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Baby Simulators Linked to Higher Risk of Teen Pregnancy

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Bad news for makers of robot babies: Scientists say educational infant simulators like “Baby Think It Over” don’t reduce, and may actually increase, rates of teen pregnancy. They published their findings in The Lancet.

Bringing home an electronic baby (or a sack of flour, or an empty eggshell with a face drawn on it) has become something of a rite of passage in middle and high schools around the world. The latest baby simulators cry when they need to be fed, comforted, burped, or given a diaper change, while tracking whether or not their “parents” are actually doing these things.

In Australia, infant simulators are part of schools’ Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) program, which also includes lessons about the sacrifices required by pregnancy (no more keg stands, girls!) and the financial costs of childcare, as well as sessions on healthy relationships, sexual health, and contraception. Teaching the VIP seems like an obvious choice—what better way to scare teenagers straight?

To test the program’s efficacy, researchers recruited 57 schools in Western Australia. Half of the schools were assigned the robotic baby VIP program (1267 students), while the other half continued with a standard health class curriculum (1567 students). Because the study aimed to understand teen pregnancy, the recruited students were all girls between the ages of 13 and 15 when the study began. The researchers also looked at medical records from local hospitals and abortion clinics.

The results were not encouraging. Girls in the control group had a 4 percent risk of becoming pregnant by the time they reached age 20, but those who had taken an infant simulator home were twice as likely (8 percent) to become teen moms. Abortion rates were also higher in the VIP group (9 percent) than in the control group (6 percent).

"Our study shows that the pregnancy prevention programme delivered in Western Australia, which involves an infant simulator, does not reduce the risk of pregnancy in teenage girls,” lead author Sally Brinkman said in a press statement. “In fact, the risk of pregnancy is actually increased compared to girls who didn't take part in the intervention."

Brinkman notes that VIP-like programs are growing in popularity around the world. Infant simulator sessions are currently taught in 89 countries, and that number is only growing. If these programs are in fact working against their creators intentions, that’s a serious cause for concern. A suite of infant simulators can cost tens of thousands of dollars—and most schools don’t have money to spare.

The researchers don’t yet know why the VIP program seems to fail so miserably, but what’s clear, says health expert Julie A Quinlivan of the University of Notre Dame Australia, is that we need to do better. “The cure for teenage pregnancy is more difficult than a magic doll,” she wrote in a commentary in The Lancet. “We have to address both mothers and fathers. Programs need to start in infancy. Investment in vulnerable children is needed to entice these adolescents from the path of premature parenthood into brighter futures. We cannot afford the quick fix, especially when it doesn't work."

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Sorry, Kids: Soda is Now Banned From Children's Menus in Baltimore
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The war on sugary drinks continues. Following several cities that have passed laws allowing them to collect substantial sales tax on sodas and other sweetened beverages, Baltimore is taking things a step further. A new ordinance that went into effect Wednesday will prohibit restaurants from offering soda on their kids’ menus.

Leana Wen, the city’s health commissioner, told the Associated Press that the ordinance was enacted to “help families make the healthy choice the easy choice.” Instead of soda, eateries will be expected to offer milk, water, and 100 percent fruit juices.

If you’re wondering what will stop children from sipping soda ordered by an adult escort, the answer is—nothing. Business owners will not be expected to swat Pepsi out of a child’s hand. The effort is intended to get both parents and children thinking about healthier alternatives to sodas, which children consume with regularity. A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 30 percent of kids aged 2 to 19 consumed two or more servings a day, which can contribute to type 2 diabetes, obesity, cavities, and other adverse effects.

Businesses in violation of this kid-targeted soda prohibition will be fined $100. Baltimore joins seven cities in California and Lafayette, Colorado, which have similar laws on the books.

[h/t The Baltimore Sun]

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7 Reasons Why You Should Let Your Kid Get Bored This Summer
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No matter how excited kids are for summer break, after a few weeks without school, they can start to feel a little bored. But as a parent, you shouldn't drive yourself crazy scheduling playdates, lessons, and other organized activities for your restless progeny. Instead, turn off the iPad, put down the camp brochure, and let them sit around the house moaning “I'm bored”—it can be good for them.

1. BOREDOM PROMOTES CREATIVITY ...

Research suggests the experience of boredom can lead to greater creativity because it allows minds to wander. In one 2014 study, researchers asked a group of participants to undertake boring activities like copying down telephone numbers from a directory. Then, they were tested for creativity—they had to come up with as many uses for a pair of foam cups as they could think of. The participants who had endured the boring tasks ended up thinking up more uses for the cups than those who hadn't. Boredom, the researchers wrote, "can sometimes be a force for good."

This isn't an entirely new idea. Another study conducted in Canada in the 1980s provides further evidence that boredom isn't always a bad thing: It found that kids who lived in towns with no televisions scored higher on imagination-related tests than kids who had TVs. Imagine what disconnecting from all of the screens available now could do for a kid's creativity.

2. ... AND MAKES THEM MORE INDEPENDENT.

Boredom can force kids to generate their own ideas about what they'd like to do—and what's feasible—then direct their own activities independently. "If parents spend all their time filling up their child's spare time, then the child's never going to learn to do this for themselves," Lyn Fry, a child psychologist, told Quartz in 2016. "Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant."

3. BOREDOM FOSTERS PROBLEM SOLVING.

In The Boredom Solution: Understanding and Dealing with Boredom, teacher and author Linda Deal advises that it's important to let kids learn to deal with their boredom themselves because it helps them learn to make decisions about how to use their free time. They need to learn to "see the problem of boredom as one within their control," she writes, which can help them come up with constructive ways to solve it rather than simply getting hopeless or angry about it, as kids sometimes do in situations they don't have control over. Kids learn that boredom isn't an insurmountable obstacle.

4. IT MOTIVATES THEM TO SEEK NEW EXPERIENCES.

In a 2012 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers sought to define what, exactly, boredom is. "At the heart of it is our desire to engage with the world or some other mental activity, and that takes attention," co-author Mark Fenske, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, explained at the time. "When we cannot do this—that seems to be what leads to frustration and the aversive state we call 'boredom.'" When kids (and adults) are bored, especially with activities that were once engaging, they're motivated to try new things.

5. BOREDOM CAN HELP THEM MAKE FRIENDS ...

According to a pair of psychologists from Texas A&M University, boredom might have a social role. They argue that it "expresses to others that a person is seeking change and stimulation, potentially prompting others to respond by assisting in this pursuit." Being bored can push kids to go out and be more social, and have fun through activities. When there's not much to do, hanging out with the new kid down the block (or even your little brother) suddenly seems a lot more appealing.

6. ... AND FIGURE OUT THEIR INTERESTS.

Both at school and at home, kids are often required to participate in a range of activities. Having the time and space to do nothing can help kids figure out what they actually like to do. "Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves," psychologist Vanessa Lapointe writes at the Huffington Post. This downtime allows kids to direct their own activities without adult input. Pressed to come up with their own entertainment, they might discover a love of writing plays, baking cookies, biking, crafting, or perfecting their jump shot.

7. IT CAN HELP THEM FIND MEANING IN THEIR LIVES.

According to one 2011 study, boredom forced people to reflect on meaning in their lives, prompting them to seek out meaningful activities like donating blood. While the study only examined adults, who may be more inclined to search for purpose, boredom can nonetheless push kids to undertake activities they might otherwise find unappealing—whether that means helping out with the dishes or agreeing to go volunteer for the day—or could even inspire them to make the world a better place.

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