It was called Baby Think It Over, and the idea was that if you gave a teen-age girl a life-size realistic-looking baby doll that cried every time it needed something, the girl would decide that taking care of a baby was such a miserable, life-sapping experience that she would never, ever want to get pregnant. She would "think it over"–hence the name.
Here's a glowing 2010 report in Education World on Baby Think It Over, later renamed RealCareBaby, which has become a staple of sex-education classes all over American and elsewhere in the developed world–even thought each doll costs a whopping $1,230 of your tax dollars:
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….
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."
Except that it now turns out that Sara Evans was either an outlier or was telling her teacher what the teacher wanted to hear. The Washington Post reports on a just-published study in the medical journal Lancet about a random trial involving 1,267 Australian high-school girls given the robot babies plus a control group of 1,567 girls.
Girls who participated in the virtual infant parenting, or VIP, program were more likely to become pregnant or have an abortion by their early 20s than those who did not, the authors found….
The trial period represented three years’ worth of robot interventions, from 2003 and 2006, involving 57 schools in Australia. The authors report that 8 percent of the girls who cared for infant dolls had at least one baby by age 20, whereas only 4 percent of the control group did; similarly, 9 percent of the VIP group had at least one abortion, compared with 6 percent of the non-doll group during that time.
The researchers are now scratching their heads trying to figure out what went wrong. Here's one idea:
“Anecdotally, a lot of the students really enjoyed the program,” study author Sally Brinkman, of Australia’s Telethon Kids Institute, told the Sydney Morning Herald. “There was a lot of positivity around the program, so it didn’t really work in putting the kids off.”
In other words, many young girls and young women actually find motherhood and infant care–even simulated motherhood and infant care–to be a highly enjoyable experience, despite all the demands.
Who'd've thought that?