Thinking it over with baby
Being a teenager and a mother at the same time is generally not a good idea, and a program in the USA helps teens to discover the reality of having a baby without actually having one.
Some twenty thousand babies have ruined the lives of almost a million teenage girls in the United States; and the number keeps rising week by week. Fortunately each girl’s life has only been ruined for periods of between a day and a week, as the babies in question are passed round from one potential teenage mother to another, frequently changing names as fast as they change homes.
As for the babies, they take their tormented lifestyle lying down and without any fatal psychological consequences; for however real they may look, these babies, which come in black, white or Asian varieties, are actually rather sophisticated dolls. Known as the “Baby Think it Over *” dolls, they are the latest recruits in the battle against America’s unwanted teenage pregnancies.
Since the dolls were first invented in 1993, hundreds of thousands of teenage girls have had the chance to learn as realistically as possible what it is really like to have a young baby to care for.
“When I had to get up every two hours throughout the night, that made me really mad,” says 17-year old Cheryl Sherman, a high-school senior from Illinois. Cheryl’s school is one of a growing number of American institutions that have bought Baby Think it Over dolls for use in health and social education classes. In most cases, looking after the dolls is a voluntary activity, but some schools such as Baltimore’s Western School of Technology now include mandatory sessions with the doll in the curriculum.
It was in 1993 that Jim Jurmain, a NASA electronics engineer in San Diego, saw a television program about the enormous problem of teenage pregnancies in the United States. When he saw how some schools and youth clubs were using old-fashioned and inanimate “flour sack” babies to simulate real babies, he decided to develop a more hi-tech and animated version of the product.
By early 1995, Baby Think it Over was ready; and apart from the fact that it does not actually drink and nothing comes out of it at the other end (though Jim Jurmain is working on this), it behaves pretty well like a real baby. The lifelike dolls are equipped with a small computer and programmed to behave like real babies. As an “easy” baby, the doll will start to cry at unpredictable intervals, about every three or four hours; when this happens, the teenage “mother” has no alternative but to “feed” it and cuddle it for as much as half an hour, by holding a key in its back. She can’t give the key to anyone else, and share the task of looking after baby, as the key is attached to her wrist on a locked bracelet; and she can’t just leave the doll lying on its front until it stops crying, as this will not stop it crying at all. Besides, the computer inside will record this as abuse.
After taking a doll for five days, Melanie, a 15-year old from Boston, had decided that she would avoid getting pregnant while still at school or university at all cost. “The first time it started to scream was when we’d just gone for a cup of coffee at McDonald’s,” she recalls. “That was really embarrassing. I had to sort it out there in the restaurant”. There was worse to come; while her friends went out to a party in the evening, Melanie stayed home with her baby and watched television. She missed the end of the program she was watching, because baby was making too much noise, and then spent four very disturbed nights, as baby kept waking up at all hours, crying for care and attention.
Perhaps the most difficult thing of all was taking the baby to school, and having to leave the classroom each time it called for care; had it been a real baby, Melanie’s school life would have been completely disrupted; as it was, it was just a matter of three school days, and a problem that several other girls in her class had already experienced.
At the end of her days of simulated motherhood, Melanie’s illusions had been shattered: “I don’t want to have a kid now for at least another ten years,” she declared.
Melanie’s reaction echoes that of most of the teens who have had a chance to look after the “baby simulator” doll; yet the doll she had was programmed on “easy”. It could have been programmed on “hard”, waking up and screaming much more often, needing regular attention day and night. Melanie might also have had to look after a new variety of the doll, that behaves as a baby with an addiction to crack or cocaine. This model has been added to the range by Rick and Mary Jurmain, as a doll for the poorest parts of America’s cities, where the highest levels of teenage pregnancy go hand in hand with the highest rates of drug abuse and lowest levels of achievement.
Teen pregnancies are one of the three big youth problems in the United States. According to New York’s Guttmacher Institute, 11% of all 15-19 year olds in the USA get pregnant each year; that’s two girls a minute on average, and a total of almost a million pregnancies a year. Of these, 85% are unwanted, and half result in birth.
In Europe, the problem is much less serious; but the dolls are now available in Britain, which has Europe’s highest teen pregnancy rate.
pregnancy: a woman or girl is pregnant when she is going to have a baby - mandatory: obligatory - curriculum: school program - cuddle: take in one’s arms - avoid getting - make sure that she did not get - range: collection - achievement: success
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First published in 1997 in Spectrum magazine.
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Thinking it over with Baby
Put the words in the correct order to forms questions about the text and then answer the questions. Write your answers in the box or on paper.
2. varieties / there / what / are ?
3. the / when / dolls / invented / were ?
4. Jurmain / do / Jim / what / decide / did / to ?
5. was / it / think / when / ready / over / baby ?
6. the / programmed / are / dolls / what / do / to ?
Ideas for teachers :
Using this item in class :Listening practice: there are FIFTEEN differences between the written and recorded versions. Only two of them change the meaning of the text. Which are they?
Answers: end of para 6, high tech (written text) does not necessarily mean up to date. Para 9, a party does not mean a movie.
Grammar: this, that, these. Pay attention to the use of demonstratives in this article. Remember this and these are never followed directly by prepositions or by relatives.) For more on demonstratives, see A Descriptive Grammar of English, Linguapress 2020, section 2.4.3. (ps 96 - 100) Available in print or as an ebook from Amazon)
Text and Structure: this article lends itself clearly to structural analysis. Have students divide the article into its component parts of introduction, situation and background, example, conclusion. (The breaks occur with paragraphs starting: It was in 1993 that ...../ Since the dolls..... / After taking a doll for.... / Melanie's reaction echoes ......).
Language points: a) pay attention with this text to the use of subordinate clauses of time and of cause, and in particular to the use of the word as. As is used in a variety of different contexts, including that of causal coordinator.
b) note the use of modal verbs in the present perfect form in the second half of the article.
c) What expression, used in the first three paragraphs of the article, has two meanings? (Answer: take... lying down. i) a litteral meaning, ii) the figurative meaning, = accept it without putting up any resistance.