NEWBURYPORT — When it comes to parenting norms, the PTO and its power to mobilize on behalf of schools and children has historically been the domain of mommies.
But a group of dads from the River Valley Charter School is proving that guys aren’t adverse to taking on some of the good work moms have been doing for decades to build strong bonds between school and the home.
And tonight, this group of modern dads is sounding the alarm about how the sexualization of the country’s boys and girls is threatening the next generation, sponsoring the visit of well-known author and educational pioneer Jean Kilbourne for a one-night-only speaking engagement at the Old South Church on Federal Street at 7.
“The impetus for this was to build bridges (with other local schools) and to really have a series that is addressing issues for parents which may or may not already be addressed in the schools,” said RVCS Dads Group President John Badalament.
“The schools already have so much they’re trying to address, so we wanted to enhance and augment what’s going on in the schools. What Jean is going to do is help parents understand the world of pop culture and media imagery and make sense of how that impacts boys and girls at different ages.”
It was 38 years ago that Kilbourne began sounding alarm about the dangerous methods being used to sell products at the expense of women, screening her film “Killing Us Softly” across college campuses and high schools and getting the message out about how unrealistic and sometimes violent images of young women being sold to consumers was harming young girls.
With her message resonating across high school and college campuses, Kilbourne continued making videos, authoring books and speaking out. Looking back over 40 years, she’s sad to say the media’s impact on girls has only gotten worse, and the media climate has become just as hostile toward boys.
In discussing material from her new book, “So Sexy, So Soon; How Media images in Pop Culture impact Boys and Girls, and What parents can do about it,” Kilbourne plans to lay out for parents who attend her lecture how these increasingly harmful images are robbing their boys and girls of their childhood and compromising their future.
“It’s very new,” said Kilbourne. “What people often don’t realize is how early this starts. Tiny children — children at the age of 3 — are worried about being fat or not being sexy or they’re playing sexual games in kindergarten without really knowing what that is. They’re being deluged by this.”
Research is clear on the impacts a sexualized childhood has on girls, said Kilbourne, who cites high rates of depression, eating disorders, and low self-esteem.
“The same kind of research hasn’t been done for boys, but my feeling is boys are harmed in a slightly different way,” said Kilbourne.
For girls growing up in an age where pornography has become mainstream, the singers girls grow up idolizing dress like porn stars and pole dance around stage to sell themselves to an increasingly desensitized audience. Naturally this serves as an ideal image for them to live up to, when they’re not trying to live up to images from magazines of dangerously thin models and photo-shopped faces designed to make them buy products.
Boys don’t fare much better, said Kilbourne.
“From what I know about the research that’s been done on boys in general, they’re put into a really narrow box of masculinity and what it means to be a man. It’s defined primarily by being not at all like a girl, and promotes a kind of contempt for women and femininity.”
Both boys and girls learning about sex for the first time are likely in this new media age to learn about it from porn sites that are available to them as never before, with a shocking number of those sites actually being marketed to this audience and free of charge.
“The things that people need to understand is it’s overwhelmingly brutal, violent and misogynistic,” said Kilbourne. “That’s not my opinion. The vast majority of porn is that way because people get desensitized very easily by porn, so they have to keep upping the ante. Yet that’s become mainstream, and sadly a lot of our kids are learning about sex from porn. They’re learning really awful things.”
In their attempt toward attaining this ideal, said Kilbourne, girls have become victims like never before.
Kilbourne’s speaking engagement is free of charge and open to the public. The event is also sponsored by the Newburyport Public Schools Parent Alliance, the Jeanne Geiger Crisis Center, Girls Inc. of the Seacoast Area, Blue the Inn on the Beach, Jabberwocky, and the Rupert A. Nock PTO. RSVP is recommended via www.rvcsjeankilbourne.eventbrite.com.
As the author of the book “The Modern Dad’s Dilemma; How to Stay Connected with your Kids in a Rapidly Changing World,” John Badalament started the RVCS Dads group four years ago, as his own two children were coming of school age. Since then the offshoot of the RVCS Parent Alliance has really taken off, with the group plugging dads into activities of every kind ranging from “Dad and child” bowling excursions to pancake breakfasts for the whole family. And since many RVCS Dads have kids who attend the Bresnahan, Molin, Nock or Newburyport High School, and other schools in the RVCS service area, this speaker event — a first for the group — is their attempt at building a bridge from their school to the wider school community. The subject matter to be discussed by Kilbourne, said Badalament, is something that all parents are dealing with in raising kids today.