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Gossip, vanity and competing for guys: Is reality TV ruining our girls?

The finest samplings of reality television have it all: Bitter backstabbing. Trumped-up drama. Tears that never ruin your makeup. But young female fans of shows like Jersey Shore and The Bachelor may be learning the tricks of the reality-TV trade a little too well, according to a new U.S. survey of 1,100 teenage girls, conducted by the Girl Scout Research Institute.

On boyfriends: Reality TV fans are more likely to say that "girls often have to compete for a guy's attention" than girls who don't watch the shows (74 per cent compared to 63 per cent) and to admit to feeling happier when they have a significant other (49 per cent compared to 28 per cent.)

Gossip: Fans were more likely – at 78 per cent – to agree that "gossiping is a normal part" of female relationships (only half of girls who don't watch the shows said the same). They are also more likely to say that girls are naturally catty. Which likely explains why they were also more likely to say they have a hard time trusting their female peers.

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Looks: Nearly two-thirds of reality-TV viewers admitted to spending "a lot of time" on their appearance, compared to less than half of non-viewers. (They were also more likely to say a girl's value is based on her looks.)

A bigger world: On the plus side, two-thirds of the viewers said that reality shows "make me think I can achieve anything in life." Half said they saw themselves in the characters. And 62 per cent said reality-style programming had raised their awareness about social issues. (Other research has also reported positive side effects of shows: For instance, in an October 2010 focus group on the reality show 16 and Pregnant, more than 90 per cent of girls said that teenage pregnancy was harder than they thought before watching the program.)

Being the boss: The majority of girls who watched reality TV described themselves with positive characteristics - smart, funny and outgoing - and 47 per cent said they aspired to leadership roles, compared to 27 per cent of non-viewers. Of course, reality TV stars aren't exactly wallflowers (and they usually look fresh-from-the-salon even lying around on the couch).

The larger question may be what kind of leadership qualities are being inspired by these shows? Reality TV fans were also more likely to say that sometimes "you have to lie to get what you want," or "being mean earns you more respect than being nice."

Then again, perhaps that's just being realistic.

Parents, do you worry about the message your kids are getting from reality TV? Do you see any redeeming qualities?

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