A new study has concluded that children prefer the company of their pets – dogs or cats – to that of their siblings, and get a lot more satisfaction from spending time with pets than they do with their brothers or sisters.
Anyone who grew up with a family dog (or two, or three dogs) knows on a personal level how significant canine companions are to our childhood experience.
We turn to our pets for recreation, companionship, bonding, friendship and love. They teach us about loyalty, devotion, and loving unconditionally, no matter what.
But just how much of a difference does having a pet make on our childhood experience and the life which follows? That is the question researchers had in mind when they set out to conduct this study, and the results may or may not surprise you.
Motivation for Research
In Western households, the prevalence of pets is almost as high as that of human siblings. But according to researchers, there are not many studies examining the significance of child-pet relationships.
Lead author of the study Matt Cassells (Ph.D. student at the University of Cambridge) stated that researchers sought to discover just how strong the relationships are between children and their pets in relation to that of children and their siblings.
Ultimately, scientists hope to better understand just what contribution animals have to healthy childhood development.
The results of the study were published in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology.
Details of The Study
The study looked at 77 children (aged 12) and the bond they had with their pets. All the kids had one or more pets (of any kind) and one or more siblings.
Researchers asked the children about their relationships with their pets and siblings. Based on the responses, it was concluded that the children felt more satisfaction in their pet relationships. Dogs received the highest marks out of all the types of pets.
Along with reporting feelings of general closeness with their pets, kids also reported talking and sharing secrets with their animal companions.
Scientists speculate that the fact that pets cannot respond back may potentially be perceived as a benefit, because it means (to the child) they are refraining from judgment.
Children also reported less conflict with their pets than with their siblings.
Girls reported higher levels of disclosure and companionships with their pets than boys did. According to Cassells, this may indicate that girls interact in more subtle ways than boys tend to do.
What These Results Mean
The study did not conclude any evidence toward replacing siblings with pets, but it does offer more information about the positive effects pets have on children in general.
According to study co-author Nancy Gee, this study only bolsters the mounting evidence that having pets has significantly positive benefits for humans. The social support received by adolescents from their pets may be a significant contributor to psychological well-being later on in life.
Developmental psychologists will tell you that it is far too easy for a person’s entire life to be negatively impacted by their early childhood experiences. Even parents who try their hardest may inadvertently do (or not do) something which can determine the way their child feels and behaves for the rest of their lives.
This research adds to the evidence that having pets in the household may have a major influence on child development by positively impacting kids’ social skills and overall emotional well-being.
So the answer to the question some parents ask – “Should I have a pet in the house when I’m trying to focus on raising my child?” – the answer appears to be “it really can’t hurt.”
- Matthew T Cassels, Naomi White, Nancy Gee, Claire Hughes. One of the family? Measuring young adolescents' relationships with pets and siblings. Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, 2017; 49: 12 DOI: 10.1016/j.appdev.2017.01.003