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Program to Prevent Teen Pregnancy with Virtual Babies Backfires

Teen pregnancy

By Lisa Pecos

It may seem like something out of an 80s sitcom, but giving teen girls lifelike baby dolls to care for as a way to dissuade them from getting pregnant is something that has been going on for years. A recent study out of Australia, however, has found that this may actually have the opposite effect on teen girls.

Virtual Babies

A virtual baby or infant simulator is a lifelike doll that cries and needs to be soothed, fed, burped, and changed. Programs geared at reducing teen pregnancy often use these virtual babies as a way to show teens the stress and responsibility involved with having a baby in the hopes of putting them off of wanting a baby.

The Study

A paper published in The Lancet, found that teen girls given these virtual babies became pregnant at a higher rate than their peers in a control group.

The study involved 3000 Australian girls aged 13 to 15 at enrollment and followed them until they reached the age of 20. Half of the girls received the intervention program in school while the half in the control group received the standard health education curriculum. The results showed that the girls in the intervention group who’d been given the VIP program using infant simulator dolls were more likely to get pregnant and give birth or have an induced abortion before the age of 20 than those in the control group.

Teen Pregnancy

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 249,078 babies were born to women aged 15 to 19 in 2014. Though this is lower than the previous year, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is still considerably higher than in other industrialized western nations.

Pregnancy and childbirth contribute to high school dropout rates with only 50 percent of teen mothers receiving a high school diploma by age 22 in comparison to their peers who don’t give birth during adolescent; 90 percent of which graduate.

The CDC also reported that in 2010, teen pregnancy and childbirth resulted in 9.4 billion dollars in costs to taxpayers for increased foster care and health care, higher incarceration rates among the children born to teen parents. Children of teenage mothers tend to drop out of school, have more health problems, give birth as teenagers, go to prison during adolescence, and find it difficult to achieve or maintain employment as young adults.

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