In my high school, getting your robot baby from Coach Mac, the health teacher, was something of a rite of passage. Anyone who wanted extra credit could scribble their name on the sign-up sheet she kept on her desk under the full-color posters of gonorrhea cancroids. When the appointed weekend came, you took your dead-eyed screaming robot doll home in a (what I now recognize as a comically light) plastic car seat and enjoy a weekend of what was supposed to be the most effective birth control ever — the closest thing to an actual baby that adults can ethically give a class of 15-year-olds.
Apparently, they still do that in health class. What’s more, a study recently discovered that the infant “simulators” don’t really serve the intended purpose of preventing pregnancy, and in fact might have the opposite effect.
The simulated babies, for background, are little doll-like things that are programmed to scream and cry and scream and cry and occasionally shut up if you burp it long enough after you “feed” it or were otherwise savvy enough to disable its most annoying feature (we were) by turning it off prematurely. It’s supposed to annoy you so much that you’ll guard your carnal treasure until marriage, or — barring that — understand the importance of birth control. A little taste of the possible consequences of premarital sex, as it were.
The study, published in the The Lancet, looked at data from nearly 3,000 teen girls who cared for the robot squaller and a similar number of girls in control schools who received standard health education with no dolls and found that in the group that participated in the Virtual Infant Program were more likely to have had a baby before they turned 20 — 8 percent to the non-participatory group’s 4 percent. Oh, they were more likely to have had an abortion too.
If I could just interject one more time here: Duh.
When you’re graded on how well you do with Baby Think-It-Over, you’re rewarded for being an excellent teen mother. If you manage to actually ace the automaton infant challenge, all you’ve really learned is that having a wee screaming thing by your side all night isn’t actually all that bad.
When I was younger, we weren’t graded on how great we did with the baby. You could be the best fake mom ever — “cheat” by jamming the shut-up key into its back; or neglect it into a macabre robotic death and still end up with 50 extra-credit points. We didn’t want to take Baby Think-It-Over home to prove how great we were at momming. We wanted to take Baby Think-It-Over because it was fun, and if it turned out to actually suck instead, you still came out of it with the points.
And if your kid takes it home? It’s a toy, essentially. A tangible Sims avatar, not to mention a great way to get a little attention. Everyone wants to know why you have a creepy fake baby, and the combination of a ‘roided-up pocket pet and a little extra positive reinforcement is like crack to teens. We loved it. Just like we loved the fake pregnancy belly that you could wear around for a school day for an extra 25 points on your end of semester overall grade. It was acceptable imaginative play — grown-up baby doll nurturing and dress-up.
If the point was that babies were no fun, most of us missed the point. Most kids today, as it’s now confirmed (thanks, science!), miss the point too.
At least where Baby Think-It-Over is concerned.
Fortunately for my classmates and I — apparently, unlike most sex-ed programs, Baby Wasted-Weekend was offered to both the boys and girls in Coach Mac’s Sex-edstravaganza — we knew something that a lot of public school kids taking abstinence-only sex-ed don’t, which is how to prevent a pregnancy. Robot baby didn’t even factor into it. To actually pass the class, you had to know the efficacy of different types of birth control. You had to be able to correctly answer test questions about reproductive health and how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
But that’s not how it is for a lot of kids today. They’re fed a lot of misinformation about chewed-up gum and what does and does not make you a good human being (having The Sex; not having The Sex) and then sent home with a digitized scare-baby to try and keep them chaste, which — also duh — is an extremely shitty way to keep teenagers out of the maternity wing of the hospital.
You can’t really scare teenagers into doing anything, let alone keep them from mashing their junks together. They just see stuff like this as a challenge. And when you make it a fun challenge? Especially for kids like mine who will voluntarily spend hours designing a fake house for a fake video game cat? All you’ll teach them is that not only can they handle the challenges of teen motherhood, but it might even make them a little more popular in study hall.
Assuming the robot baby teen motherhood experience is still an option for my kid when she gets to high school, I fully believe that she would jump at the opportunity to lug around a fake infant for the ultimate in mundane LARPing, and I would fully support her decision to do that. Not because I hope to scare her into a state of perpetual virginity in the short term and crippling sexual dysfunction in the long run, but because I know that I won’t be relying on a plastic doll to teach her about responsibility. I’m not so terrified of uttering words like “vagina” and “ejaculation” and “condom” in front of her that I’d rather hand over the important task of keeping her out of Lamaze class to a creepy, overpriced plasti-tot.
The truth is, if you want to teach teenagers how to prevent pregnancy, you actually have to, you know, teach them. Because when it comes right down to it, it’s smart, safe sex and competent sexual health education that do the trick, not a baby that can be shoved in a closet at 2 a.m. and ignored.