Oct. 5, 2011 at 10:00 AM ET
It seems one of television’s favorite tropes, that of women behaving badly, may actually affect the young girls who tune in to see all of the outrageous acts.
Sure, tweens and teens are bound to enjoy the latest low blows from “The Real Housewives,” the drama on “Teen Mom” or the knock-down drag-outs on “Jersey Shore,” but some experts believe the shows aren’t just entertaining the audience; they’re influencing it.
Caroline Knorr, the parenting editor for Common Sense Media, and psychotherapist Robi Ludwig stopped by TODAY Wednesday morning to discuss the link between action on the small screen and real-life bad behavior.
“I think over the last couple of years we’ve really seen an explosion in these types of shows that kind of amp up this drama,” Knorr told host Ann Curry. “You know all these shows are competing for your kids’ eyeballs.”
And the result, according to Ludwig, can be seen in how the kids act. They may not exactly mimic the violent acts that they see, but other mean girl stereotypes might come to the surface.
“Well, also there’s relational aggression, which is very common amongst girls, where there’s increased gossip and being nasty to one another,” Ludwig explained. “(There’s a difference between) physical violence and relational aggression — which is more prominent amongst young girls. And that’s what we see a lot on television. The truth is, if kids are watching these kinds of interactions, the message is ‘You’re popular if you’re nasty and mean.’ Girls who identify with that will certainly make that a part of their mental script.”
Ultimately, according to Ludwig, it’s not just girls who receive a rewrite of their mental scripts.
“Certainly girls who say, ‘I know what friendships are like, and it doesn’t look like what we see on TV,’ can differentiate,” she said. “Although young boys who are looking at this really are mischaracterizing or stereotyping what female relationships are all about. So it does have an impact."
So what’s a parent of a mean-girl-in-the-making or boy with a skewed take on his female friends to do?
“If parents train their kids to think critically, that makes all the difference in the world,” Ludwig said. “Train your child to say, ‘How do you think the victim feels in this situation?’ Then you’re really teaching empathy and you’re using what’s part of this media diet in an effective way.”
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