Jersey Shore Ladies
Credit: Jeff Daly/MTV/PictureGroup

The Girl Scouts have just alerted parents to a disturbing discovery: No, don’t worry, nothing is wrong with your order of Thin Mints or Tagalongs. And no, Larry David hasn’t been teaching them anything. Rather, a new study called “Real To Me: Girls and Reality TV”, which was conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute, found reality television could be encouraging Regina George-like behavior in young girls.

Some stats that stand out: Of the 1,141 girls (aged 11-17) surveyed, 86 percent of them think that reality shows “often pit girls against each other to make the shows more exciting,” while 73 percent think the shows “make people think that fighting is a normal part of a romantic relationship.” (Come on, Sammi and Ron-Ron, at least try and make it work for the kids!) On top of that, 70 percent of the young females surveyed thought reality shows “make people think it’s okay to treat others badly.”

Frighteningly, reality watchers in the study agreed with the following statement: “Being mean earns you more respect than being nice.” (Hey, it worked for mean girl Rachel on Big Brother, who won over slightly nicer girl Porsche. Though, to be fair, Porsche’s more of a Karen than a Regina and more of a car than a person. Beep Beep!) Girls who tune into reality shows also backed the statements, “You have to be mean to others to get what you want,” “Girls often have to compete for a guy’s attention,” and “It’s in girls’ nature to be catty and competitive with one another” more than their non-reality watching counterparts. (There was a more unsettling find, though: “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.'” Dear lord, stay in school, kids!)

Andrea Bastiani Archibald, Developmental Psychologist with the Girl Scouts of the USA stated in the study, “Girls today are bombarded with media — reality TV and otherwise — that more frequently portrays girls and women in competition with one another rather than in support or collaboration. This perpetuates a ‘mean-girl’ stereotype and normalizes this behavior among girls.” Curious, considering that the ladies of Jersey Shore (pictured) have only used the nicest words to describe their male roommate’s many conquests, all of the The Real Housewives are the very definition of poise and acting like a lady at any age, and Sister Wives, uh, teaches the importance of sharing?

But it’s not all negative. The study did suggest that makeover shows like The Biggest Loser and Extreme Makeover: Home Edition and competition-based shows like American Idol and Project Runway “have the most potential for inspiring conversations and … making girls feel like anything is possible.” But I must reluctantly admit, PopWatchers, sometimes these are the very shows that turn me into a mean girl. (I judged Project Runway‘s Olivier harder than a room full of eye-rolling Nina Garcias.)

The study also found that “75 percent of girls say that reality shows have inspired conversation with their parents and/or friends.” (It’s a safe assumption that 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom were the topic for plenty of those.) Of course, there could — and probably should — be an entirely separate study done to find the effects of My Super Sweet 16 on the psyche on people of every sex and age. So not fetch.

What do you think of this study regarding teen “mean girls” and reality television? Do the findings surprise you or does a lot of reality TV encourage the behavior? Share in the comments section below. But, hey, be nice in there, wouldja?

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