Best intentions

Robot babies increase abortions rather than decreasing teen pregnancies, study finds

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Robot baby used in virtual infant parenting programs (Twitter).

The practice known as virtual infant parenting, or VIP, deployed in many high school sex education programs in the U.S. and around the world has always been controversial. VIP involves giving high school girls little robot babies that act very much like the real-life bundles of joy. Only, the experience isn’t always joyful. The robot babies are programmed to cry, burp, sleep, wake up, need feedings, and more. The exercise, which typically lasts a few days, is meant to simulate the experience of real parenting — and if the high school girls who are given them fail, well, the consequences are painful. The robot babies are programmed to “die” if they’re grossly neglected or otherwise mishandled. The chief objective is to scare high school girls into not getting pregnant.

Many high school girls who are given the babies find the experience to be rather harrowing — as do parents. Janette Collins, a youth counselor in London told the Financial Times last October that “We’ve had midnight telephone calls from parents saying, ‘Please tell me how to turn it off, my daughter’s going crazy.’” Even more problematic, as the results of a new study have discovered, is that it’s the girls who do really well taking care of the robot babies and who love the experience of virtual motherhood that are more likely to then get pregnant and have an abortion before the age of 20. The study was conducted in Australia and monitored three years worth of so-called “robot interventions.” Researchers compared more than 1,000 girls who took part in the program with more than 1,000 who did not. The chances of pregnancy were double — eight percent — in the robot baby group versus four percent in the control group. Moreover, the likelihood of abortion was greater with the robot baby group than the control group, by a margin of nine percent to six percent. Essentially, the results of the study showed the VIP program backfired. As the study’s lead author, Sally Brinkman of Australia’s Telethon Kids Institute, put it, “Anecdotally, a lot of the students really enjoyed the program. There was a lot of positivity around the program, so it didn’t really work in putting the kids off.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post.

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