"Baby Think it Over" helps Family Life students simulate the reality of teen pregnancy
I wanted the baby so bad. It was so cute. He had the cutest cry, and when he was done [crying] he'd coo," says senior Kathryn Simpson. "I was so sad when I had to give him back. I was like, ‘That's my baby!'"
But Simpson's baby was made of cloth and plastic with a computer chip embedded into its neck, programmed to make it cry sporadically day and night. The doll and others like it are used by Blair's Family Life class, which is spending the semester simulating the trials and tribulations of teen parenting with Planned Parenthood's "Baby Think It Over" program.
Oh baby, baby
Each weekend, four students take an electronic baby home to care for during the following 48 hours. The baby's imbedded computer chip records the number of times it is left unattended when crying. Like a real baby, the doll will cry several times during the night, forcing its surrogate parent to wake up accordingly and soothe it using a special key that only he or she can control.
Junior Mercy Ankomah recalls that her electronic baby really became an annoyance in her life. "[The baby] was always there," she says. "When the baby was crying I had to stop everything I was doing and feed him. Even when I was asleep, the baby would get up during the night."
In addition, Blazers must take the dolls everywhere they go, often causing passersby to openly gape at them. Junior Chiquita Serpas attracted several double-takes as she walked down the street with her baby and the strangers discovered she was holding not an actual baby, but a doll.
Simpson, who is white, was assigned an African American baby. As soon as she entered Price Club with it, she says she sensed the glances directed at her and her doll. "There were three ways they looked at me," she says. "What's that teenager doing with a baby, what's that white girl doing with a black baby or what's that teenage girl doing with a baby doll?"
As a result of her experience, Simpson sympathizes with the emotional consequences of strangers' negative reactions to teen parents. The stares she received were hard to interpret, she says, and they made her uncomfortable, regardless of whether they hinted at approval or disgust.
Jennifer Shattles, who teaches the Health and the Family Life class, believes that the electronic baby experience helps teens gain a better perspective on teen parenthood. "They are getting a taste of having to be completely responsible for something besides themselves," she says. "For those students who think that it wouldn't be a ‘big deal' to have a baby in high school, I think this does a good job of finding out."
Senior Stacy Sharp says that her experience with the electronic baby has made her more sympathetic to the situations of teen parents. "Now I know how it feels to be woken up at 2:00 a.m.," she says, laughing.
Far cry from reality
When senior Herson Romero, whose real-life baby lives with its mother, took his electronic baby to work with him, the new baby surprised his co-workers. "It was pretty cool, but everyone was surprised, you know, me being a father again, you know, where'd the baby come from?" he says.
Romero believes that the electronic babies do not provide an accurate simulation of teen parenthood. "The baby didn't do poo-poo or doo-doo, didn't eat, didn't pee. You didn't have to clean up after it, feed it," he says.
And the baby's expenses do not need to be covered. "You don't have to pay for it, support it—and that's the biggest part," says Romero.
Sharp agrees. "We didn't have to deal with the money issue, diapers, bottles," she says.
According to Jon Benson, Education and Training Manager at Planned Parenthood in Oregon, the time span that the students keep the dolls for may be too short to be consequential. "It seems somewhat absurd to think that one weekend with a doll will have a tremendous impact on a young couple in love," says Benson.
Despite her own doubts about the program's effectiveness, Simpson believes that the two-day experience was beneficial to herself and to her classmates. "Overall it was a really good experience," she says. "I would do it again."
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