Many people in Chicago, Illinois, have heard television can desensitize viewers to violence. However, many people are not aware that certain television shows may also promote a more subtle set of aggressive behaviors commonly known as bullying.

Bullying is a widespread problem today; the United States Department of Health reports more than 1 in 4 students in grades 6 through 12 has been bullied. Adults can be victims, too; according to CBS, workplace bullying affects more than 1 in 6 workers. Research suggests exposure to bullying through reality television may make both victims and bullies feel that such behavior is normal and acceptable.

Learned behaviors

Many of the behaviors viewers take for granted in reality television shows actually constitute bullying. Some of these common but harmful behaviors are:

  • Name-calling
  • Shouting
  • Spreading rumors
  • Exclusion
  • Physical aggression

It may seem like these behaviors appear in most television shows. However, research by one Brigham Young University psychologist indicates viewers watching reality television will see twice as many acts of aggressive behavior as viewers watching dramas or comedies. Just as alarmingly, while other shows may depict bullying as negative, reality television often associates bullying behaviors with people who are successful or popular.

Reality television may especially warp the perceptions of younger viewers. One study from the Girl Scout Research Institute found that, compared to other girls, girls who watch reality television are significantly more likely to view gossiping as normal, take catty or competitive behavior as natural, and mistrust other girls. As long as reality shows present bullying as they currently do, more people may be inclined to view bullying as normal and even engage in it.

Victims’ rights

Depending on the situation, victims of bullying may be able to take civil action against the bully or another party that should have prevented the bullying. For instance, Illinois law requires schools to take steps to prevent bullying among students. Incidences of bullying in the workplace, meanwhile, may constitute harassment or create a hostile work environment. In these situations, the school or employer may be liable for failing to prevent or address the bullying.

Although each case varies, victims of bullying may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit directly against the bully and seek compensation for emotional distress. If the victim experienced health problems, missed opportunities or lost money because of the bullying, those factors could also be considered during the case and when any damages are awarded. However, it is best for victims to speak with an attorney who is experienced in this area to understand their options and determine the most beneficial course of action.