I don’t make a habit of watching reality television because frankly, I can’t stand it. Aside from doing my part to investigate the jargon of The Real Housewives, I don’t find much entertaining about watching grown women flip tables and attack each other over petty nonsense. That being said, the genre is a form of entertainment for many people and the more outrageous the better. But have you ever considered what seeing such destructive depictions of women does to your kids?
Yesterday, TODAY did a segment on how reality TV depictions of women, specifically cat-fighting, arrogant, narcissistic girls and wives, is affecting kids. Forget violence and graphic sex, what takeaways are both boys and girls getting from shows like The Real Housewives?
The trope that women are awful, conniving, two-faced liars who would sell their best friend up the river for a shiny bracelet and a pair of designer pumps is hurtful to kids of both sexes. While girls are watching women build entire careers off of being nasty, boys sitting not too far out of sight are learning that all women are essentially materialistic, vanity-driven, opportunists, and therefore not to be trusted.
Reality TV asks us to laugh at variety of subject matter, including bad parenting. But while allowing us to feel superior to people with outrageous behavior, these shows also reinforce harmful stereotypes about women.
What’s noteworthy about this TODAY segment however is that as a parent, the answer is simply not to throw out the TV or ban reality television. Kids can get to this type of stuff anywhere nowadays, and just because you’ve cancelled Bravo and sold the TV doesn’t mean they won’t access these shows on Hulu or Netflix or anything else. Believe me, they’ll get to the material if they want to.
The experts in the segment point out that engaging children in conversation about the subject matter is a strong tactic. Critiquing the characters or the premise of the show can actually empower children to be more acute observers of the media and can encourage them to watch these programs with a skeptical eye. Educating your children in that way is much more beneficial than banning reality TV altogether, especially in our increasingly media-centric times.