Programs as “Baby Think It Over” try to raise awareness about teenage pregnancy in young women, but a study showed that in fact is encouraging teenagers to get pregnant instead of preventing it. According to an Australian research, girls who had to use robot baby dolls are more likely to get pregnant and to have an abortion before their 20s than those who had not take care of a robot doll.
The reasons have been not concluded, but it is believed that the program makes it look appealing to have a baby even if you are a teenager, rather than scared girls of such responsibility.
The study involved girls between 13 to 15 years old that enrolled in the Virtual Infant Parenting Program (VIP), the Australian version of America’s “Baby Think It Over.” Teenagers were giving a baby simulator to take care over the weekend, and the robot acts like a real baby. The doll can simulate sleeping and feeding habits, and it can cry to let the girl know that it is time to fed the baby. The bot can burp, it can be rocked or changed.
The robot save data of when it is changed and feed and in the worse scenario, when the teenager let the fake baby “die.”
The trial studied young girls from 57 schools in Western Australia, a total of 1567 students. The results showed that 8 percent of the teens that enrolled in the parenting program were more likely to get pregnant in their adolescence, against 4 percent of girls that did not take care of the robot baby.
Regarding pregnancies, 17 percent of the teenagers that were part of the VIP got pregnant versus 11 percent of those that were in the control group. And when it came to abortions, 9 percent of schoolgirls that interacted with the robot dolls had an abortion compared to 6 percent of the control group.
Girls in the VIP also attended to education sessions where nurses teach cover pregnancy, proper nutrition, the financial costs that come with a baby, sexual health -including contraception- and how to keep respectful relationships.
The study followed participants until they become 20 years old, and the trial lasted three years of the Virtual Infant Parenting Program, from 2003 to 2006. The research paper was published on Friday in the International journal The Lancet and was carry by the Telethon Kids Institute, the same one that created the VIP.
Getting pregnant in your teens: Is it a way to get attention or is it because baby robot programs do not include the other parent?
The lead author of the research, Dr. Sally Brinkman, stated that they still do not know what is the cause of the program’s failure, but said there are some theories.
According to the study, taking care of the robot baby for a weekend could make teenage girls enjoy the challenge and the attention that comes with it. Brinkman says that anecdotally, lots of the girls that participated in the program shared they enjoy the experience, instead of reacting as expected saying they were too young to be a mother or that parenthood is a difficult challenge they might face when they are adults.
The theory regarding attention comes from the fact that a significant number of schoolgirls got positive attention from family, friends, and even strangers while they were babysitting the robot doll.
Another reason could be that the experience is a challenge and girls feel they have managed it. Some teenagers in the program believe that because they survived a weekend with the baby bot, they are capable of dealing with a real little human being.
Jannette Collins, a London-based youth counselor, told the Financial Times last October that girls who have the best performance during the programs are the ones that need to be look out for because they are the people who want to experience the real thing. The program accidentally teaches some teenagers than they can cope with a baby.
Another reason behind teenage pregnancy after the programs could be because the assignment is only for girls. Boys do not have to take the program with girls and parenthood, in most of the cases, is about two people raising a child.
Dr. Julie Quinlivan at the University of Notre Dame, Australia, stated that the intervention fails to make girls understand that an early pregnancy is something to be avoided because boys are not involved in the process.
Quinlivan is an accompanying editorial in the Lancet, and she wrote that programs such as “Baby Think It First,” the Virtual Infant Parenting Program, and many others used in more than 89 countries, neglect “the fathers.”
According to Dr. Quinlivan, many teen girls idealized parenthood, and an efficient intervention is needed since primary school, especially for children that faced adversity in early childhood. She continued and said that by the time girls reach secondary education, they already have the idea deep in their brains, and it might evolve to a conscious desire of having a baby to address subconscious evolutionary fears.
Quinlivan added that society cannot afford a “quick fix,” especially when it does not work.
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald