10 Worst TV Role Models of 2013

Find out who made this year's list of the worst role models on TV. By Sierra Filucci
10 Worst TV Role Models of 2013

From Abby Lee Miller to Walter White, TV is full of wild and crazy characters who make us laugh, cry, or grit our teeth in frustration. Each year, Common Sense Media calls out the TV characters and personalities who have the most and least to offer kids and families. You'll see some familiar faces on the "worst" list (the Kardashians, for the third year in a row) and a few newbies, who may or may not stand the test of TV time.

Even with all the new devices competing for kids' attention, regular old TV still dominates kids' screen time. That means all the characters they watch or otherwise absorb through popular culture make a big impact on kids' still-forming identities. But even the worst role models can help you start important discussions with kids about what is and isn't appropriate behavior. These talks can also help your kid become more media-savvy. Discuss the reasons why these folks get so much attention. Who makes the decisions to popularize these characters and their TV shows?

1. Walter White (Bryan Cranston), Breaking Bad

Worst offense: Offering a confusing message of morality

Many of us here at Common Sense Media really love Walter White's character and the Breaking Bad series overall. But the more we've seen babies dressed in Walter White Halloween costumes, the more we realize what a huge impact this character has made in pop culture. So even if kids aren't actually watching the show, they're absorbing the message that when an everyday person meets tough times, drugs, murder, and sacrificing one's family is a viable, or even admirable, solution.

2. Drunk History creators (Will Ferrell and Derek Waters)  

Worst offense: Making drunkenness look appealing

No question these folks are funny. As adults, we find the juxtaposition of history lessons and inebriated comedians quite entertaining. But for teens who watch, the message is that drinking enough alcohol to slur your words, stumble around, or throw up is hilarious.

3. Abby Lee Miller, Dance Moms and Abby's Ultimate Dance Competition

Worst offense: Encouraging unhealthy competition

Both of Abby Lee Miller's shows purposely pit moms against moms and young dancers against one another. Not only does she use shame as a motivator for her young charges, she screams and insults their parents, too. Thanks to Miller's influence, the moms also bicker with one another and openly criticize both their own kids and others'.

4. Kardashian clan, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, et al. 

Worst offense: Putting appearance and attention above substance and accomplishment

Although the family sometimes exhibits a charming loyalty among themselves, as an entity they represent some of the worst things about our culture. Kim's insistence on being in full hair and makeup while giving birth is just one example of how this family values appearance over substance. Add to that drug abuse, relationship drama, sexing up the still-underage girls in the family, and a general vapidity exhibited on the show and in the larger pop culture arena, and this family is one we really don't want to keep up with.

5. Ryan Lochte, What Would Ryan Lochte Do?

Worst offense: Valuing empty fame over true achievement

Here is someone whose physical achievements are so great that he has the potential to be an incredible role model to kids. He could teach them about perseverance, stamina, sacrifice. But instead he chooses to seek fame in Hollywood, demonstrating to kids that being on TV, even if it puts you in an embarrassing light, is the ultimate goal. Ick. (Thankfully, his show was quickly canceled.)

6. Big Ang, Miami Monkey and Mob Wives

Worst offense: Wallowing in shallowness

There's something undeniably charming about Big Ang, which is probably why producers offered her a spin-off after the ridiculous Mob Wives. But there's just so much wrong with her behavior: drinking and smoking to excess, modeling an exaggerated representation of the female body (her chest and lips defy nature!), and creating a work environment that thrives off catty competition and sexed-up bodies.

7. Cat (Ariana Grande), Sam & Cat

Worst offense: Reinforcing "airhead" stereotype

Actress and pop singer Ariana Grande is not without talent, but her character on this spin-off of two mega-popular Nickelodeon shows (iCarly and Victorious) is the epitome of a "dumb girl." She speaks with an affected whispery voice, regularly misunderstands common vocabulary, and seems generally self-absorbed and, frankly, annoying. Young girls and boys who are just figuring out their identities might pick up some really confusing messages about what's funny and appealing thanks to Cat.

8. Seth MacFarlane, the Oscars, Family Guy, etc.

Worst offense: Humor that consistently crosses the line

As host of the Oscars, MacFarlane stepped out from behind his offensive Family Guy characters and showed his true stripes. From a song objectifying all of Hollywood's actresses ("We Saw Your Boobs") to jokes about Adele's weight, the comedian stood in front of an international audience and made us wonder how someone with such a warped and unkind view of humanity could be so successful.

