Real reminders to tune in to kids

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted11/14/2011 5:00 AM

A look back at last week's news makes us shudder. A suburban woman says a GOP presidential candidate reached under her skirt and groped her. A suburban 19-year-old is charged with murdering her newborn son in a Salvation Army resale shop bathroom. And a revered coach and most of the top executives of a premier university are sent packing after trustees decide they didn't do enough to protect young boys from being sodomized by another coach among them.

Horrific, terrible, nightmarish accusations. So, which is worse: real life or reality TV? Too often, real life is far worse than the trumped-up stuff of reality TV. Last week's headlines remind us that sometimes parents want and need to shield their children from real life. Sometimes, they might want or need to shield their children, particularly girls, from reality TV too. Indeed, it might be true that girls and boys pay more attention to reality TV or the latest mean Facebook post than they do to what's happening in the grown-up world.

And so we find the efforts of the Girl Scouts of the USA and some documentarians to draw attention to reality TV worthwhile. Daily Herald Staff Writer Jamie Sotonoff detailed the efforts of the organization recently.

The Girl Scouts Research Institute studied the effects of reality TV on more than 1,100 teen and tween girls because they are the majority watchers of these programs. It found some shows can have an uplifting effect. Sotonoff found that in talking to local teen girls too. Emily Davidson, 14, of Arlington Heights, was motivated by a "Project Runway" contestant who had HIV. "I thought, wow, if you had HIV and you could do that, imagine what I can do?" Davidson said.

But the study also concluded that girls who regularly watch reality TV accept and expect a higher level of drama, aggression and bullying in their own lives. And that is worrisome. We've had too many news stories here and nationwide about teen girls and boys harming themselves because of bullying, perceived failures or embarrassment over who they are.

It's hard to imagine anything motivational or uplifting about "Jersey Shore" or "Teen Mom" or "The Bachelor," though some girls told Sotonoff they learn how not to act from these shows.

Still, those who have studied reality TV say many shows demean and objectify women and depict men treating them poorly. The Girl Scout Research Institute underscores the importance of watching TV with our children, of talking to them about what they're watching and what they're feeling. They suggest giving girls other positive activities and outlets.

Parents have so much to track and worry about these days. Last week's real-life news underscores that to frightening degrees. So it's good to have this reminder now and then. We should make time to tune in with our children. We should make time to tune in to our children.