Guest Editorial: What do our children see, and how do they perceive it?

by Vicki Wright, CEO
Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois

What did we see today? And more importantly, what did our children see today?

Kids today spend upwards of 10 hours a day engaged in recreational media, and with the advent of laptops, smart phones, tablet computers and online learning, there is a growing, urgent need to examine what they think about what they see. And that’s exactly what Girl Scouts of Northern Illinois has partnered with the Girl Scout Research Institute (GSRI) to do.

Reality TV has become staple entertainment for young people and adults alike. According to Real to Me: Girls and Reality TV, a national survey recently released by GSRI, the vast majority of girls think reality shows “often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting” (86 percent). In a survey of more than 1,100 girls around the country, GSRI found that the most popular genres of reality TV are competition (“American Idol,” “Project Runway,” etc.) and real life (“Jersey Shore,” “The Hills,” etc.). Many girls think these programs reflect reality, with 75 percent saying that competition shows and 50 percent saying that real-life shows are “mainly real and unscripted.”

While many in society might view reality TV as a relatively benign phenomenon, GSRI’s research shows significant differences between those girls who consume reality TV on a regular basis and those who do not. Of girls surveyed, regular reality TV viewers differ dramatically from their non-viewing peers in their expectations of peer relationships, their overall self-image, and their understanding of how the world works. GSRI’s findings also suggest that reality TV can function in the lives of girls as a learning tool and as inspiration for getting involved in social causes.

Girl Scouting uses this research to impact programming and advocacy efforts. For example, Girl Scouts addresses media literacy through the new leadership journey series, It’s Your Story—Tell It! by encouraging girls to examine the images they see and reminding them that “Healthy MEdia” begins with ME. And Girl Scouts has crafted the “Healthy Media for Youth Act” to encourage policy makers to support media literacy efforts.

For 100 years, Girl Scouts of the USA has been leading the charge to serve girls across the world. As our girls, and our world, have changed, so too has our organization, tackling complex issues that impact girls’ healthy growth and development. Today, our girls’ lives are increasingly lived in tandem with a robust media presence.

By encouraging our girls to understand the media images they see, we can assist them in understanding and building relationships with their peers, have high self-esteem, learn about health and safety, have fun and discover the world around them.