Mean Girls - How Parental Media Education Strategies Can Backfire for Teens
Gossiping and spreading rumors, it’s common behavior in teens' favorite TV shows, leading to concerns about the impact on young viewers. A study in the Journal of Children and Media shows that it does not help when parents talk with their teenage daughters about these shows. On the contrary, when parents try to talk to their teens about the relational aggression in these shows, or keep them from watching, this may even increases the undesirable effects of watching the shows.
- Parent-child interactions about TV shows that include relational aggression, such as gossiping and spreading rumors, strengthen the undesirable effects of watching these shows on girls.
- This goes for all types of strategies that parents may use: prohibiting watching TV shows, co-viewing the shows, or making negative comments about the shows).
- Parent-child interaction about TV shows that include relationally aggressive content thus can backfire, probably because it makes media content even more attractive for teenage girls.
How do parents’ media education strategies relate to children’s and teens’ responses to exposure to relational aggressive content in their favorite TV shows?
247 youth aged 8-18 (mean age: 13 years); 43.3% girls and one of each of their parents (mean age: 44 years); 60% mothers
Both parents and children completed an online questionnaire. Parents answered questions about their attitudes toward relational aggression in media, their perceptions of relational aggression in their child’s favorite TV shows and the amount and kind of parental media education strategies used. Children answered questions about their exposure to relational aggression on television and how often they responded in relational aggressive ways including how often they spread rumors and gossiped.
Facts and findings
- Parents with a negative attitude toward relational aggression in the media restricted the media use of their children more often.
- Parents who perceived the amount of relational aggression in their child’s favorite TV shows as high:
- critically discussed these TV shows with their child more often,
- watched these TV shows together with their child more often.
- Girls whose parents used media education strategies (prohibiting watching TV shows, co-viewing the shows, or making negative comments about the shows), were more vulnerable to the negative effect of watching TV shows with relationally aggressive content, meaning that they used relational aggression more often.
- Critical note: We should interpret the results with caution as the direction of cause and effect is not clear. For example, it is possible that highly relationally aggressive girls tend to view relational aggression in the media more often.