A kind pet, like a true friend, can make our kids’ life more joyful and happier
A desire of all parents to see their kids happy. Although sometimes we become sad that our desire cannot be fulfilled as we would like it to be. And there may be a lot of reasons for that.
We know our children are happy when we see them joyful, peaceful, self-confident, getting along well with their family, surrounding people and peers. When difficulties arise, they do not fall into frustration and depression being unable to solve them. And this is mostly because they know they are not alone, since their parents and loved ones will always respond in time and come to their aid.
Everyone will agree how important it is for our children to feel protected, not to be alone. Having a true friend makes this easier.
It’s not surprising that kids often find a loyal friend in a pet – a dog, a cat, a fish in an aquarium, a bird.
Pets are ready to become loyal friends because the feeling of fidelity is inherent in the nature of kind animals. They long to pour out their love and devotion on a human-friend, especially on a child.
Here we’d like to cite some of Mary Dell Harrington’s tips on how a pet can help our teens get through the tumultuous teenage years.
Mary Dell Harrington and Lisa Heffernan are famous American authors of the excellent book Grown and Flown: How to Support Your Teen, Stay Close as a Family, and Raise Independent Adults. They give invaluable advice on how we can make life with our teens less stressful and more fun.
In numerous publications on her site Raising Teens Today, Mary Dell Harrington, MPH, focuses on the brighter side of raising teens.
10 Reasons Why a Pet Can Help Your Teen Through the Turbulent Teen Years
“Whether you take the plunge and buy your teen a dog, cat, rabbit or bird, just having a pet can bring your teen so much comfort knowing they have a steadfast companion whose always by their side. And, according to science, having a pet can prove invaluable to our teen’s physical and mental health!” she says.
1. Pets Can Decrease Your Teen’s Anxiety
Let’s face it – the teen years are a tumultuous time for our kids. Everything seems to be changing at once. Our kids’ minds and bodies, their moods, and their relationships are pretty much “under construction” during the teen years and, even on their best days, anxiety can run high. Add in having to deal with a global pandemic, which has spawned even more anxiety, and it’s no wonder so many teens are suffering right now.
But just being in the presence of a cherished pet can lower our teen’s heart rate and bring them a sense of calm. Teens who are around dogs and cats experience higher levels of “feel-good” brain chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin, mainly due to the fact that pets are calming companions that help lower our kids’ stress and anxiety.
2. Pets Have Been Known to Improve Depression
There’s a reason dogs are so amazing as emotional support animals and that they’re used to aid in therapy. Dogs have a natural ability to pick up on how people are feeling, and they can actually smell our emotions.
While a dog, cat or rabbit can’t cure a teen’s depression, (and symptoms lasting longer than a few weeks should be addressed with a professional healthcare provider), an animal can certainly help a teen who is struggling with feelings of loneliness and sadness.
3. Pets Teach Responsibility
Anyone who owns a pet knows there are plenty of responsibilities associated with caring for their needs, and some pets require a whole lot more care than others. Sure, walking a dog, changing kitty litter, or cleaning a rabbit’s cage can be work. But taking the focus off themselves and caring for a pet who relies on them not only instills a sense of responsibility in our teens, but also a ton of empathy. (Just ask any teenager whose dog looks them in the eyes and begs to go for a walk or play fetch – it’s awfully hard to turn them down!)
Even if our teens are only partially responsible for the care and upkeep of a family pet, having a pet can help your teen build their confidence as a competent caregiver and give them a sense of purpose and usefulness.
4. Pets Offer Teens a Great Reason to Be Home!
We’ve all spent more time at home over the past couple of years, but studies have shown that our teens have struggled with this forced isolation more than most. At a time in their lives when they’re supposed to be hanging with friends, going to school, football games and practices, and figuring out who they are, they’re finding themselves holed up in their bedrooms feeling rather suffocated.
Having a pet makes being home so much more bearable. And, on the flip side, pets offer busy teens a great reason to stay home and chill out on occasion. “In my family, our dog brings our family closer together, too! Family walks in the woods with Bailey leading the way have initiated more awesome conversations with my kids than I can recall” Mary Dell Harrington writes.
