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Lifelike Doll May Actually Encourage Teen Pregnancies

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WebMD Health News

March 10, 2000 (New York) -- Taking care of a lifelike doll does not change teens' attitudes about pregnancy, according to a new study in the March issue of the journal Pediatrics. The new findings call attention to the need for more intensive, multi-tiered efforts to discourage teen pregnancy.

After caring for "Baby Think It Over" -- a seven pound, lifelike infant -- for three days and two nights, just 29% of 109 sixth and eight graders said they thought that caring for a real infant would be like caring for the doll, says the report.

The most recent statistics show that the teen birth rate in 1998 for ages 15-19 had declined by 18% since 1991. Still, more than four out of 10 young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, in Washington, D.C.

Similar to a real infant, Baby Think It Over lets out a "loud, hard" cry every 15 minutes to four hours all day long. The baby can only be silenced by inserting a care key in its back. Only the designated caretaker has the key and it must be held in place from one to 30 minutes. Study participants also carried around a diaper bag for the duration of the study period.

Despite the fact that most teens found the doll difficult to care for, "little learning about the difficulties of parenting took place and [Baby Think it Over] had almost no effect on the student's childbearing intentions," report study authors Judith Kralewski, RN, MSN, CPNP, and Catherine Stevens-Simon, MD, who were both at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver when the study was conducted.

In fact, the more difficult the teen found doll care, the more likely they were to say it would be easier to care for a real infant, the study showed. Teens who perceive parenthood to be attractive may overlook the negative aspects of any parenting experience they have, study authors point out.

"We're disappointed with the results," says Carol Lambert, spokesperson for Baby Think It Over Inc. in Eau Claire, Wisc. "But the study only focused on the doll and not the whole program which includes different parenting activities such as budgeting and child abuse prevention exercises."

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