Main content

Can reality TV be a good thing?

You may have heard of Keeping Up with the Kardashians, Made in Chelsea and Love Island. These are all popular reality television programmes, especially among younger viewers. We look at tips for parents on how to watch these shows with their child. 

Most popular reality TV shows present themselves as ‘unscripted’ or ‘real-life’ situations documented for entertainment purposes. Generally, they involve non-professional actors, but sometimes celebrities get involved. Reality TV shows often have a negative reputation, because they can present adult themes and negative behaviour, as well as portraying an unrealistic view of ‘real’ life, in terms of the beautiful or privileged casts and lifestyles on show.  

Naturally, you may be concerned about the influence these programmes have on your child and the potential negative impact on their self-esteem and body image. Young people may strive to look and act in a certain way to be more like their role models and reality television can be misleading. Some younger children won’t be aware that programmes can be constructed to present unrealistic, yet aspirational, representations of life.

With Love Island returning this year, you may have noticed your child showing an interest. If so, rather than telling them to just not watch them, there are some ways they can be useful.

Watch Reality TV programmes together to:

1. Help your child develop a critical eye

You can help your child understand that what they are viewing is not always a true depiction of reality, often with script writers and a lot of editing involved to ensure that viewers are entertained. According to an anonymous reality TV industry insider, there are lots of techniques used to attract more viewers: ‘If they’re filming a dinner scene, there will be several breaks for people to redo their hair and reapply their lipstick.’ Find out more about how Reality TV shows work

2. Provide opportunities to start important conversations

The storylines can be useful for opening discussions with your own child. Take the opportunity to find out how they feel about certain issues that arise in the show. A character/participant may struggle with anxiety or body confidence issues and the programme may depict how they handle this.

3. Allow your child to develop empathy

There will be occasions when things go wrong for one of the characters/participants. According to a study by German researchers, watching certain scenarios on reality television can activate a part of the brain associated with compassion and empathy. It can prompt your child to think about situations that are different from their own.

4. Give your child a more realistic view

Reality TV shows often display the highs of success and the lows of disappointment. Although not all are the same, and some are heavily scripted, they can show hardworking and ambitious individuals, from all walks of life, chasing a dream.


Play Reality TV Bingo  

When you next sit down together to watch a reality TV show, talk to your child about the various scenes and ask them which they think may be scripted and unrealistic and the reasons why.

Spot the following tricks of the trade:

  • A choreographed ‘argument’ — where the situation has obviously been set up.
  • A ‘showmance’ — a relationship created to get more viewers. Would this couple be together in real life?
  • A set of ‘frenemies’ — 2 characters that are depicted to be rivals to create drama.
  •  Lighting being used to deliberately make a person look better, or worse.
  •  Focus on the women in the show. Are they ever shown having a conversation about anything other than relationships, clothes and beauty, or how they look? Do you ever see them without make-up?

Read more on celebrity culture: sorting reality from hyper-reality


Download your FREE 40-page parent guide to boosting your child's self-esteem here

This downloadable pdf contains expert advice from Dove Self-Esteem Project global experts from the fields of psychology, body image, self-esteem, eating disorders and media representation to create a resource for parents that is focused on advice and action.  

Teachers: for free downloadable teaching resources, go to the Dove Self-Esteem Project area on

These pages are brought to you by Parent Zone and the Dove Self-Esteem Project

The advice published on Parent Info is provided by independent experts in their field and not necessarily the views of Parent Zone or NCA_CEOP.

Image: Pixabay 

Related articles

Explore further