Academic Psychiatry

, Volume 40, Issue 1, pp 177–181 | Cite as

Reality Check: How Reality Television Can Affect Youth and How a Media Literacy Curriculum Can Help

Column: Media


For the past decade, reality television programming has dominated the television market while inherently giving the impression that what occurs on the screen is in fact reality. Although mature audiences may be savvy about the differences between reality and reality television, for children and adolescents, these differences can be less clear. It is important to know what values youth are ascertaining from reality television, as studies have suggested that these media images may have a negative impact on adolescent values. Fortunately, media literacy education has shown promising results in counteracting the negative impact of some television programming. The goals of this paper are to show the potential benefits for the development of a media literacy curriculum for psychiatry residents, including critical media literacy skills, media history taking, and counseling concepts. Our hopes are that trained residents may learn to effectively teach these literacy skills to their patients, patients’ families, educators, and other health professionals as a preventive measure against potential negative mental health effects of reality television.


Curriculum development Media (TV films) Child psychiatry 



On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


  1. 1.
    10 years of primetime: the rise of reality and sports programming. Media and entertainment 2011 Sept 9. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from
  2. 2.
    Fouts G, Vaughan K. Television situation comedies: male weight, negative references, and audience reactions. Sex Roles. 2002;46(11-12):439–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. 3.
    Smith SL, Cook CA: Gender stereotypes: An analysis of popular films and TV. Los Angeles: Geena Davis Institute for Gender and Media 2008. Retrieved June 11, 2014 from
  4. 4.
    Groesz LM, Levine MP, Murnen SK. The effect of experimental presentation of thin media images on body satisfaction: a meta-analytic review. Int J Eat Disord. 2002;31:1–16.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. 5.
    Martin JB. The development of ideal body image perceptions in the United States. Nutr Today. 2010;45(3):98–100.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Anschutz DJ, Spruijt-Metz D, Van Strien T, Engels R. The direct effect of thin ideal focused adult television on young girls’ ideal body figure. Body Image. 2011;8:26–33.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    López-Guimerà G, Levine MP, Sánchez-Carracedo D, Fauquet J. Influence of mass media on body image and eating disordered attitudes and behaviors in females: a review of effects and processes. Media Psychol. 2010;13(4):387–416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Girl Scout Research Institute: real to me: girls and reality TV. 2011, Oct 11. Retrieved June 10, 2014 from
  9. 9.
    Russell CA, Russell DW, Boland WA, Grube JW. Television’s cultivation of American adolescents’ beliefs about alcohol and the moderating role of trait reactance. J Child Media. 2014;8(1):5–22.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. 10.
    Wilksh SM, Tiggemann M, Wade TD. Impact of interactive school-based literacy lessons for reducing internalization of media ideals in young adolescent girls and boys. Int J Eat Disord. 2006;39(5):385–93.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. 11.
    Mazzeo SE, Trace SE, Mitchell KS, Gow RW. Effects of a reality TV cosmetic surgery makeover program on eating disordered attitudes and behaviors. Eat Behav. 2007;8(3):390–7.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Stice E, Whitenton K. Risk factors for body dissatisfaction in adolescent girls: a longitudinal investigation. Dev Psychol. 2002;38(5):669–78.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. 13.
    Klomek AB, Kleinman M, Altschuler E, Marrocco F, Amakawa L, Gould MS. High school bullying as a risk for later depression and suicidality. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 2011;41(5):501–16.PubMedCentralCrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  14. 14.
    Geraee N, Kaveh MH, Shojaeizadeh D, Tabatabaee HR. Impact of media literacy education on knowledge and behavioral intention of adolescents in dealing with media messages according to stages of change. J Adv Med Educ Prof. 2015;3(1):9–14.PubMedCentralPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. 15.
    Brown JD, Witherspoon EM. The mass media and American adolescents’ health. J Adolesc Health. 2002;31(6 Suppl):153–70.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  16. 16.
    Council on Communications and the Media. Policy statement on media education. Pediatrics. 2010;126(5):1012–7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Halliwell E, Easun A, Harcourt D. Body dissatisfaction: can short media literacy message reduce negative media exposure effects amongst adolescent girls? Br J Health Psychol. 2011;16(Pt. 2):396–403.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  18. 18.
    Wade TD, Davidson S, O’Dea JA. A preliminary controlled evaluation of a school based media literacy program and self-esteem program for reducing eating disorder risk factors. Int J Eat Disord. 2003;33(4):371–83.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Nairn R, Coverdale S, Coverdale JH. A framework for understanding media depictions of mental illness. Acad Psychiatr. 2011;35(3):202–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. 20.
    PBS Parents: children and the media: Retrieved May 26, 2015 from
  21. 21.
    Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media: Retrieved May 26, 2015 from
  22. 22.
    Media smarts: Canada’s Centre for Digital and Media Literacy: Retrieved May 26, 2015 from
  23. 23.
    Common sense media: Retrieved May 26, 2015 from

Copyright information

© Academic Psychiatry 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Tulane University School of MedicineNew OrleansUSA
  2. 2.Massachusetts General HospitalBostonUSA

Personalised recommendations