I admit it, when I first saw TV shows in which kids carried around eggs for a week pretending they were babies, I assumed that it was one of those American myths, like cheerleaders dating football players, and malt shops.
Then I moved to the States and found out all those things really existed. And so did the egg babies. Apparently it’s been a rite of passage for many a student, trained to understand the trials of parenthood by being forced to care for something very fragile, all day long, for some limited time period deemed appropriate by their teachers.
NPR took a look at the history of these experiments, as well as what’s changed. For one, the egg baby has gotten an upgrade: for $649 a pop, some schools are using RealCare babies to simulate the real experience of having a living, breathing, unpredictable baby to care for. Eggs may be fragile, but they’re definitely predictable. If actual babies were, we wouldn’t have an entire industry based around finding ways to get them to sleep, eat and poop the way we want them to. Cute as the egg might be when you paint a little face on it, it doesn’t respond to you, it doesn’t cry out, and you can leave it safely inside a box on a high shelf for hours, without giving it another thought.
The RealCare babies are made to be as realistic as possible. They cry day and night—not all day and night, but both during the day and at night—and contain wi-fi enabled computers, able to track things like clothing and diaper changes, external temperature, time left unattended, and feeding, burping, rocking, and diapering. No doubt this creates a more realistic experience than a sack of flour or sugar, which were also used back in the day to give parental responsibility to teenagers.
All of these programs, old and new, were created for two reasons: one, to give kids a sense of what it’s really like to be a parent, and two, to try to curb teen pregnancy rates by providing a dose of reality. The RealCare babies, while expensive, have had a much larger impact on teens’ understanding of parenthood, but the question remains as to what their effect is on pregnancy rates. Some teachers are leaving that message out of their baby care training, and just trying to give their students an appreciation for the fragility of life, whether it’s in the form of a computer-enhanced doll, or a decorated baking ingredient. Sixth grade teacher Marcy Thomaswick told NPR. “It’s about teaching them to think about things besides themselves. It’s just one of those assignments that really sticks with them. They remember how hard it is and the amount of care and responsibility involved.”
As for teen pregnancies and sex education, shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant may be having more of an impact. A study done last year indicated that the show was associated with a 5.7% reduction in teen births in the 18 months following its debut. It also led to more internet searches and tweets about birth control (as well as abortion), clearly a catalyst for those seeking more information about the life-changing decisions facing them, and definitely more effective than a sack of flour.
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