Melissa Jo Peltier

Author of fiction and nonfiction; film and television producer/writer/director

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Is Reality TV Warping Your Kids?

April 18, 2013

Tags: Reality TV, television, Hollywood, parenting, bad behavior, Real Housewives, Kardashian, Honey Boo Boo, Omarosa, Girl Scouts

(Cross-posted from

Like millions out there, you love your Reality TV. You can’t get enough of your botoxed & siliconed Real Housewives of wherever; of your orange-toned alcoholic New Jerseyans; your lipsticked Honey BooBoo and her dysfunctionally clueless mother. What’s the harm in that? We all deserve our guilty pleasures. Personally,my trashy TV habits fall into the LMN movie category. Being a writer myself, I tend to like my over-the-top, clichéd dialogue to be performed by real actors and scripted by professional writers who get credit and pay for their services. But I digress.

So many people seem to enjoy reality TV that it has taken over our airwaves. But have you ever thought about the effect it might be having on your kids? Imagine being eight, ten, thirteen years old and watching the way fights are resolved on Real Housewives or Jersey Shore (screaming, breaking thing, getting drunk, throwing glasses of wine into your rival’s face.) Imagine seeing Tila Tequila and Kim Kardashian and concluding that wealth and popularity all come down to making a splash with a sex tape. The Girl Scouts did a study on the effect of Reality TV on 1100 girls. The results are sobering. While the girls who watched the most Reality TV scored highest in some positive areas such as self-assurance and leadership, they also overwhelmingly perceived high drama, cattiness and bullying to be valid success strategies and answered “yes” to such questions as “You have to lie to get what you want”; “Being mean earns you more respect than being nice” and “You have to be mean to others to get what you want”. In addition, the girls who watched the most Reality TV believed appearance was of paramount importance to a woman, and that women being catty (and untrustworthy) with one another were normal, since women have to compete for male attention.

Are we raising an entire generation of Omarosas? Some social commenters, researchers and psychologists say that we are – that there is a marked rise in narcissistic traits among teens and twenty-somethings and that empathy and compassion is dropping. What I’ve observed as an insider with 20-plus years in Hollywood documentary, non-fiction and reality TV production is also a generation that expects instant fame as its birthright. The internalized vision of having riches and celebrity without working long years to achieve mastery of an art, craft, skill or profession has created a lot of very frustrated, impatient kids who don’t know how to handle the ups and downs and failures that inevitably accompany any worthwhile venture in life.

As the stepmom of a teen girl, this concerns me deeply. My suggestion is, go ahead and watch your reality TV if you must, but make sure you put it into context for your kids. Talk about the idea of instant fame and the problems it creates; talk about how bad behavior is displayed on the shows and ask your kids, “What would happen if you acted like that in real life?” Make sure they know it’s not real! Make it a teaching opportunity. As long as we take these shows for what they are – absolutely fake, put together by producers and casting agents, and – yes - semi-scripted to heighten the conflict and the drama – it can be harmless fun. But if you see your kids throwing Kool-Aid in each others’ faces during an argument, maybe it’s time to turn off the tube for a while.

Published Works

Reality Boulevard
"...a book in the tradition of great Hollywood novels, from Carroll and Garrett Graham’s Queer People (1930) to Michael Tolkin’s The Player (1988), and reads like Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 Network screenplay retooled for the 21st century" - Ken Salikoff, Kirkus Indie Magazine
"In this smart, funny, insightful novel, reality TV becomes all too real...Peltier examines the Hollywood world of writers, producers, rich kids, actors, wannabes and con men with a keen and often compassionate eye. " - Kirkus Reviews
"Once I started reading "Reality Boulevard," I could not stop...this is the best satirical look behind-the-scenes of "reality television" ever written." - Arnold Shapiro, Oscar & Emmy-winning Producer of Scared Straight; Rescue 911; Big Brother
“[Millan] arrives amid canine chaos and leaves behind peace.” —Malcolm Gladwell, The New Yorker
Non-Fiction (Co-Author)
“As complete a tome on the subject as one could want…If the answer you’re looking for in this guide cannot be found, the question is not worth asking...this is an impressive piece of work.” - Bookviews, June 2011