I currently teach child development in a mostly white, socially privileged high school. I have also taught child development in an urban setting with mostly black, under privileged students. Within the child development classroom, both groups have one common bond: they all want to have a baby.
No, they do not want to have a real baby but a RealCare® Baby, a baby doll crafted from “soft vinyl” that simulates newborn behavior from birth to three months old. These baby dolls come in an assortment of ethnicities within which there is a choice of male or female and the students cannot wait to take one home. This is the main reason why a 14 - 15 year old, largely female population with the occasional token male, whether privileged or under privileged, takes the class.
Their quest to take home a baby begins when they enter the classroom. Unfortunately, these students must wait almost six months, three months shy of a normal pregnancy to achieve their goal. Along the way they engage in many activities that help them to acquire knowledge regarding developmental theorists, types of families, female and male sexual anatomy, sexually transmitted infections, and how to get pregnant. More knowledge is acquired about how to have a healthy pregnancy, developing fetuses and birth defects, how babies are born, and what happens to newborns after birth. I say knowledge is acquired because a student must have at least a B average to take home a baby. This is incentive to learn as almost no one gets below a B. Once the baby has been “born” in class, the students finally get to pick a baby to bring home for the weekend.
The RealCare® Baby of choice is named by the student and programmed by the educator to “turn on” at 3:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon and to “turn off” on Monday morning at 7:00 a.m. when they are returned to school. The simulation is based on real babies’ schedules. Realityworks, the company that invented the RealCare® Baby, observed and recorded the timing and duration of activities such as eating, burping, urinating, defecating, and the amount of time the babies just needed to be held and comforted during a 24 hour cycle. A real babies’ 24 hour schedule is then programmed into a RealCare® Baby. If the RealCare® Baby is in use longer than 24 hours, a combination of schedules are used to prevent memorization of the schedule. There is actually a different cry used for each activity taped from a real baby and if the students pay close enough attention, they begin to discern the difference between the ‘need to be fed’ cry and the ‘diaper change’ cry. The educator can program easy, medium, hard or random baby schedules, allow for babysitting, or program quiet hours if necessary. There is an infant wardrobe, car seats, Snuggli baby carriers, and even a tab that can be pinned to a bra to simulate breast-feeding.
To have a successful stimulation the student must:
- NEVER drop the head.
- Decide why the RealCare® Baby is crying...Does it need a diaper change? To be fed? Burped? Or just held and rocked?
- Begin care within a minute or so or the RealCare® Baby starts to cry louder.... and louder.
- Hold The RealCare® Baby during feeding as the simulator can tell if the bottle is propped.
If all goes well, the student returns the well-cared for RealCare® Baby, a report is generated depicting how well the student responded to the baby’s demands, and the simulation is finished. It is to be hoped that the teenage has had a stressed filled, sleep deprived, anxiety ridden weekend that will result in the obvious conclusion to ‘wait until you are older to have sex so you will not get pregnant and have to take care of a baby.’
All of this as a deterrent to teenage pregnancy: I am not allowed to teach about birth control or to bring in a speaker from Planned Parenthood. Realityworks is a research-based program. My question remains - Does the RealCare® Baby experience really discourage teens from getting pregnant? Wouldn’t comprehensive sex education, which includes birth control information, be more effective?
Dr. Peggy Drexler wrote about a cultural time slip in the 50’s when females began acquiring female sexual independence but lacked access to birth control. (The birth rate in 1957 reached a historic high of 96.3 per 1,000.) Sexual freedom was liberating but sometimes the girls ended up “in trouble.” The disgraced family would arrange an intervention in which the culprit was removed from the community and their life, along with their child were taken away. Nowadays teenage pregnancy is no longer a secret. It has risen from hidden shame to primetime programming beginning with Juno, which purported a happily ever after ending. Glee’s Quinn Fabray carries a baby to full term with no apparent consequences, a Juno reinforcement, and Teen Mom’s search for the next batch of actors has many girls asking what they can do to score a role. Legislating media content is no longer an option. Sex sells and these days media espouses increasingly more sex with inconsistent illustrations of condom use to anyone who has access to a screen.
While the CDC (2009) reported that birth rates for teenagers ages 15-17 declined in 31 states from 2007 to a historic low across all age groups, ethnicities, and races, the U.S. still has one of the highest overall rates of teenage births in comparison to other industrialized nations.
Some facts associated with teen pregnancies:
$9 BILLION: Annual cost of teen childbearing to federal, state and local taxpayers in lower taxes paid and greater demands on public services.
25 PERCENT: Teen moms who go on welfare within three years of the child’s birth.
34 PERCENT: Teen moms who don’t earn their high school diploma or GED by age 22, compared to 6 percent of childless girls.
LESS THAN 2 PERCENT: Moms with babies before age 18 who earn a college degree by age 30.
66 PERCENT: Children of teen moms who graduate from high school compared to 81 percent of children with older parents.
66 PERCENT: Families started by teens that live in poverty.
And what comes as no surprise given the current political climate; the current House-passed 2011 Federal Budget Bill is one giant step backwards in the fight to reduce teen-age pregnancy:
- “Family Planning: The bill entirely eliminates funding for the title X Family Planning program, which received $317 million in FY 2010. This program helps support family planning and reproductive health services to more than 5 million people annually at 4,500 community-based clinics. Grantees include state and local health departments, hospitals, community health centers, and private nonprofit organizations. Services provided include the full range of contraceptive services, as well as screening and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, cancer and HIV screenings, education, and other preventive services” (Doyle, 2011).
- “Teen Pregnancy Prevention: The bill also eliminates funding for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program (which received appropriations of $110 million in FY 2010). This program makes competitive grants to public agencies and private nonprofit organizations to support evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention efforts” (Doyle, 2011).
Clearly we would be better off preventing teen-age pregnancies. I teach now in a predominantly white community within a privileged socioeconomic status. While no single program model is appropriate for all communities or teenage mothers the Rand Corporation reported that the choice of programs should reflect “community attitudes, dispersal of students, and number of pregnancies.” Culturally in my community, the teenage girls do not want to end up pregnant but they do want to enjoy sexual agency and they do want the experience of being a mom for a weekend. Why not use the RealCare® Babies to provide a pleasant interactive learning experience about caring for a newborn and let me teach about how to enjoy sex without the fear of pregnancy through the use of birth control?
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