9. Eli (Seth Green), Warner (Giovanni Ribisi), Dads; and Frank (Tony Shalhoub), We Are Men

Worst offense: Racism and sexism mixed together

These three characters from two new fall TV series represent the dark underbelly of mainstream comedy (it should be noted that Seth MacFarlane is responsible for Dads). In the Dads pilot, both Eli and Warner go along with a plot to dress up their Asian female colleague as a sexed-up schoolgirl to appeal to their Chinese clients. Ugh. And in the thankfully canceled We Are Men, the character of Frank had an unabashed preference for dating Asian women several decades younger than he was. Double ugh.

10. Brickleberry characters, Brickleberry

Worst offense: Offending for the sake of offending

Comedy at its best teaches us something about ourselves, from South Park's skewering of political correctness to Parks and Recreation poking fun at the bureaucracy that surrounds us. But Brickleberry –- stuffed with exaggerated stereotypes (a horny lesbian, a lazy African-American, and a sexed-up blonde, among others) who offend without any greater purpose -- is just sad. Edgy comedy that's smart can be justified, but this...there's just nothing here of value for families.

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About Sierra Filucci

Sierra has been writing and editing professionally for more than a decade, with a special interest in women's and family subjects. She has a master’s degree in journalism from the University of California at Berkeley.... Read more

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Comments (41)

Kid, 9 years old

Why do TV role models even matter?!?! Its not like the TV is a kid's parents! Its not like the TV is going to make kids bad because the parents tell them what to do the TV does not say "BE A BAD ROLE MODEL" or whatever. If you don't want anyone watching TV then lock your kids outside so they can play.
Teen, 17 years old written by Kronosaurus

Although I Didn't Do It hadn't yet started when this list was made, I firmly believe that Logan Watson (Austin North) and Jasmine Kang (Piper Curda) should be included in future editions of the list for enforcing negative gender stereotypes. Logan is lazy, unintelligent, unhygienic and arrogant, while Jasmine is shallow, manipulative, selfish and lustful. Maybe not the best role models for kids.
Teen, 14 years old written by Alliexo

Most teens and kids are watching tv for fun, not to pick a FICTIONAL character and copy their behaviors....parents should keep this in mind
Kid, 11 years old

Ariana Grande is not AT ALL like her character of Cat. Cat is JUST a character. I don't understand how you are judging her by a role she plays. Ariana is kind, fun, and smart.
written by Clara The Awesome

OK. This list is REALLY messed up... You guys need to understand, with the actors, it isn't at all about the characters that they play, it's about the way they act in REAL LIFE. Believe it or not, most kids know fantasy from reality. We also pretty much know who's a good or bad role model. Also, Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus really should be on here... Not Cat.
Kid, 12 years old

Get Cat off- put Sam on cuz she is violent and has has a criminal record
Teen, 17 years old written by rebma97

I agree. I think Cat should be put under a stereotypical category as opposed to bad role model. Her character seems generally nice, whereas Sam is violent and has anger issues. And I personally find her annoying...
Adult written by Rosebud95

Why pick Cat from Sam & Cat and not...Sam?! I think Sam is worse, plus her characters is kinda annoying....
Adult written by J Jr

Why not add the entire line up of comedy central, adult swim, BET, MTV, etc... If you don't want your kid watching have them go outside and play.
Kid, 10 years old

Why arn't the rabbids in there? yes they may be mean, but it's can't be repeted in real life, plus they don't mess with people all the time, so they sould be a #20 for not being that mean, if there was a Top20 list.
Parent of a 6 year old written by jaamoose

If this list really wanted to include the worst role models on TV, it would also have to contain names like Pat Robertson, whose horribly offensive "700 Club" actually is shown on the Family Channel. At least Seth MacFarlane puts everything out there as humor, instead of trying to come across as speaking some "truth" or the like.
Teen, 16 years old written by MalikaiDarkEdge

I think you're highly underestimating most teenagers if you think watching Drunk History is going to make us want to go out and drink. But hey, maybe I'm wrong, although if your teens are that impressionable I'd blame the parents more than a show.
Kid, 10 years old

Are you kidding me? Cat from Sam and Cat and Victorious is hilarious and awesome! She makes kid's laugh and does not influence them to be "dumb". No kid would want to be like Cat but I do know that they laugh at her on the show.
Teen, 16 years old written by alexx55

