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'Baby think it over' has impact on teens
Times photo: Anthony Wahl Assigned to care for computerized babies that have some very lifelike needs, students in Gail Eisermans class at Monroe High School are learning that having a baby changes your life.
MONROE - Having the responsibility of caring for a baby is getting mixed reviews from students in Monroe High School's Family and Consumer Science classes.

When the ordeal was over, about half of the students in Gail Eiserman's class said they really loved their baby, a computerized, life-like doll that they were responsible for one weekend.

But about a third said they hope never to have to take care of a baby again.

Since 2010, when the school purchased 10 programmable "Baby Think It Over" dolls, students have been practicing the many responsibilities of parenting in the child-care unit of the course. Prior to that, schools have used old stand-bys such as eggs, flour sacks and animals, said Eiserman.

But unlike those objects, the computerized babies have some lifelike attributes - they cry, coo, cough, sneeze, and burp.

Different cries, the students learn, are signals that the baby needs to be fed, changed, burped or rocked. And it's up to them to decide which needs are most important. The dolls record information about proper and improper care it received while in the hands of its teenage parent. If handled too roughly, much like a real-life shaken baby, it can die.

Bailey Dunlevy, 15, said she found her baby's crying to be an annoyance. "The worst was burping it," she said.

Jessica Jackson, 15, said her baby's crying would interrupt her showers, and Jesse Anderson, 15, said her baby seemed to cry every time she went to eat.

"On Sunday I was so overly tired, I was crying about everything," Anderson said.

Waking up so often at night to feed her baby, Jessica Farrar, 15, said she fell asleep while feeding the doll, who eventually cried again.

A doll's computer chip is electronically linked with its parent's chip, worn by the student in a wristband. Only when the baby knows its parent is caring for it will it respond according to the care it is receiving.

The wristband is not removable, unless it is cut off.

"That way, we know they aren't going home and letting their mother take care of the baby," said Eiserman.

Ashley Werrline, 16, loved her baby and found a unique way of sharing the care. She rotated with a friend, who stayed overnight and within an arm's length of Werrline's wristband.

But Werrline found not all friends were quite as sympathetic to her plight.

"The first night, at a football game, all my friends ditched me, because they didn't want to be seen with a baby crying all the time," she said.

"I can program the dolls to shut off, so students can go to work," Eiserman said. "But it still makes them think about when they need to pre-arrange baby-sitting."

Some students admitted they got angry at the doll, swore at it and "almost chucked it against the wall."

Students also related stories about the social stigma connected with teen parents and the "nasty looks" they received from some adults who thought the girls were carrying a real child of their own.

Baby Think It Over dolls do leave a lasting impression.

"I went to the store, and it started crying - I was so embarrassed," said Morgan Knox, 15. "When I got up to the counter, the check-out lady said, 'I remember being in that class.'"