Local teens taught: 'Baby, think it over"

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— Picture a 16-year-old carrying her crying infant through the halls of her high school -- it definitely leaves an uneasy feeling in the stomachs of teachers and parents.

The problem of teenage pregnancy is something schools across America are dealing with on a daily basis. To help combat the problem of teen pregnancy, Hayden High School offers a program that educates students on the responsibilities of parenthood.

The program is called "Baby, think it over," and it's part of the junior-level life-skills class taught by Mari Mahana, district health education coordinator.

The school purchased two lifelike 7-pound dolls that cry, blink and simulate newborn babies. Students are required to care for the "babies" for a 48-hour period. The babies cry randomly for periods of 5 to 45 minutes and students must turn a key in the back of the doll and hold it until the baby stops crying.

"There's a computer in the dolls so I can tell if the babies have been crying too long, neglected or abused," Mahana said. "Kids have to hold and tend to the baby until it stops crying, and if they don't, the computer records it."

Mahana said the purpose of the program is to educate students on how much responsibility is required to take care of a child.

"A lot of teens want to have babies because they want someone to love them," Mahana said. "This program shows kids firsthand that babies don't give a lot of love, they simply require care and love from the parents. It shows them how much they would have to give up if they were to become pregnant. It's a real eye-opener."

Some teachers at the high school require a student to get a baby-sitter while attending their classes, and a baby-sitter is needed if the student has an extracurricular activity that would interfere with the care of the infant. The life-skills class also offers car seats and strollers to student-parents.

Natalie McDonald is a junior at Hayden High School and she finished her 48-hour stint with the doll-child on Friday.

"It was really hard. You can't get any sleep because it wakes up in the middle of the night and cries," McDonald said. "I want kids some day, but not now. This program shows you how much responsibility a baby is. It takes a lot of time and effort."

Although Routt County is below the state average in the number of teen pregnancies, Mahana said the problem is real and is present in area schools.

"We have a few students who are pregnant right now," she said. "This type of program does more than offer a practice field for babysitting. We also talk about child development, parenting and the consequences of having a baby when you're so young. We try to make it as real as possible."

McDonald said the high school has done a good job of educating students and the "Baby, think it over program" should continue.

Next year, Mahana will offer the program to all juniors in the school. Some students will act as single parents while others will have to care for a child as a married couple.

"We'll have 10 babies next year where this year we only have two," she said. "Kids think they're invincible and that this won't ever happen to them. They're inexperienced and have hormones racing through their bodies; it makes them do stupid things. My goal is to help educate them for those tough decisions and hopefully they'll make good choices."


-- To reach Bryna Larsen call 871-4205 e-mail blarsen@amigo.net

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