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Reality TV shows have poisonous effect on kids

Updated: November 25, 2011 8:06AM

Though I despise reality TV shows such as “Jersey Shore,” “Real Housewives” and “Ghost Hunters” — all of which seem to captivate audiences with the stunningly bad behavior of their subjects — it didn’t bother me to see a picture in Bill Zwecker’s Oct. 20 column of the Obama family gathered around the tube for their “Keeping up with the Kardashians” fix.

Not because I don’t think such shows are poison for the mind — they most certainly are.

I haven’t watched the adventures of Snooki and the only real housewives I run into are picking their kids up from school, but I’ve not been fortunate enough to shield myself from the stupidities of “Ghost Hunters” and the exploits of the Kardashian clan.

My exposure is limited to tolerating this sort of programming in the homes of others and at the fitness center. In those situations, I’ve been assaulted with the feeble-minded fears of people who’ve allowed TV producers to scare them into believing their houses are haunted and the tasteless material excesses and relationship hijinks of the Kardashian women.

Even still, that little bit of viewing leaves me terrified for a country that adores these types of shows — the so-called “real life” category typified by exploitative situations including rude behavior, poorly handled relationship interactions and all manner of lies, cheating and casual sex — despite their obvious scripting.

Now, I finally have data to back me up that this stuff has a detrimental effect on both those who embrace the shows and those who can’t seem to avoid from them.

Just a few weeks ago, the Girl Scout Research Institute released “Real to me: girls and reality TV,” the findings of a survey of more than 1,100 girls from across the country, including frequent and rare watchers of reality TV programming. It found that regular consumers of reality TV shows had dramatically different views and expectations of peer relationships, their overall self-image and their understanding of how the world works than non-viewers.

In the relationship realm, all of the girls in the study felt that reality shows promote bad behavior. A large majority believed the shows “often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting,” “make people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship” and “make people think it’s okay to treat others badly.”

Regular reality TV viewers were considerably more likely than non-viewers to agree that “Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls,” “It’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another” and that “girls often have to compete for a guy’s attention.”

Thirty-eight percent of respondents who watch such shows said they believe a girl’s value is based on how she looks, compared to 28 percent of non-viewers.

In light of those horrors, why am I not outraged that the first family watches the Kardashians?

They do it right.

“When they watch that stuff [President Barack Obama] doesn’t like that as much,” the first lady told, “but I sort of feel like if we’re talking about it . . . and if they’re learning the right lessons — like, that was crazy — then I’m like, OK.”

Even if parents were able to keep their sons and daughters away from reality nonsense on TV, the content itself is everywhere. All the kids at school talk about reality show stars. They share video clips of the shows on YouTube or download the show apps to their iPods.

If your kids insist on watching these shows, bite the bullet and watch them together. Use the opportunity to reinforce your own family’s values.

That’s better than simply turning our backs on children’s day-to-day realities.

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