It’s time to throw out the baby.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve had to deal with students coming to my workshops and events toting crying plastic dolls all geared out with bottles, blankies and a car seat. Just as we’re tucking into a really great discussion, the artificial tot starts to scream, the eye rolling, groaning, and laughing commence, and everything screeches to a halt while the terrorizing toy is attended to.
You know the program, right?
Teen girls (Yep – just girls) are assigned one of these faux newborns for a short period of time – typically a week. The battery operated bundle of joy uses wireless programming to track and report on the care it receives from its teen parent; diaper changes, feeding, mishandling actions, (which we can assume to mean ignoring, shaking or dropping ) and time in a car seat etc.
The theory is that given this short inconvenience (one that the teen knows will end in a few days) a young lady will abstain from sexual activity. Lesson learned. Teen pregnancy problem solved. It could be called “Annoyed Sexless.”
The interesting twist to this theory is that there is almost no evidence that this approach works. In fact it might make the problem worse. In a 2016 study, girls who went through the baby reality program were 51% more likely to become pregnant teens than their peers who didn’t go through the program. This held true even when the researchers made allowances for factors like socioeconomic status.
Not the magic doll you were looking for?
There is no question that helping teens transition into a productive, healthy adulthood is a daunting challenge. Adolescents get more sexually transmitted diseases than any other age group, they get in trouble with the law more than any other age group; and when they drive cars, they drive faster than any other age. But if we’re really going to improve outcomes for the generation that will manage our Social Security and care for us in our old age, we’ve got to do better than these synthetic polymer newborns.
- Education that encourages both abstinence and contraceptive use. And no, educating a teen about sex does not lead to promiscuity. According to Johns Hopkins University researchers, “Young women who have had sex education appear less likely than those who have not to become pregnant. “
- Service learning and other approaches that engage young people constructively in their communities and schools. Why? It builds empathy; the ability to think about how one’s actions can impact others – and a key attribute in good decision-making.
- Accessible services like health care, academic assistance, sex education, performing arts and individual sports programs, and employment assistance.
- Relationships – with pro-social peers, and with adults who care about them.
- And my favorite: Inspiring kids to find their passion and run toward their interests rather than scare tactics designed to get them to run away from taking control of their own futures.
P.S. Way back in the day, my fellow seniors and I were required to take a class called “Adult Living” that included a low-tech version of this charade. By carrying around an uncooked egg and returning it unscathed, we would miraculously be inspired to abstinence. Of course by then we had already been experimenting with “adult living,” and it’s quite a leap from the dozen back-up eggs it took to get an “A” to having knowledge sufficient to being healthy and safe. After almost forty years isn’t it about time for something that really works?