I read a very informative article today, which you may have seen in News and World Report. It describes how pets can improve the mood of your teen, should you happen to have a teen in need of mood improvement. Or two, as I do. I can relate to this particular article, as I am cresting the wave of the dark cloud of parenting known as “the bad years”, and I have lived through them twice. I am riding out the second of three of these waves with my 18 year old. My 14 1/2 year old is just getting into his “sullen, non-communicative” phase. We have missed the bus 40 of the last 42 days. This is at 6:57 am, 5 days a week. We are a neighborhood joke that is not funny. We were airborne the other week, flying over the speed bump, while I was hitting the horn to alert the bus driver to wait for said sullen teenager. Think Fast and Furious, with a Furious mom, in her pajamas. This used to be our time to bond, typically in silence. Now, we just chase buses.
This article reminds us that there are too many animals in shelters in need of adoption, particularly this “saddest season of the year”. If you have a teen, and were even considering adopting a pet, consider this. Pets can be extremely beneficial if your teen happens to struggle with emotional and psychological issues. Research consistently describes the physical benefits, and emotional well being boost that pets, and the human animal bond, can offer. It is estimated that 1 in 5 adolescents struggles with a mental disorder. Certainly counseling, and possibly medication is recommended by doctors. But a pet offers those same kids other advantages. All teens, going through the stressful college application process, for example, need a respite from peer pressure, school, and sports. Adolescence is a turbulent time, as teens pull away from their parents in search of their own, separate identity. This shift can be confusing and stressful, and some cope better than others. Studies have shown that those who have an attachment to a pet do better, forcing them to interact when they might not feel like it, and it gives them a sense of purpose.
Furthermore, pet owning teens seem to have stronger social relationships, improved levels of empathy, self-confidence, and connections within their community.
This study by Tufts also found that it is easier to show affection to a pet. Many pets demand attention and cuddling. Unconditional love is always welcome, but particularly necessary when navigating peer interactions that are often judgmental and not so warm and fuzzy. Pets are good listeners, and secret keepers.
Stress reduction has been shown to occur with pet interactions. Oxytocin levels have been shown to increase, while stress hormones decrease , with petting a dog or cat. Blood pressure has been shown to lower as well. And, animal ownership seems to enhance social interaction abilities. Autistic youths have been shown to benefit, with more assertiveness in their interactions. Having pets in one’s life has been demonstrated to help combat feelings of depression and anxiety through companionship.
Keep this in mind if you are thinking that you might be too busy to adopt a cat or dog, or other animal. And then, think again. You might not just improve their lives, but your own, and that of your teen’s.