PASADENA - “One night it cried six times within 30 minutes, and the last time it took me 30 minutes to get it to stop crying,” said the Hillsides Education Center student.
Luckily for Jackson, he could give back the child after two days. And it wasn’t a real baby, but an “infant simulator” – a doll that is programmed to cry at regular intervals.
Jackson was one of several students participating in a “Baby, Let’s Wait” teen pregnancy prevention lesson that Hillsides Education Center, a therapeutic residential and day school that offers individualized education for students with learning and/or behavioral challenges, brought onto campus to help students understand the pressures and responsibilities involved in teen parenthood. As part of the lesson, students are given a simulated baby to take care of for 48 hours and afterwards debrief with staff to discuss how the experience impacts their attitude on becoming a parent.
Teen pregnancy is a problem in the United States and even more so for teens in the foster care system, which several students who attend the Education Center are. By age 19, girls in foster care were 2 ½ more times more likely than girls nationwide to become pregnant, one study showed. Another study revealed that nearly half of 21-year-old men who had aged out of the foster care system reported having gotten someone pregnant compared with one-fifth of young men nationwide.
The “Baby, Let’s Wait” lesson is part of a broader “My Life, My Future” program run by the nonprofit organization Teen Futures that teaches teens to make healthy choices.
“We are fortunate to have Teen Futures on campus to help our students learn first-hand just how hard it is to take care of a baby,” said Joseph M. Costa, Hillsides chief executive officer. “May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and we want to help our students be aware of the pressures and responsibilities of teen parenthood.”
The pay-off of the “Baby, Let’s Wait” program is that it is a deterrent to teen pregnancy. However, the results are even farther-reaching. Becoming a “father” for 48 hours helped Jackson discover a new side to his personality. “I’m naturally on edge, “he said, “but I found I had patience for the fake baby.”
Jackson wasn’t alone. The director of Teen Futures, James Smith, said he was surprised at how attentive and caring the Hillsides’ students were toward the babies, especially the boys. One male student, for example, supplied the doll with an additional blanket and extra clothes. “Typically, young men are resistant to the infant simulator, but the young men at Hillsides were very nurturing,” said Smith. He speculates that due to the trauma the boys have seen in their lives, they have a strong protective streak that makes them want to shield others from suffering.
Hillsides Education Center is one of four core programs of Hillsides, a premier provider of behavioral healthcare and educational services dedicated to improving the overall well-being and functioning of vulnerable children, youth, and their families. This year, Hillsides is celebrating its centennial and 100 years of creating change in the lives of at-risk children.
For more information on Hillsides, please visit www.Hillsides.org.
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