Objective: To determine the effect of age on the efficacy of the computerized, infant simulator doll Baby Think It Over (BTIO) for increasing middle school girls' knowledge about the responsibilities of parenthood and discouraging plans for teen childbearing. We hypothesized: 1) 8th grade students would be less apt than 6th grade students to equate BTIO care with mothering because they would rationalize that their infant would be easier to care for than BTIO; and 2) BTIO would be a more effective teen pregnancy prevention program with 6th grade students than with 8th grade students.
Methods: Nulliparous 6th (n = 68) and 8th (n = 41) grade girls attending an urban middle school in a predominantly lower socioeconomic, Hispanic, neighborhood were asked to care for BTIO for 3 days and 2 nights. Responses to a self-administered questionnaire were used to assess the girls' understanding of the responsibilities and difficulties associated with parenting, their feelings about the similarity of BTIO care and real infant care, and their childbearing intentions before and after caring for BTIO.
Results: Only 32 (29%) of the 109 girls thought that real infant care would be like BTIO care. Although 8th grade students were less apt than 6th grade students to equate BTIO care with real infant care (17% vs 37%), 6th grade students were more likely than 8th grade students to endorse statements suggesting that real infant care would be easier than BTIO care (37% vs 24%). Multivariate analyses revealed that this was largely because 6th grade students found BTIO care more difficult than did 8th grade students. Also, regardless of age or grade, the more difficult a girl found it to care for BTIO than anticipated, the more likely she was to endorse statements indicating that it would be easier to care for her own infant than it had been for her to care for BTIO. Little learning about the difficulties of parenting took place during the study. On average, the 6th grade students did not find BTIO care more difficult than anticipated and the 8th grade students actually found it easier than anticipated. Finally, caring for BTIO had no affect on the intent of students to become teen parents; 13 (12%) of the 109 students wanted to be teen parents before they cared for BTIO and 16 (15%) wanted to be teen parents after they cared for the doll.
Conclusion: The results of this study demonstrate that the propensity of people this age for rationalizing their own immunity to the nocuous aspects of potentially desirable situations (the personal fable of omnipotence) allows those who perceive parenthood to be attractive to overlook the negative aspects of any parenting experience they have.