Are you kidding me? Walter White is not teaching anybody that "when an everyday person meets tough times, drugs, murder, and sacrificing one's family is a viable, or even admirable, solution"! They are simply dressing up their toddlers as a character whom they know nothing about. Why are you saying that every character should be a role model? They aren't. I'm very surprised Cat was on there. That's her character. She's cute, and ditsy. There's nothing wrong with that. "Kids are finding themselves"? Yes, because "finding oneself" will somehow be affected by a ditsy character on TV. My oh my...
Teen, 15 years old written by Aledirectioner

Ok cat from Sam and cat is NOT a bad role modal she has smarten up from victorious and also why isn't Miley cyrus on this list she's a way bader role modal then cat from Sam and cat
Teen, 15 years old written by DangerRanger101

I do agree with most of these choices except for Cat. There are people out there who aren't very smart and those people might find Cat to be a very relatable character. Also, her behaviors don't necessarily make her dumb. I sometimes mess-up or misunderstand simple words or phrases but I'm not dumb. I think that you really should put a little more thought and consideration into which characters you put on your lists. After all, you missed some characters such as Princess Amber, Pacifica, Robbie and Diamond Tiara. I know that those characters aren't technically considered "role models" but they are bad influences.
Adult written by Cheesewhiz

You're right about these characters being bad role models. But then again, these aren't really meant to be good role models, and these shows aren't meant for young kids or even teens.
Teen, 16 years old written by sisterwhocares

I'm actually quite shocked that Miley Cyrus was not put on this list; she would for sure be at the top. She's the definition of bad role model!
Teen, 15 years old written by Kronosaurus

How is Olive Doyle (Sierra McCormick) from A.N.T. Farm not on this list? She's annoying, stuck-up, neurotic, insufferable, bossy, self-centered and a complete bully towards her friend Fletcher Quimby (Jake Short), going so far as to viciously abuse him both verbally and physically. These antics are meant to be humorous, but they merely encourage needless cruelty towards friends. Not a message we want to send to our children.
Parent written by BJCs maman

I agree that Cat is a terrible role model. I told my daughter the other day that she is not allowed to watch Sam and Cat because Cat acts stupid when she isn't. We watched a few minutes of Victorious and she didn't seem to be acting like an airhead in that show. I also find Sam a little too mean.
Parent of a 10 and 11 year old written by sweetpeaandcurly

Many of you defend Ariana Grande, but I have actually met her and worked with her. She is the character she portrays on the show, it's not acting...that's how she acts in real life! After meeting her, my daughter no longer watches the show. She is the worst kind of young actress, one who is a "fame whore". Actually tweets where she is filming in public so the paparazzi will find her. Very unprofessional.
Parent written by Ejensen001

I completely agree with this list. And with respect to the comments about Cat, Ariana Grande, I think that we should put the blame on the creators of that character. They are the ones promoting the dumb girl. Ariana is trying to make a living, but she, too, should have some self respect and try and show the character in a smarter way. But to those who have written comments supporting Cat, we need to be very aware of what our daughters are watching. Don't we want our girls to be the smartest and not the dumbest? Let's support intelligence.
Teen, 16 years old written by alexx55

It's a character. A character is not supposed to be a portrait of yourself. It's a CHARACTER. There's nothing wrong with having a ditsy character.
Adult written by wlwashburn

Don't forget Barney on "How I Met Your Mother." While his character is often ridiculed (which would seem to tell kids that they shouldn't be like him), I have heard that a lot of boys and young men see him as a positive role model, imitating things like his "bro code" etc.
Parent of a 10 and 12 year old written by jcase222

This list disappointed me. Who lets their teen/tween watch "Breaking Bad"? On your Facebook quiz many, many parents listed Disney TV shows aimed at Tweens as poor role models - sassy talk, fancy dress. Let's get this list aimed at real kids. Disney has the brain power to do or redo classic shows not "sitcoms" aimed at tweens. Let's call them to task!
Teen, 13 years old written by Strategist101

Why can't Disney show re-runs of shows when Television had class? Some of the old "Mickey Mouse" cartoons, or even the "Suite Life" series was better than what they had now...
Parent written by swlmsn79

So here's my main issue. While I understand that there are offensive characters on tv... and that allowing children to watch these characters may be seen as condoning the characters' behaviors... I think we're losing sight of something very important. Children are going to be exposed to characters that are not all "sunshine and roses." And the KEY factor to how children process these individuals and their behaviors are PARENTS. Furthermore, I think children seeing characters on tv provides parents an opportunity to do this type of processing in a safe environment: the home. They have a chance to say "Here's a character. Let me help you put this into context so you understand this behavior and how to respond to it." That's better than the child living in a bubble and never knowing how to handle characters in real life. My daughter has watched Teen Mom on MTV. We have great discussions about why people choose the behaviors they do, and how those behaviors have very really consequences. And we've been having these conversations (not just about teen pregnancy) since she was younger (she's now 8). This list may serve as a guide for characters to reference and ones to use to spark conversation, but let's face it... we have politicians who are equally bad and they're promoted as the individuals in society we're to hold in high regard, all the while parents know better. The same can be said of these characters. Parents know best and can help their children put these characters in perspective. Common sense comes from teaching, not having a bulletin board full of photos of "questionable characters."
Educator and Parent of a 15 and 18+ year old written by MarriedSouthern...

