Giving Schoolgirls Virtual Baby Dolls Doesn't Prevent Teenage Pregnancy, Study Finds

The girls were more likely to have a baby aged 20.

“Virtual dolls” that mirror the needs of a baby do not reduce the number of teenage pregnancies, a study has revealed.

Research published in ‘The Lancet’ revealed that the 1,267 girls from Australia who enrolled in a ‘Virtual Infant Parenting Programme’ were more likely to get pregnant than those who didn’t take part.

“Programmes are increasingly being offered in schools around the world, and evidence suggests they do not have the desired long-term effect of reducing teenage pregnancy,” said Dr Sally Brinkman, lead author and from the University of Western Australia.

“These interventions are likely to be an ineffective use of public resources for pregnancy prevention.”

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Girls on the ‘Virtual Infant Parenting Programme’ were taught about contraception, watched videos of teenage mothers and burped, changed and fed virtual dolls over the course of a weekend.

When the girls were followed up aged 20, 8% had given birth at least once and 9% had had an abortion, the study found.

This is nearly double the rate for girls who didn’t use the dolls, - just 4% had given birth and 6% had an abortion.

Commenting on the results of the study, Julie Quinlivan, from the Institute for Health Research at the University of Notre Dame Australia, said an issue with the programme was that it did not focus on fathers.

“Secondary school age is too late to start educating vulnerable children about teenage pregnancy prevention,” she added, according to the BBC.

“A simulator cannot really convey what looking after a real baby is like.”

Siobhan Freegard, founder of video-based parenting site Channel Mum, believes the dolls don’t show how hard parenting can be.

“Looking after a doll for a weekend is fun - but being a full-time teenage mum is incredibly tough‎,” she told The Huffington Post UK.

“Though well-meaning, the doll programme could encourage some vulnerable teens to become parents, as these statistics show.

“Many young mums from difficult backgrounds report having a child made them feel needed and valued - and the doll programme could reinforce this.

“But spending 48 hours with a toy cannot prepare you for the relentless reality of caring for a child when you are barely into adulthood yourself.”

In March 2016, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed the number of teenage girls getting pregnant in England and Wales was the lowest it has been since 1969.

The rate was 22.9 conceptions per thousand 15- to 17-year-old girls in 2014.

The number of teenage mothers fell to 22,653 in 2014, compared with 24,306 in 2013, a decrease of 6.8%. In 1969, when records started, there were 45,495 teenage pregnancies.

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