Evaluating "Baby Think It Over" Infant Simulators: A Comparison Group Study

Article excerpt

Infant simulators are tools that encourage adolescents to contemplate the realities of parenting. The logic is that if adolescents understand the time and effort required, they will delay parenting (and maybe even delay the behaviors that lead to becoming a parent). To simulate the experience of caring for an infant, educators have devised a number of creative activities, requiring students to "parent" an egg in a basket or a five-pound sack of flour (Cohen, 1994). To make this experience more realistic, Rick Jurmain invented "Baby Think It Over" (BTIO) infant simulators. These simulators are built to physically resemble real infants. They weigh about 8 pounds and are 20 inches long. Battory-operated, they cry at random intervals (approximately every two to four hours) and require tending from the caregiver (inserting and turning a key). BTIO also includes an electronic recording device to monitor how well BTIO is cared for (and if it is abused by rough handling or neglect). While other simulators are on the market, most of the research has been conducted with BTIO.

Experiences such as a weekend with BTIO (or the "Dolls from Hell") as they were described in Lucey (1996), may be necessary to influence adolescent thinking. Adolescents have been described as egocentric (Elkind, 1981), implying that they often have distorted views of themselves and their place in the world. Specifically, Elkind described adolescents as living with a personal fable, where laws of probability do not apply to them. Directly related to sex education and parenting, adolescents underestimate both the negative consequences of becoming pregnant (Henderson, 1980) and the disruption parenting a child would have on their lives (Holden, Nelson, Valasquez, & Ritchie, 1993).

In the ten years BTIO has been available, a number of evaluation studies have been conducted. The most positive results have come from survey studies of teachers (Kralewski & Stevens-Simon, 2000; Tingle, 2002) and parents (Price, Robinson, Thompson, & Schmalzried, 1999; Tingle, 2002) who have observed adolescents experience BTIO. Positive reactions among students have also been reported (Barnett & Hurst, 2004). This later study found that students claimed to understand the difficulty and inconvenience of caring for an infant and the importance of delaying parenthood as a result of their BTIO experience. The technical readout provided by BTIO indicated that these adolescents took the assignment seriously, with little neglect or abuse recorded.

While the self-report data have been positive, comparative studies have yielded little support for the efficacy of BTIO. A quasi-experimental study by Strachan and Gorey (1997) found no significant differences on 9 of their ten test items and no difference on the total scores. Similarly, Somers and Fahlman (2001) found no significant differences on their quantitative scales. However, as with the previously cited self-report studies, students gave many favorable comments in response to open-ended questions. In another quasi-experimental study, Out and Lafrenier (2001) found no differences on 5 of 6 scales on an immediate test and no differences on a delayed test of a program where students cared for BTIO for 2 or 3 days. Finally, in a statewide evaluation project, Tingle (2002) found minimal changes in attitudes or communication with parents as a result of experience with BTIO.

The most positive results reported thus far are by Divine and Cobb (2001).Several details of this study stand out. First, Divine and Cobb researched "Ready-or-Not-Tots," which differ slightly from BTIO. These simulators have multiple care keys (BTIO has only one key), which must be applied appropriately, depending upon whether the simulator needs to be fed, changed, or just to burp. Second, students cared for their simulators for 8 days (but for two of these days the simulators were inactive). Most of the previously cited studies ran for 2 or 3 days. …