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Is Reality TV Good for Kids? Not Really.

December 27th, 2016     By Father Steven Boes, President and National Executive Director at Boys Town

Digital, Today's Family, Parenting Skills

Television reality shows are supposed to entertain us by providing an unscripted, unrehearsed look at how people deal with different real-life situations. Oftentimes, the “stars” of the shows are in competition with each other, vying for a cash prize or a chance at even “bigger” fame.

In reality, most of these programs are well-planned-out “dramas” where every participant has a role to play. The more outrageous their behavior is, the higher the ratings go. While these shows may be considered harmless (and usually, mindless) entertainment, they often can have a less-than-positive impact on young viewers.

Shows like The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and Bachelor in Paradise give young people an unrealistic, almost warped depiction of how relationships between men and women are supposed to develop. Rather than getting to know each other on a social and personal level over time, these “couples” base most of their feelings on initial physical attractions and move toward “love” on the program’s schedule. There’s even a program where the contestants go on a date unclothed, hoping to strike up a lasting relationship.

Survivor, Big Brother and other competition shows put strangers together in a winner-take-all living arrangement, where “heroes” and “villains” are encouraged to ramp up the conflict through being underhanded and conniving.

Then there are the endless cooking, dancing, singing and talent competitions, where contestants display their talents and seek approval from a panel of judges and viewers who vote for their favorites. Unfortunately, those who are less talented than others are often the targets of derogatory and sometimes mean-spirited comments from the judges and public.

So what’s wrong with kids watching reality shows? The biggest problem for young viewers is that overexposure to so-called reality that isn’t anywhere near real gives kids a false sense of what it actually takes to succeed as a responsible adult, spouse or parent. When kids see too much of the “fakery” TV wants to pass off as reality in its quest for ratings, they can lose touch with how life really works and how they must prepare themselves to meet challenges and obstacles, and set and achieve goals.

At Boys Town, we prepare our kids for the real world by teaching them positive skills and showing them how to use those skills in real-life experiences – going to school, praying and building a strong spiritual foundation, getting along with others, working to develop employment skills, and participating in sports or other extracurricular activities in order to become more confident and learn how be part of a team. Our staff members also serve as mentors and positive role models, sharing their life experiences with the boys and girls in our care so they have a valuable roadmap to follow as they grow and mature.

These are the lessons we hope all parents are teaching their children. Because at the end of the day, a real world really is out there waiting for them.

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