Catashia Wells cradled the doll in her arms and thought caring for the “baby” would be an easy job. But this baby started crying and needed to be fed.
“I couldn't get any sleep,” said Wells, 16, of Miami. “I thought it would be so easy. I mean it was a baby doll. What more could it need?”
This was no ordinary doll. During a Girl Scouts camp session at Miami's Wactor Temple A.M.E. Zion church last week, Wells and 19 other girls were handed computerized babies in need of feeding, diapering and cuddling.
Each of the girls had to spend a few days caring for the dolls and was given a progress report of their parenting skills. They were also required to wear fake bellies so each girl could experience the physical symptoms of pregnancy.
The class, called “Baby, Think It Over,” is designed to teach teenage girls what parenting is really like. Catashia, who will be a junior at Miami Northwestern Senior High Community School this fall, said the experience helped her realize she's definitely not ready to be a mom.
“I learned that a child can't raise a child,” Wells said. “I don't need to make a baby just because everyone else is getting pregnant. I want to stick to my goals and stay in school.”
“Baby, Think It Over” is one of several activities offered through Decisions for Your Life, a Girl Scout troop that teaches at-risk teens about abstinence in 16 housing developments across Miami-Dade County. Throughout the summer, girls attend camp sessions at various sites around the county where they participate in songs, skits and personal challenge activities.
The program, offered to girls ages 5 to 17, is organized by the Girl Scout Council of Tropical Florida, Inc. and is co-sponsored by the state of Florida. Decisions For Your Life reaches more than 900 girls each year through weekly after-school programs and weekend activities.
Program Manager Shanae Reed said the program strives to teach teenage girls about empowerment.
“I think it's very critical for girls to have a program like this,” Reed said. “The girls have so many influences around them, they need something positive.”
“Baby, Think It Over” gives girls the unique opportunity to experience the consequences of teen sex,” Reed said.
“They have to bring this crying, screaming baby everywhere they go, and they have to wear a belly that's too heavy and too hot,” Reed said. “They lose their freedom. It's a reality check. The girls realize they're not ready for the responsibility.”
Wells, who has been a Girl Scout for the past 10 years, has become a role model among her friends. Reed said she has recruited 125 girls from her Northwest Miami neighborhood to join the Decisions for Your Life troop.
“She does a lot for our program and really gets other girls to join,” Reed said. “She helps us out whenever we need it. She's our little baby growing up.”
Wells will travel to New York City to participate in a week-long national leadership conference sponsored by the Girl Scouts called the “Get Down to Business”
Leadership Institute. It will be Wells' first trip on an airplane. Wells, who hopes to run her own business one day, said she is excited about meeting other young women who are leaders like herself.
Wells said she tells her friends that being in the Girl Scout troop means a lot more than selling cookies.
“My friends are texting and calling me about what I'm doing on the weekend, and I tell them about all the programs I get involved in,” Wells said. “They want to get involved, too. I'm doing positive things, and I want to hold onto my virginity. Other girls see that and they want to do it, too.”
For more information about the Decisions for Your Life Girl Scouts troop, call 305-253-4841 or email email@example.com.
Photo by Khary Bruyning. Solmeshia Hooks, 12, a Brownsville Middle School student, cradles a computerized baby doll.