Archive for Saturday, October 26, 1996

TEENS LEARN PARENTING LESSON

October 26, 1996

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— Perry-Lecompton students are getting a lesson in parenting through computer-programmed dolls.

After three days of caring for her newborn, April Nicholson had had enough of the odd hours of crying and fussing.

So she did what every good mother in Rita Lesser's class does: She sent the baby back and counted her blessings at being child-free.

"I thought since they were just born, they'd be quiet and sleep a lot," said Nicholson, a junior at Perry-Lecompton High School. "Mine didn't."

The baby -- actually a computer-programmed doll -- wasn't supposed to be quiet. Lesser, who teaches a family-themed class called "Young World," uses four of the dolls to teach her students about the duties involved with parenthood.

"Every year, we have four to eight girls get pregnant and have children at Perry-Lecompton High School," Lesser said. "I don't think most students realize the responsibility involved in parenting. These will help teach them."

Nicholson was one of four students who recently took the dolls home for three days and three nights of crying at odd hours, fumbling with car seats and toting diaper bags.

Lesser programmed the dolls to cry, at random, every 90 to 270 minutes. That's a "normal" setting, one of four she could have plugged in. In the most demanding setting, "colicky baby," the dolls can cut loose as frequently as every 15 minutes.

Students are required to tend to the dolls every time they cry, plugging keys into the dolls' backs until they quiet down. The on-board computer records crying times and whether the doll was neglected or abused.

Lesser then retrieves the information, which she uses to assign grades.

Leslie Bartell, also a junior in Lesser's class, said the doll gave her a crash course in motherhood. Like all students, boys and girls, she transported the doll in a car seat, carried a diaper bag whenever she left the house with the infant and hired a baby sitter when she went to work.

"My sitter brought it back to me at work," Bartell said. "She said it took 45 minutes for her to make it stop crying."

Nicholson said her "Baby Think It Over" doll woke up frequently in the middle of the night, leaving her drained and shattering her conceptions about infants.

"I'm still tired," she said on a recent school morning. "I went home yesterday and went right to bed."

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