High school sex-ed programs have come a long way since flour babies and fragile egg infants.
Students across the world are being tasked with looking after a bundle of robotic joy to educate kids about the pressures of parenting. But the effort to prevent teenage pregnancy has possibly backfired -- at least in Australia, where 57 institutions took part in a study conducted by the Telethon Kids Institute at The University of Western Australia.
The six-day Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) program included educational sessions, a documentary about teen moms and an infant simulator. For two days, one group of girls cared for a lifelike doll that cried when it needed to be fed, burped, rocked or changed; another control group did not. An internal monitoring system documented mishandling, crying time, the number of changes and general care.
The girls were 13 to 15 at the time; program organizers then checked in with them periodically until age 20 to see if they had become pregnant. According to their findings, those enrolled in the VIP program experienced higher rates of pregnancy and termination: 8 percent (97 of 1,267) had at least one birth, compared to 4 percent (67 of 1,567) in the control group. Similarly, 9 percent (113/1,267) underwent an abortion, vs. 6 percent (101/1,567).
"Our study shows that the pregnancy prevention program… does not reduce the risk of pregnancy in teenage girls," lead author Sally Brinkman of the Telethon Kids Institute, said in a statement. "In fact, the risk of pregnancy is actually increased."
It remains unclear exactly why the program failed, though the girls only had to care for their robot babies for two days, presumably not enough time for them to have to cope with missing out on normal teen activities or deal with the financial pressure of being a teen mom. As London-based youth counselor Janette Collins told the Financial Times in October, these programs can give girls the confidence to cope with motherhood.
There's also the fact that fathers are left out of the experiment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. teen birth rate for those ages 15 to 19 dropped 19 percent between 2013 and 2014 to 249,078. Overall, it has dropped 61 percent since 1991, but it is still higher than many other developed countries, including Canada and the United Kingdom.