The local junior high does a project called ‘Baby Think It Over.’ The kids bring home a computerized doll that periodically cries, demands attention, and needs to be ‘fed,’ ‘burped,’ and ‘changed.’ The doll records all the interactions, and the students get a grade based on how well they care for their ‘baby.’
This is billed as a pregnancy prevention program. Pro-life groups have even funded the project in the past.
Basically, the doll gives a good indication of what a really bad day with a baby would be like- if your baby was made of plastic, wore an expressionless mask, and had three modes: 1. Crying hysterically, 2. Calmed, but waiting for you to do something wrong so it can record what a bad parent you are, and 3. Zombie-like torpor. (I.e. “Is this thing even on?”) Actually, I forgot about the fourth mode: dead. You can give the doll ‘shaken baby syndrome’ and fail the class. Except that normal parent-type interactions with a one month old are enough to ‘kill’ these dolls!
Supposedly, these dolls prevent teen pregnancy by showing the kids that being a parent is hard work. But when a girl’s out by the lake in her boyfriend’s truck, is she really going to push all the hormones aside and say “Wait, this feels good right now, but remember that screaming doll project?” She won’t have time to think about her horrible day with ‘baby’ until she’s staring at the second line on the pregnancy test. Instead of “Baby Think-It-Over,” they should be called “Baby Abort-Me.”
The dolls also send the wrong message down the line. They don’t treat babies like a gift or a blessing. Instead, they teach the students that babies will ruin their lives. We live in a world where many kids will never get to experience younger siblings, nieces and nephews, cousins, or even a regular babysitting job. For many students, “Baby Think It Over” will be their only baby experience. How can we ask our children to be open to life when we’ve spent years teaching them that new lives are nasty and irritating? When ‘baby’ means ‘something that screams at you for months on end,’ can we be surprised that Peter Singer is quoted as a mainstream voice?
If we really want our teens to learn about parenthood, we should encourage them to spend time around real parents. Instead of spending a weekend babysitting a doll, they should spend time helping new moms and their babies. Students should rock a colicky baby so a new mom can shower, help out with chores and older kids while a mom nurses, or make dinner for a family with a new baby. They can learn about the challenges and rewards of children the old-fashioned way: as members of a community.
We don’t need to teach our kids that babies are a bad thing to be avoided. Rather, we should be teaching them that marriage, sex, babies, and families are good things, but that they’re good things that need to happen in the right order. We need to give them the spiritual and emotional strength to avoid those dangerous evenings by the lake. We need to give all teens, not just the Catholic ones, the message that marriage and family are worth the wait – that they’re a gift that’s waiting for the right time, not a penalty for bad behavior.
What messages does the screaming baby project send to your kids? Think it over, baby.