The cultivation theory explains that in today’s society television acts as the primary socializing agent for youths (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). It only takes the push of a button to see the overabundance of meaningless television appealing to young people, particularly young girls. A recent survey by the Girl Scouts of America revealed that “8 out of the 10” girls watching reality television shows, actually believe that it is real and not scripted (Melnick, 2011). One cannot help but find these statistics frightening. If this theory is indeed the case than mirroring that occurs from such negative and unrealistic influence can be detrimental for a young girl as she attempts to identify and create her own self-image.
Both “reality” and regular television shows typically consist of looking and acting perfect or looking and behaving like a train wreck. Reality shows often glorify alcohol abuse, encourage confrontations, and minimize potential consequences of sexual activity (Pearson, 2015). It is usually one extreme or the other, but either way a young girl sees the notoriety gained from these types of behaviors and sees it as realistic and possibly the norm.
The tendency for young girls to imitate what they see on television can be assimilated to the social cognitive theory. This consists of four processes (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012). The first process is attention meaning that what is being modeled is being attended to. That is easy enough, they just need to watch television. The second process is the representation process that involves remembering the behavior that was modeled. Youths are like sponges and are easily influenced, hence the need to better understand adolescent and developmental psychology. The third process is the behavioral production process and this involves how one learns to perform the behavior they observed. Research is indicative that young girls are putting to practice what they have seen on television, whether it be reality television or regular television shows. In fact girls between the age of 11 and 17 were survey and the results revealed that they believe that “Gossiping is a normal part of a relationship between girls… it’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another, and that it’s hard to trust other girls” (Girl Scouts of America, 2011).
The final element is the motivational process meaning what motivates the individual to perform. In most case scenarios it is the rewards of social media likes, popularity, and acknowledgement. Whether it be positive or negative reinforcement varies. Social media is not any better, as far as lacking reality for young girls to grasp or emulate! The influences of the Malala Yousafzai are diminished by the Kim Kardashians and Ana advocates of the world. A recent study revealed that “Seventy-four percent of girls agree that most girls [their] age use social networking sites to make themselves look cooler than they really are and forty-one percent admit that this describes them as well” (Girl Scouts of America, 2010). Unfortunately, media has determined what is considered cool and what is important and it is far from reality.
Mental health professionals state that parents need to be mindful of what children are watching. It is also suggested that parents start a dialogue with children about what they are watching, so that young people can gain the skills to correctly process the information they obtain and better recognize the difference between reality television and actual reality.
Girl Scouts of America. (2010). Girl Scouts Research. Retrieved from Who’s that Girl? Image and Social Media: http://www.girlscouts.org/content/dam/girlscouts-gsusa/forms-and-documents/about-girl-scouts/research/gsri_social_media_fact_sheet.pdf
Girl Scouts of America. (2011). Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV. Retrieved from Girl Scouts Research Institute: http://www.girlscouts.org/content/dam/girlscouts-gsusa/forms-and-documents/about-girl-scouts/research/real_to_me_factsheet.pdf
Melnick, M. (2011, October 11). What Reality TV Teaches Teen Girls. Retrieved from Time : http://healthland.time.com/2011/10/18/what-reality-tv-teaches-teen-girls/
Pearson, A. (2015, January 27). The Influence of Reality TV on Teen Girls. Retrieved from Livestrong.com: http://www.livestrong.com/article/1005491-influence-reality-tv-teen-girls/
Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psycholgy: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). California: Sage Publicationss.