Study About Fake Babies and Teen Pregnancy

August 26th 2016

Tricia Tongco

Sex education is a contentious issue in the United States, and a new study has raised serious concerns about a popular sex ed practice: giving teens fake babies to help prevent pregnancy.

The Australian study found that girls attending schools with "baby simulator programs" were actually "36 percent more likely to become pregnant by the time they’re 20 than those in schools that don’t," Salon reported. The trial involved roughly 2,800 female students from 57 schools, and it followed them from the age range of 13 to 15 until age 20.

The dolls are designed to appear and behave like real babies, requiring feeding, diapering, and burping around the clock. Reality Works, the company that manufactures and distributes them, uses the dolls as a tool within an educational program that is meant to show teenagers “the physical, emotional, social, and financial consequences of becoming pregnant and dealing with parenthood.”

Why did this happen?

In addition to teen pregnancy prevention, the company’s target purpose is to teach parenting skills. It seems that these two seemingly opposite aims overlapped to an unexpected result, inspiring teens to become parents.

Sally Brinkman, lead author and associate professor at Telethon Kids Institute at University of Western Australia told ABC News:

"'A lot of the teenagers become attached to their fake babies' and it allows the administrators 'to engage the teenagers,' Brinkman said.

"If they participated in the infant simulator program, teen girls were not only more likely to be pregnant, but also more likely to keep their pregnancies, according to Brinkman."

In response to the study’s findings, Reality Works issued a statement to ABC News:

"'The study being released today by The Lancet was not a representation of our curriculum and simulator learning modality but the researchers 'adaptation' and is consequently not reflective of our product nor its efficacy,' Timm Boettcher told ABC News. 'The RealCare Program, is a combination of curriculum and hands-on aids, and if they are being tested and judged for effectiveness should be judged in their entirety.'"

The state of sex education in the U.S.

Only 24 states require sex education in public schools in the United States, and 26 states require that abstinence be stressed. In a huge step forward, Obama cut funding to abstinence-only education in his 2017 federal budget.

Monica Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) previously told ATTN:

"Despite how some adults would like the world to be, the reality is that the majority of young people in the United States have sex during their teen years. In fact, the majority of young people in the U.S. have sex before they graduate high school."

So what's a better approach?

"We need to give them the skills to make that decision for themselves and to communicate that decision and if necessary, defend that decision," Rodriguez said. "Unfortunately many abstinence-only education programs don't provide that information."

[h/t Salon]