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Students learn hard way about parenting


Staff Writer

Dateline: Brawley

What am I?

I'm a product that has its success judged by the number of "customers" who never want to clap eyes on me again after only a brief encounter.

I can be found in countries as far-flung as Iceland, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.

I cry a lot and generally make life onerous, if not downright miserable for my customers, the teens to whom I'm assigned for anywhere up to a week at a time.

Give up?

I'm a computerized infant simulator, a fake baby in layman's terms. Since my creation by Wisconsin scientist Rick Jurmain in 1993, I've been up close and personal with more than 1 million teens worldwide.


The babies are used in schools around the world in the hopes of getting the message across that being a teen parent is not something to be entered into lightly.

"He cried all night long; I changed his diaper, I gave him a bottle but he was fussy, just fussy all night. I hardly got any sleep and it was horrible," wailed 18-year-old senior Natasha Armstrong.

As Brawley Union High School teacher Helen Rader greeted her parenting class students Tuesday morning, one thing stood out beyond the din of wailing babies, sorry — "infant simulators."

All of the temporary parents to these plastic babies looked haggard.

The babies, programmed electronically to simulate the crying patterns of your average real-life baby, are presented to the teen mother or father complete with bottles, diapers, a car safety carrier and something we real parents never got — an instruction manual.

Just in case "mom" or "dad" is tempted to stick the baby in their closet at home for the duration of the weeklong adoption, each parent gets to wear an electronic bracelet that monitors his or her responses 24 hours a day, seven days a week to the baby's needs.

Clearly this parenting class is not for the faint of heart.

"No, no one has ever asked to keep the baby for another week; Monday morning (day four) they're usually in here begging me to take the babies back," Rader said with just a hint of a smile.

"The more realistic you make the experience, the more teens retain the information," says Tammy Simon, marketing coordinator for the babies' manufacturer, BTIO Educational Products of Wisconsin.

Another senior, 18-year-old Jonathan Garcia, arrived at class with plastic dynamo Skyler Jaye Garcia over his left shoulder. Jonathan was still smiling but admitted morosely, "I haven't slept for three nights. My parents just laugh and say, ‘Now you know what it's like!'"

As part of Tuesday's class amidst the wailing of hungry and disgruntled babies, Rader had her students talk about the ramifications of being a teen parent and what advice they would give to fellow students considering a relationship that could well result in pregnancy.

"No way. I don't want a baby any time soon. Yeah, like I want to have a career and after I have my career or whatever I accomplish … then I can get married and have a baby," 16-year-old junior Janet Ponce said resolutely.

And one student volunteered this unique take on babies in his class paper:

"Babies are like porcupines; you have to be careful about everything with them."

>> Staff Writer Jennifer Ralton-Smith can be reached at 337-3442 or

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