It’s a far–and loud–cry from the inanimate sack of flour once given to high schoolers to show the horrors of teen parenthood. It cries until you “soothe” it; its neck needs constant supporting; it even wakes up for regular middle-of-the-night feedings.

It’s Baby Think It Over, a prop educators have been using for several years in their campaign against teen pregnancies. What’s new is this: The latest model of these dolls seems more real than ever–thanks to an imbedded computer chip.

Just how a computer-enhanced baby doll fits into the curriculum can be seen in Prowers County, Colo. With a teen pregnancy rate that’s roughly twice the statewide average of 12 percent, the county has invested in a program that aims to help teens realize the responsibility and commitment that come with unwanted pregnancies.

Girls and boys participating in teacher Tina Corning’s Consumer & Family Studies classes were given the dolls on Feb. 13. Corning and a fellow teacher dressed in scrubs to hand the cooing, crying, and screaming “infants” to their new parents–along with hospital bills.

The dolls were purchased by the Prowers County Department of Social Services. Corning said she just happened to mention the idea to agency worker Carla Werk, who initiated purchase of 20 dolls.

Each doll cost $300. The agency also bought 20 infant car seats for students to use to get the babies to and from school. The agency spent $9,000 from some excess family assistance funds.

“This was one way we felt we could do something to impact the teen pregnancy rate in Prowers County,” Linda Fairbairn, director of the Prowers County Department of Social Services, told the Denver Post.

Other programs, such as giving the students a 5-pound sack of flour to represent the burden of having a baby, didn’t go far enough, she said.

In an attempt at verisimilitude, a computer chip in the back of each doll makes it cry at programmed intervals. The dolls also can be programmed to have easy, normal, or difficult temperaments. The county bought a number of ethnic dolls, including African-American, Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanic dolls.

When the doll cries, it must be soothed with a key the student inserts in a slot in the doll’s back. Sometimes holding the baby quiets it after only a few minutes, Corning said; sometimes only after 30 minutes. A database inside the doll keeps track of any neglect or abuse.

“This gives them as close to a real-life experience as we can give them without putting a real, live infant at risk,” Fairbairn said.

There’s also a drug-affected doll, Corning said, but it doesn’t go home with the students. The doll cries every five minutes, Corning said, for a full minute each time, and its cry is so shrill that it’s used for only demonstration purposes.

The dolls smell like real babies and weigh about 7 pounds. The crying and cooing happen at random intervals–even in the middle of the night–and the tamper-resistant design means students can’t turn them off.

Although $9,000 might sound like a big investment for dolls, Fairbairn said, the program will pay for itself if it prevents even one teen-age birth next year, saving the county the public assistance costs needed to care for that child.

Each of Corning’s seniors will have an opportunity to care for the doll for six days. The teacher hopes her students will learn not only about the responsibility of parenthood, but also the basic skills involved in caring for babies.

Baby Think It Over educational program

http://btio.com