5. Pets Foster Emotional Intelligence
Being aware of our own emotions and of those around us, known as emotional intelligence, is a life skill that most teens are just beginning to develop.
Learning the nuances of empathy, body language, and social cues takes time, but having a pet can actually help our kids not only tune in to their own emotions, but also the emotions of their pet.
Think about it. The family dog or sometimes even the family cat will be the first one to snuggle up next to our kids when they’re sick or down in the dumps. Dogs wag their tail when they’re excited and cats will rub up against you when they’re happy to see you.
This non-verbal communication gives our kids plenty of practice picking up on the cues of their pets and helps them inadvertently transfer that skill over to human relationships in their life.
6. Pets Help Shy Teens Become More Social
Pets have an uncanny way of helping our teens foster socialization with others. Whether our kids take their dog to a dog park where they strike up conversations with other like-minded, dog-loving people or they have friends over who sit around and pet their cat, animals have a way of making our kids more relaxed and engaging with others. Even socially awkward teens admit that pets serve as a conversation ice breaker and a connection with others.
And, teachers who have taught via Zoom calls or FaceTime have admitted that teens positively respond when a pet is onscreen with them, showing more eye contact, engaging behavior and smiles.
7. Pets Can Improve Teen’s Self-Esteem
Studies have shown that kids and teens with pets (particularly dogs and cats) have higher self-esteem. “Anyone who has grown up with, and loved a family pet intrinsically feels the value of their companionship,” says project lead Dr. Carri Westgarth, from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health.
When a dog gives our teens unconditional love it has a way of boosting our kids’ self-worth and counteracting any problems or negativity they may be facing in other areas of their lives. Furthermore, the fact that teens are fully responsible for another living being helps them build confidence in their abilities and enhances their self-esteem.
8. ADHD and Autistic Teens Benefit from Having a Pet
Many teenagers on the autism spectrum can develop exceptionally strong bonds with animals. According to Dogs For Good, trained autism assistance dogs help change habits by introducing routines, interrupting repetitive behaviors, helping kids cope with unfamiliar surroundings, and even aid in communication.
A pet can also help your teen if they ADHD. Well-trained dogs can help a teen become “centered,” help them calm down, and give them something to focus on. In addition, petting and cuddling with pets release stress-reducing hormones which can be exceptionally helpful for neurodiverse kids.
9. Having a Non-Judgmental, Loyal Friend is Just What Teens Need
The reality is, our teens are constantly being judged – by teachers and coaches at school, by friends and co-workers, and even perfect strangers. They even feel judged by us (at least it feels that way to our kids) when we teach and guide them or lay into them when we lose our cool or get frustrated. (It happens to the best of parents.)
The beauty of having a furry friend they can snuggle with is that no matter what our kids do or don’t do, they’ll never be judged, criticized, lectured or rejected. A loving pet who feels part of the family will be just as loyal (if not sometimes more loyal) as our teen’s human friends.
10. Pets Give Teens a Reason to Get Outdoors and Exercise
We can all admit that today’s kids don’t enjoy the outdoors nearly as much as many people did growing up twenty or thirty years ago. School, work, internships, and of course, plenty of indoor fun like gaming and Netflix means less time outside enjoying nature at its best.
But a dog (and possibly even a cat that doesn’t mind being on a leash) offers teenagers a great excuse to put their cell phone down, hang up their headphones and turn off the television and get outside! Taking a long walk, running through the neighborhood, playing a game of fetch or frisbee isn’t just great exercise for our pets and our kids, simply being outside in the fresh air can help our kids clear their minds and reenergize them.
Of course, it may not be in the cards for every family to own a pet, but teens who grow up with a family pet can benefit in multiple ways, even if it’s just a couple of goldfish in a bowl. Whether it’s a dog, hamster, or a turtle, a pet provides a teenager with a reliable and positive connection that is sure to bring more love and joy into their life. More importantly, a pet can help your teen get through some of the most turbulent years of their life.