Teenage girls who cared for infant dolls, an intervention meant to prevent pregnancy, actually had a higher risk of getting pregnant by age 20. Christopher Intagliata reports.
Used to be, teenage kids had to carry around a bag of flour wrapped in a blanket to learn the responsibilities of parenthood. But these days? The same lesson is taught with hi-tech dolls that cry and record every interaction.
"You know they get grumpy, you have to rock them to calm them down, they have to be fed." Sally Brinkman, an epidemiologist at the Telethon Kids Institute, in Australia. "It's supposed to be so tiring and so difficult that it puts them off and they say 'I don't want to be a teenage mom.' And then they think about contraception and all of those sorts of things."
Problem is, that theory--that the dolls will discourage teenage parenthood—doesn't seem to be true, according to a new study by Brinkman and her colleagues. The team recruited nearly 3,000 13- to 15-year-old girls for the trial, from 57 schools in Western Australia. All the girls got the standard Australian curriculum on contraception and sexual health. But half had to care for the infant dolls—and got extra education sessions with the school nurse.
The team's hypothesis? "We thought either it's going to make a difference, or it's going to make no difference whatsoever. We hadn't expected that it would do the opposite." And in fact, the girls who cared for the dolls were nearly one and a half times more likely to get pregnant before age 20, than teens in the control group. The findings are in The Lancet. [Sally A Brinkman et al., Efficacy of infant simulator programmes to prevent teenage pregnancy: a school-based cluster randomised controlled trial in Western Australia]
The company that makes the dolls has criticized the trial, and says the researchers didn't properly implement the educational portion of the program. But Brinkman disagrees. Maybe, she says, the program itself is flawed. "If we're inadvertently increasing teenage pregnancy rates, you know, this program needs to stop. We shouldn't be delivering it in schools."
—Christopher Intagliata[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]