaviors, such as smoking and drinking, reinforcing gender-role and racial stereotypes (Gavin, 2008). If used right television can have an educational value but too much television portraying improper values can harm children (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2001).
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.(2001). Children And Watching TV Facts
for Families No. 54 Retrieved from
Kirkorian,H., Wartella, E. and Anderson, D. (2008) Media and Young Children's Learning
The Future of Children - Volume 18, Number 1, pp. 39-61
Wilson, B. (2008). Media and Children’s Aggression, Fear, and Altruism
Journal Issue: Children and Electronic Media Volume 18 Number 1
MD Gavin, M. (2008). How TV Effects Your Child. Kids Health Magazine
Langholt, A. (2010). Reality Television Is Bad for Your Kids. Life 1 2 3. Retrieved from
The examiner (2010) Children re-enact the 'Jersey Shore' in new video January 16th,