Baby doll offers lessons in parenting

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Becca had a baby last week, but only for a day and it wasn't real. It was only a doll. But it cried like a real baby, much to her dismay.

Becca had to take care of it as part of a high school class. She brought it home from school in a car seat. She had to hold it, change diapers and even feed it a fake bottle when it was "hungry."

There are no stinky diapers. You don't have to spend a fortune on disposable diapers. But if you don't change the diaper, the doll knows it and records the information so that the teacher will know what a poor job that student did in caring for the "kid."

The baby looked almost real. It was the same weight as a real baby. Fortunately, we didn't have to set up a college fund for "Ellie" as Becca called the doll.

The computerized baby even can tell if a student is propping the bottle at feeding time rather than holding it. The doll includes happy and fussy sounds during awake hours and realistic baby cries.

With this high-tech baby, students can't get away with letting their younger siblings do the parenting. They also can't just throw the "kid" in a closet and ignore the crying.

Our high school freshman got little sleep that night. The baby apparently was programmed to cry much of the night.

Becca kept waking up to take care of it.

Fortunately, Joni and I slept right through it.

After all, we'd had our share of sleepless nights when our two children were infants. Personally, I don't think the doll cried nearly as loudly as Becca did when she was a baby.

Becca was a colicky baby who cried a lot. She's always had great vocal cords. We spent a lot of sleepless nights trying to calm her down with everything from the "white" noise of a TV set to the soothing sounds of a radio.

It seemed like she cried for six months. Eventually she grew out of it, and we actually got some peace and quiet at night.

Becca's afternoon and evening as a "mom" included a trip to a local bridal shop with Joni to buy a fancy dress for the high school's upcoming winter dance. Becca carried her "baby" into the store. Immediately, people came up to her to get a peek at the baby. Of course, they quickly discovered the baby was a doll.

I'm glad it was a doll. I don't want my teenager having to go to a bridal shop with a real baby in tow.

Becca was amazed to find out just how much attention she had to give to her fake baby.

At one point that night she questioned how we could stand all that crying when she and her sister, Bailey, were babies.

"That's what parents do," I told her. "We love our children even when they cry."

But when you're 14 like Becca, it's impossible to comprehend such an attitude.

By the time morning rolled around, Becca was eager to get to school and turn the doll in to her teacher. At this point, she wants no part of being a mom. She values her sleep too much.

Students can learn a lot from this "Baby Think it Over" program. It's hands-on learning without a nap.

Technology is a wonderful thing. But, of course, it only goes so far.

As far as I know, the manufacturer of this doll hasn't come up with a teenage version. It might be too traumatic for most parents to handle.

But I can't help but wonder just what would happen if high school students had to bring home dolls programmed to act like teenagers. Would they learn from such experiences?

Actually, they probably wouldn't be distracted in the least. It's the moms and dads that would be pulling out their hair. Parents probably would need to get some serious counseling to recover from the experience. Or maybe they would just wish their real children came with ID bracelets and computerized data, too.

Mark Bliss is a staff writer for the Southeast Missourian.

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