Reality TV was up for debate last night at the "Behind the Scenes: Girls and Reality TV" panel, hosted by the Girl Scouts of America. Held at Edelman headquarters, the discussion centered on the effects of reality TV on youth development. The Girl Scout Research Institute had just released figures from their 2011 study "Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV," finding that half of the girls they surveyed believe reality shows are "mainly real and unscripted."
"Tween and teen girls who regularly view reality TV accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression, and bullying in their own lives, and measure their worth primarily by their physical appearance," according to the study.
So what better way to highlight that than to invite Jill Zarin of Bravo's "The Real Housewives of New York" -- widely known for her on-screen feuds with fellow co-stars. Showing restraint, she didn't jump out of her seat and go after Danielle Carrig, senior VP-advocacy and public affairs at competing network A&E Networks.
Kimberlee Salmond, senior researcher for the Girl Scout Research Institute, led the discussion by reciting the key findings of their research. "Girls are getting cues from the media on how to be -- digesting it as a role model of what the real world should be."
The panel was going along smoothly until Ms. Zarin started sharing parenting advice. MTV 's reality show "Teen Mom," she said, "is like birth control." That claim didn't sit well with Jess Weiner, media strategist and author. Ms. Weiner dismissed the comparison, saying that she knows of girls purposely getting pregnant just to get on the show.
Fellow panelist Caeley Looney, a sophomore in high school and Girl Scout of 11 years, didn't address the issue of whether or not "Teen Mom" is getting kids pregnant, but she did say reality shows do have an impact on her demographic. "The girls on these shows are looking bigger than life, perfect hair, perfect make-up, and girls are saying why am I not like that ?"
Ms. Salmond says that an international study of the effect of media on youth is something that the institute is looking into pursuing next.