Reality Television Is Bad for Your Kids

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. Kids don't know that. Kids under the age of six don't have the cognitive development to distinguish television content from reality. Kids older than six may decide that something they see is worth imitating, even if they know it's not real.

Sending the Wrong Message
Some reality shows feature people doing dangerous stunts to win prizes. Fear Factor is one example, including the family version that features family members doing dangerous tasks together. On the shows, stunt crews have prepared the contestants, provided safety equipment and stationed paramedics nearby in case anyone gets hurt. In real life, these stunts could be life threatening.

Other reality shows, such as Nanny 911, feature kids who behave quite badly. Some kids who may not have behavior issues may decide to try out those behaviors at home, much to their parents' displeasure.

Many reality shows, including Big Brother, Deal or No Deal and even The Amazing Race show people behaving ridiculously to get attention, fighting, sabotaging each other, having inappropriate relationships and exhibiting a substandard moral code. Do you really want your kids learning lessons from shows like this?

How can you be responsible about reality television when it's so pervasive?

  • Talk to your kids about what they see. Express your values and compare them with the choices made by people on the series. Remind kids that they should never imitate violent or dangerous stunts.
  • Choose wisely. Be selective about the reality television shows your kids get to watch. American Idol is generally a safe choice for tweens and teens. Shows like Iron Chef or Dancing with the Stars, which emphasize real-time competition and skills instead of behind-the-scenes backstabbing, can be fun and positive for all ages.
  • Deemphasize the glorified themes of the programs in your real life. Reality television shows characters valuing money, sometimes present a cultural definition of beauty that's extreme and celebrate people who are willing to put aside modesty, values or caution to get attention. In your home, emphasize your family values strongly. In particular, kindness, caring, supportiveness and self confidence should be contrasted with content on the shows.
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