Can Reality TV Equal Real Learning? (page 2)

Can Reality TV Equal Real Learning?

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based on 17 ratings
Updated on Apr 24, 2009

There is plenty of negative discussion about reality television, and television in general, and its influences and effects on people, but many of us wonder if there’s a broader, more positive side. Can we get anything good from these shows, beyond entertainment? Can American Idol, for instance, inspire teens to reach for their dreams? Can reality TV positively influence teen’s behavior and their life decisions?

“Anecdotally I would say ‘yes,’ but I don’t have any research to back that up,” Rivadeneyra says. “I remember watching Growing Pains as a teenager and thinking ‘Oh, a psychologist. That looks cool.’ I do think television can give you at least a televised presentation of different roles and jobs.”

Gender roles are also presented positively on some television shows. Rivadeneyra’s research of television and gender roles found that teens who watched shows with nontraditional female roles, CSI and Law and Order, for example, were less likely to have traditional gender roles ideas and more likely to have more egalitarian gender roles ideas.

And Ivancin points to the Biggest Loser as an example of a reality show that can have positive influences: “The show features real, every day people that viewers can relate to. This may have greater impact than an expert giving them the information.” Ivancin points out, though, that the negative behavioral influences of The Biggest Loser are also relevant: The show can have the effect of setting up unrealistic expectations and can lead to people under-eating without the careful attention of a physician.

“We tend to think of television and media as all good or all evil, but we need to think of it as a tool,” Rivadeneyra says. “We need to remember that we can use these shows to teach our children—to facilitate conversations or to add to the conversations we’re already having.”

Rivadeneyra points to a study that followed up with families after the airing of a Friends episode where the condom broke. The researchers found that a large percentage of the families who had conversations with their kids used the episode to discuss contraceptives.

“Television is appealing. And if you can use that to help teach your child about something, that’s pretty powerful,” Rivadeneyra says. “With reality TV, we can teach our kids to think critically about what they’re watching. What’s real about the shows and what’s not. It’s important for them to have media literacy.”

Ivancin agrees that media literacy is necessary. “We teach college students media literacy—that a lot of what you see in programming and advertising and news is manufactured—and much of it can be subtle,” Ivancin says. “But it’s important for younger people, teens, to understand this, too. Particularly with reality TV shows. The more kids know about this, the smarter they will be and the better decisions they will make in their lives.”

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