Adolescents’ relationships with their pets can be very important, since adolescents are at a developmental stage when they’re relying less on their families and more on other relationships in their lives—both human and animal. Yet most research on pet companionship focuses on adults and young children. Moreover, lived experiences around having pets in households with adolescents are underexplored, particularly from parents’ perspectives.
The research team interviewed 31 parents/guardians in the Northeast U.S. to explore their perceptions of the benefits and challenges of having pets for their adolescent’s wellbeing as well as how adolescents affected their pet’s wellbeing.
The three main themes for perceived benefits of pets included social (e.g., reducing anxiety), physical (e.g., screen time companionship), and emotional (e.g., regulation of difficult emotions such as anger and loneliness). Challenges to adolescent wellbeing included such social topics as family tension around unevenly shared responsibilities, physical themes such as problematic animal behaviors, and emotional themes related to grieving the passing of pets.
Dr. Charmaraman and her coauthors offer a developmental systems approach to understanding pets within adolescent families, noting future directions for developing family interventions to improve pet-adolescent interactions given the demands of child and pet upbringing during adolescence.
Research reported in this publication was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health under award numbers R03HD101060-02 and R15HD094281-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.