It Isn’t So Unreal For Young Viewers

When adults talk about reality TV, they seldom fail to put the word “reality” in quotation marks. Kids have a more credulous view of the genre, though. In a survey by Harris Interactive, in collaboration with the Center on Media and Child Health and Temple University, startlingly large numbers of pre-teens and even teens said reality TV is “just like real life” (see chart below). There’s also an aspirational element to the way kids view shows like American Idol, Fear Factor and Survivor. Among those age 8-12, 27 percent said they’d “like to talk or act” like the people on reality TV. So did 14 percent of those 13-18. Thirty-two percent of pre-teens and 35 percent of teens agreed with the statement, “I want my body to look like the people on reality TV programs.” A similar proportion want to dress like them. Most broadly, 29 percent of pre-teens and 20 percent of teens said, “I wish I could be like people on reality TV programs.” In a way, reality TV is popular because it’s popular: 53 percent of pre-teens and 43 percent of teens like to watch it “so they can talk to their friends about it.” But two-thirds of kids seldom or never watch the shows with their friends. Rather, 66 percent watch with their families at least some of the time.