"Reality shows are fascinating to many preteens and teens. So how can you help them understand real reality? Watch the show with them and identify the stereotypes, explaining the editing process and the fact that producers are not reporting but creating reality. You and your daughter can also go online to read about how reality-show contestants are chosen and what former contestants say about the 'real' versions of themselves presented on TV. Help your daughter learn to ask, 'What's missing and why?' "
Lyn Mikel Brown, Ed.D.
Co-author, Packaging Girlhood
Kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend up to three hours a day taking in television (and nearly four when this includes prerecorded shows and movies), according to "Generation M," a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation. And while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV for kids under the age of two, we know that many toddlers are watching. Another Kaiser study, "The Media Family," reports that 50 percent of girls 0 to 6 are spending an hour a day watching TV. As they get older, two-thirds of all kids between the ages of 8 and 18 have a TV in their bedrooms; half of these have a video player as well. In addition, many girls spend their days perusing teen magazines and their weekends going to the movies.
What are the effects of all that TV, movie and magazine imagery? Our experts list some factors to consider.
Male characters outnumber females in movies and TV.
A study on gender roles from the Geena Davis Institute has found that only 28 percent of speaking characters in the 101 most popular recent G-rated movies are female. More than four out of five film narrators are male. Television shows for kids under 11 are only slightly better: males outnumber females by almost two to one, with the greatest disparity occurring in animated shows.
Girls are depicted as sexual objects in the media.
In their media analysis in Packaging Girlhood, authors Lyn Mikel Brown and Sharon Lamb note that the content in many TV programs, films and teen magazines gives kids the message that women are sexual objects. The Geena Davis Institute report found that females in films are more than five times as likely as men to be shown in sexually revealing clothing. Even in G-rated films, about one-third of the girls' and women's bodies were "hypersexualized": unusually thin with an unnaturally small waist. The APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls states that this creates "an environment in which being female becomes nearly synonymous with being a sexual object."
Younger girls incorporate the media into their play.
Excessive time spent watching TV or movies can cut into the time little girls need for play and can affect the content of that play. "Little girls need time to pretend," says Jane Katch, M.S.T., "but the female roles they see in the media, and the toys that are marketed with TV shows and movies, limit girls' play to re-enacting those scripts instead of encouraging girls to use their imaginations."
Older girls adopt media mannerisms. School-aged or middle-school girls may adopt (even unconsciously) mannerisms from their TV and movie role models -- eye-rolling, facial expressions, or ways of talking to parents and friends. "What girls observe in the media can become the template for how they approach real-world conflicts. This is a real concern, since few girls learn alternatives to what they are watching," says Rachel Simmons, author of Odd Girl Out. "Girls learn that it's cool to be mean -- while good girls generally win in the end, mean girls get lots of attention. You see many examples of girls arguing or fighting, but very few examples of girls working together or being friends."
Preteens are reading teen magazines (with a passion). Many girls this age also love teen magazines. The APA report notes that preteen girls spend on average fifteen minutes a day reading teen magazines -- and expresses concern that the cover stories on these magazines, such as "The Best Date for You," "Your Perfect Colors," and "The Best Workout for Your Body," almost solely focus on ways girls can change themselves to appeal to men. Brown and Lamb second this in their book, noting that preteen magazines include regular features like, "The Fun and Freedom to Accessorize" and "The Great Debate: Looks or Talent." Fortunately, many of these magazines also run stories about getting messy, staying close to Dad, daring to be different, and girls around the world.