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Lifelike Doll May Actually Encourage Teen Pregnancies

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Before caring for the doll, 12% said that they wanted to be teen parents. Researchers found that after the experiment, 15% wanted to be parents. Of the participants, 17% of eight graders thought the doll was like real baby care, compared with 37% of sixth graders. But the sixth graders were more likely to think that real baby care would be easier, the study showed.

The authors write, "The results of this study suggest that during adolescence, pregnancy prevention programs that only try to discourage parenthood are apt to be ineffective. Therefore, it might be preferable to focus future research efforts on intervention strategies that ... help adolescents develop future-oriented goals that are more desirable than, and incompatible with, early childbearing."

Mariza Nightingale, spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, agrees with this approach.

"There is a lot of data on promising approaches, but there is not one single magic bullet that prevents teen pregnancy. It takes a sustained effort," she tells WebMD. Teen pregnancy prevention programs that help teens set and reach goals and encourage parental involvement for long periods of time can help.

"A lot of research shows that parents matter," she says. "Kids want to know what parents think and when there isn't a clear set of [parental] values expressed, other things seep in."

Still, "teen pregnancy is on the decline and that's the good news," she says. "Teens are delaying sex or using [birth control] more so the rate is going down but we still have a much higher rate than other developed countries. We can't get complacent because there is a new crop of 13-year-old girls every year."

"It's really important to note that Baby Think It Over is a tiny piece of teen pregnancy prevention programs," says Monica Roberts, director of education and information at the New York-based Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). "The idea of having teens care for an egg or a flower to learn what it is like to be a parent has been around for a long time," she tells WebMD.

But "there is no single approach to markedly reduce teen pregnancy in this country," she says.

Calling the Baby Think It Over experiment "an interesting approach," Tina Hoff, director of public health and information at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation in Menlo Park, Calif., points out that young kids don't usually make a conscious decision to become pregnant; it is usually unintentional.

Vital Information:

  • Taking care of a lifelike doll to discourage teen pregnancy may actually have the opposite effect, according to a new study.
  • The doll manufacturer says that the study only focused on the doll, and not the whole pregnancy prevention program, which has been shown to be successful in other studies.
  • Parental attitudes towards teen pregnancy, information about sexual health, and developing future-oriented goals that would be in opposition to having a baby are other factors that may be effective in preventing teen-age pregnancy, experts say.
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