I’ve noticed the ghost of high school health class reverbating into adulthood in a couple different ways. And not in good ways!
Scary birth videos
I honestly LOATHE the idea of high schools using birth videos as birth control. Maybe it is because I get those same women 10 years later and have to work them through all their fears that come from being shown childbirth as a horrific thing when they are in high school. You’d be AMAZED at how often those high school experiences come up as fears in my classes and with my clients.
So when my oldest daughter’s high school biology teacher found out what I did for a living and asked me what was the most “graphic and terrifying” birth video she could buy to show to her class, she got an earful from me on the topic. Turns out she herself took HypnoBirthing and delivered unmedicated. And had never thought about long term effects at all.
I do want high school students to see birth. I want them to know how powerful birth can be. But I don’t want it portrayed as horrific or used as a fear based birth control tactic.
Whether it is an egg, a bag of flour, or an expensive robobaby, many high schools make students do an assignment where they “simulate” parenthood for a day or two, or even a week. In theory, this experience teaches students how hard it is to care for a newborn and discourages them from becoming pregnant as a teen. The reality, though, is that it artificially makes things HARDER than real parenting!
Most of the time, the assignment only allows for one person to care for the baby, while the reality is that partners, family, and friends can all help care for a real baby. When using the fancy robotic babies, students have a time limit and are expected to get the baby to stop crying within just a few minutes. The reality is that in real life, babies may cry for much longer, even when parents do everything right! The assignments are also being graded, and it’s possible to pass – or fail – because of things beyond your control. With unrealistic ideas that you have to do everything yourself without help, pressure from time limits, and being graded on your performance as your “simulation of real parenting” is it any wonder that new parents struggle to ask for help and feel pressure?
Plus, the research on these simulations actually might do the opposite of what they intend! Check out the references below or listen to this podcast on the simulations.
If any high school health or child development teachers are reading this, I strongly encourage you to rethink how you teach about birth and parenting. Focus your teaching on a healthy understanding of the birth process, the options available to them, and on parenting as a relationship rather than a graded performance. Preventing teen pregnancy should not be the primary goal while teaching these topics. Save that for *real* sex ed and include contraception in that part of the curriculum!
(And if you’re in the Salt Lake City area, I’d be happy to come be a guest speaker. I enjoy teens!)