Reality TV is Educational, Really.

My daughter is six and a half, which I’m discovering is a weird, in-between age for girls with regard to television. Too old for shows like Dora, Little Einsteins and Blues Clues, but still (in my opinion) not old enough for Hannah Montana, Wizards of Waverly Place or That’s So Raven (my daughter is sassy enough without needing to learn new ways to be sassy, thank you very much). I could just turn off the television completely, but – oh, come on, who am I kidding? The television in my house is on pretty much 24/7, and finding things that are appropriate for her to watch has become something of a challenge lately. Luckily, however, reality programming has stepped in to fill the void.


It started a few years ago with Project Runway, which we began watching together because of my daughter’s sudden interest in clothing at the age of four. Now, after three seasons, not only can she do a mean Heidi Klum imitation (one of you will be the winner, and one of you will be out), but she also knows intuitively when a designer is not thinking outside the box. Oh, and she also knows about drag queens and asymmetrical haircuts.


More recently, however, she’s gotten hooked on just about anything with crazy contestants and a challenge. Dancing With the Stars, Iron Chef, Trading Spaces, American Idol. She’s also a big fan of game shows. Wheel of Fortune, The Price is Right, and Deal or No Deal, which makes her so anxious that she closes her eyes whenever a new case is opened. And let’s not forget about her current favorite, John and Kate Plus Eight, the TLC show about a couple in Pennsylvania who have a set of seven year-old twins and another set of four year-old sextuplets. She figured out how to record things without telling me, and I missed the first episode of 24 this season because my Tivo was filled to capacity with John and Kate Plus Eight reruns.


Perhaps I’m rationalizing, but I do think that a lot of these shows are, in a convoluted way, educational. For example, when you watch wannabe designers making a dress, you learn that there is a process and people behind the clothes that we wear – they don’t just magically appear in stores. You also learn that some men like to dress up like women, and that “–licious” can, in fact, be appended to just about any word in the English language. Also, when you watch people making bets with money that they could really use, you learn about greed, and risk-taking, and about how to cut your losses. When you watch Simon shred peoples’ dreams to bits right in front of them on American Idol, you learn that it is, in fact, a hard, cruel world out there. And when you watch the chaos that is John and Kate Plus Eight, well, you learn to be grateful that you only have one four year-old sibling living in your house, and not six. And you also learn that being pregnant with sextuplets can do very upsetting things to the skin on a woman’s stomach.



What a great article! I am guilty of having the tv on ALL day also, it's a source of companionship for me being home alone all day with three babies. I have noticed that I cannot really watch the shows I prefer to anymore when my oldest is in the room, unless I want to spend the time explaining things I really don't want to explain, and I am also so glad to see that someone else agrees with me that she is not old enough for Hannah Montana, Zack & Cody and other Disney shows, but she is starting to get bored with Noggin, she's almost 5. I never thought of letting her watch reality tv with me, since I'm a junkie. She does love John & Kate already and I too am so thankful after watching that show that I only have 1 4.5 year old. She wants to be a chef when she grows up so I may try to let her watch Top Chef and my almost 4 year old loves dancing so I will try letting them watch Dancing With The Stars! Thanks for opening a new "channel" for me!



That was wonderful1 My daughter is seven and she LOVES Project Runway and Top Chef! We watch it together, and I love hearing her thoughts on the designs, the designers and the chef-testants! I'm almost ashamed to admit that my four year old got hooked on the kooky shows that were on this summer - the japanese game show and Wipeout! I thought I was the only Mom whose kids liked these kinds of shows.
Mary Laru


Risa, you are so funny as always. And we were thinking alike with our columns this week! But just one thing: you have written two if not three published books! There's a dream many people have that you made come true. So your kids have a great example right in front of them.



Thanks for another laugh this week...we have Top Chef cuddle on Wednesday nights!


What a great article. I agree that reality tv fills an entertainment void for children and it can be educational. However, the concept that fame is something handed to you rather than earned is a destructive one. Being famous simply for "being famous", or pretty and thin, or having a trust fund is not something to aspire to, which your article clearly illustrated. Fantastic!


It isn't just reality TV — it's the fact that someone can be "discovered on Facebook, MySpace or YouTube and become famous, even if the person has no talent whatsoever (think Tila Tequila).

But society is always morphing. I know I'm getting older when I don't understand what "the kids" are doing.