We don't trust it either. It's too strongly opinionated to feel as if the characters were judged fairly. It reads as if it was written from yet another negative feminist's view. Can we get another one that's been written by a naturally masculine man who has many years of being a present father (with sons & daughters at least well into the teen yrs) and one with healthy family morals & values? So, now we've been shown some examples of supposedly the 10 worst tv role models... where is the list of of the best role models? What's the point of adding characters of shows that are now cancelled? As to any future type of list, but with the 10 best: What about some very feminine, healthy, joyful, generous, vulnerable and caring girls & ladies who are truly respectful to the boys & men? and What about some very masculine, strong, fit, confident, and protective men who want to provide for the girls and women?
Parent of a 10 and 13 year old written by Hsteiner

I disagree with your assessment of Walter White in Breaking Bad. I strongly feel the message of this series is that once you start down a dark immoral path, it's a slippery slope. One wrong act leads to another getting worse each time. So don't think you can just do this "one thing" and you'll go back to being good. Digging yourself out is more difficult than one can imagine. This series also does not glorify drugs. The realistic drug addicted characters are pretty much sending a message of how disgusting and gross and desperate you become. Lastly, Walter's committment to his family is admirable. He made poor choices but if every parent and husband was as committed to their family the world would be a better place. So the people that are dressing babies up as Walter White are at fault here. Not the TV show or character. As usual though, we like to blame others for our downfalls... McD for obesity, cigarette companies for lung cancer, beer manufacturers for alcholism, Big Gulp for unhealthy lives, rich people for taking all the money, bad schools for being dumb... need i go on... We as adults should be able to watch a TV show for what it is and not carry any inappropriate messages to our children if they are not old enough.
Parent written by MonicaMom

I don't trust this article written by Sierra Filucci -- the same woman who recommended "2 Broke Girls" in another article called "Best TV for Girls"! (Thankfully, after pressure from others, that show was removed from the article. It was full of racism, sexism, stereotypes, and almost everything about the show was inappropriate). Or maybe I should trust this article -- if Ms. Filucci approves of "2 Broke Girls", her list of "bad role models" must be really horrible!
Adult written by crashtx1

I'll take it as a good thing that I've only heard of half of these shows. The comments are interesting, it appears people don't like to have it pointed out that they are watching garbage.
Teen, 13 years old written by LOVELOVESMILE

We all have diffrent views and opinons, but I love Arianna Grande. Its not her fault she has to play the dumb girl and plus shes just acting. But Abbly Miller makes me mad shes always screaming at the dance mom saying "YOUR DAUGHTER NEEDS TO DO BETTER!!". Whens she cant even do half of the stuff the kids do.
Teen, 16 years old written by rebma97

I don't think Cat's a bad role model, mainly because she's not mean or promotes negative messages (i.e. doing drugs, getting drunk). Obviously they wouldn't show all of that in a kids' series, but you catch my drift. I'm starting to think that Common Sense should have a separate category of worst role models versus role models promoting stereotypes. They're both offensive, yes, but stereotypical characters (like Cat) may be really nice while also reinforcing atypical attributes (the ditzy blonde girl, dumb popular jock, etc.)
written by GSN Hatena

I don't know if it's Ariana Grande or her Character on Sam & Cat which is Cat. The show is rated TV-G. How could she be the Worst. For me she's the best that she can do. That 7 not lucky at all after being under the Worst. To me she's the best and Number 1 too. In 2013 I say this for me because I like her.
Teen, 13 years old written by ivy banana poo

ariana grande isnt so bad she is trying to make money and have some fun while doing it. she is one of my role models and im nothing like "Cat" on sam and cat kids dont watch normal tv and arent aware of who she really is
Teen, 15 years old written by brandonneo6425

South park is funnier and more informative. Actually,I'm surprised Cartman didn't make the list. He's said and done some pretty horrid things over the course of the show.

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