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"Baby" Helps Teens Think It Over!

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A computerized doll, programmed to mirror the needs of a real baby, shows teens what parenting is really like.

Baby weighs about 6-1/2 pounds and is 21 inches long. Wearing a diaper and an adorable T-shirt, she cries at random intervals, just like an infant.

But despite her resemblance to a human infant, baby is a doll. And she's not just any doll. Far more purposeful than playful, she and her male counterpart are designed to make young people experience what being a parent is like. RealCare® Baby is the trade name for the doll produced by Realityworks.

Each year in the United States, 20 percent of teenage girls who are sexually active become pregnant. The United States leads the developed nations in teen pregnancy, with twice the teen pregnancies of Canada and nine times the number of Japan. The makers of RealCare Baby want to help reverse those trends.

HOW BABY WAS BORN

RealCare Baby (formerly called Baby Think It Over) is the brainchild of Mary Jurmain, now company president, and her husband, Rick Jurmain, vice president, who oversees new product development. They invented the doll in 1994 and now employ 28 people at their headquarters in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Actually part of a total parenting simulation program, RealCare Baby is extremely realistic, life-sized, and computerized -- designed to simulate an actual baby's need for attention and care from its temporary teen parent.

The dolls come in either gender, and with Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, African-American, Light-Skinned African-American, and Native American appearances. They cost about $250 each. Program extension products to make the parenting experience more realistic include a stroller, diaper bag, infant car seat and carrier, birth certificates, and T-shirts.

TEACHERS' STORIES

RealCare Baby is the centerpiece of many pregnancy prevention programs in high schools, middle schools, churches, and community centers. More than 40,000 RealCare Baby dolls have now found homes across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. A number of teachers find the experience of parenting the dolls effective in changing students' attitudes toward parenthood.

Jim Britton, a health and physical education teacher at Chippewa Falls Middle School in Wisconsin, says his school has had a dramatic reduction in teen pregnancy as a result of using the RealCare Baby program. Parents have supported the program because it opens up lines of communication between them and their children about pregnancy and parenting. Local media have also covered the program, creating more support for it.

Another teacher also says that the program works well: "Everyone wants to take 'em [the babies] home, but nobody wants to keep 'em" because the simulated infants are too demanding and require too much time.

When the doll cries, teachers observe, it sounds very much like a real baby. "This is a reality check," says Elizabeth Hamilton, of the Drop In Learning Center in New London, Connecticut.

According to David Ruetsch of Marcellus (N.Y.) Central High School, students who experience "parenting" the dolls say, "I do not want a child at my age."

THE EXPERIENCE OF ONE CLASS

Beth Jennings' family and consumer science class at Hancock County High School in Kentucky uses the RealCare Baby program, with each student keeping a doll for three days and three nights. What does Jennings want her students (both girls and boys) to learn from the simulated parenting experience. "I hope they gain an awareness of the need to be responsible in their present life-style and what's needed to care for children," she told the Hancock (Ky.) Clarion.

Every time a doll cries, whether it's 2 in the afternoon or 2 a.m., the student places a plastic key in the doll's monitor to quiet it. The student holds the key for as long as it would take to feed, bathe, or diaper an infant. Students also keep a journal of their experience.

The doll has three options of crying levels that the instructor can set: Sometimes she sets the doll so that it is "colicky" and cries every two hours. Removing the doll battery pack to quiet the doll doesn't work; if a student does that, the doll will shut down and register being abused.

After just one weekend of taking care of a doll, Sara Evans, a sophomore at the high school, decided to finish her education before having a baby. "Your social life and time to yourself just drops, and that was just for three days," she said. "You have to put your life on hold and just take care of another life."

Article by Sharon Cromwell
Education World®
Copyright © 2010 Education World

RELATED SITES

RealityWorks/Baby Think It Over
Since this article was first published in 1998, a new generation of babies has been introduced. This Web site, home of RealCare Baby, provides information about the latest products from the company that created Baby Think It Over.

The Parenting Project
The mission of the Parenting Project, a relatively new, not-for-profit organization, is "preparing tomorrow's parents today." The project addresses the issues of child abuse, neglect and abandonment, teen pregnancy, and overall violence, and favors making parenting education part of the curriculum for all school children.

Urban Institute Press Release
"Involving Males in Preventing Teen Pregnancy" is a guide for teen-pregnancy-prevention program planners from the Urban Institute. The guide explains why young men need to be a focus of teen pregnancy prevention efforts, and how that can be accomplished. To order a copy of the guide, call the Urban Institute Publications Office at 202-857-8687.

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