The Longest Shortest Time

EPISODE #103: Real Teens, REAL Babies

Two years ago, we reported a story with This American Life called Real Teens, Fake Babies, in which we followed two teens around their high school while they cared for robotic babies as part of their sex ed class. This summer, a study came out in The Lancet that shook the robot baby world, and shed some surprising light on our reporting.

The top of this episode is our original story (detailed below); the rest is us trying to make sense of this breaking robot baby news with people who are intimately familiar with these hunks of crying plastic.

ORIGINAL STORY
Did your high school health teacher ever try to teach you the risks of sex by making you carry around an egg and pretend it was a baby? These days, the pretending isn’t as much of a stretch. Lots of schools are opting to use robotic babies that cry throughout the day and night just like a real infant.

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We followed two girls at Glen Ridge High School in Glen Ridge, New Jersey through their 48-hour stints with the babies.

Paige was brimming with maternal affection for her fake baby

Paige was brimming with maternal affection for her fake baby

Rachel just thought it would make for a fun story

Rachel just thought it would make for a fun story

Paige (left) identifies as Christian and conservative, and thinks premarital sex is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Rachel (right) identifies as bisexual and liberal, and thinks premarital sex is fine as long as it is consensual.

The babies accompanied the girls through their classes, and they had to stop whatever they were doing to feed, change, burp, and rock the babies each time they cried. (The cries, by the way, are pretty urgent—they are recordings of actual babies crying.)

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But, like with real parenting, there were times when the girls couldn’t attend to their babies. For Rachel, it was when she was donating to the blood drive.

The baby looks peaceful here but it is screaming its little plastic head off

The baby looks peaceful here but it is screaming its little plastic head off

Paige’s most dramatic moment happened, literally, in drama club. I don’t want to give it away. But here are some hints.

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Listen to the story to hear how the girls managed the pressure of being woken up by a screaming robot all night long. And how just two nights with those robots impacted their feelings about sex … and motherhood.

Resources for talking to kids about sex
Check out our posts with great websites and books for talking to your kids about sex (or just pointing your teenager in the right direction).

More reporting on robot babies
News outlets around the world covered this shocking robot-baby study when it came out in August. If you can’t get enough of robot babies, check out articles in The LA Times, The Washington Post, Slate, and the video from The Wall Street Journal, which includes the “falling pregnant” quote from our intro to today’s episode.

Did YOU have to carry around an egg or sack of flour in high school?
Or maybe you or your child has actually had a robot baby? Was it fun? Disastrous? Did it change your thoughts on sex or parenthood? Would you want your kid to have a robot baby after learning about this study? Comments, please!

Thanks to BWN, Podington Bear, Anthony Barilla & Merel van Dijk for music in this episode.

Our sponsors for this episode are Paper Culture, Fracture (mention LST in checkout survey), Olive & Cocoa, Jo-Ann Fabric and Little Passports (code: LONGSHORT).  Use the promo codes at checkout for a special discount.