This journal article examines associations between adolescents’ relationships with their pets and their social media use. It is the first study to explore links between owning pets, online social competence, and social technology use, particularly focused on how pets can act as either a substitute or a complement to social interactions online.
Dr. Charmaraman, Dr. Mueller, and Richer analyzed a sample of 700 middle school students aged 11–16 in the Northeast, looking at how pet companionship is associated with social technology use and the quality of online social connections.
They found that adolescents who have dogs were more likely to check social media more frequently, give and receive online social support, and feel less social isolation. The more time spent with a pet, the more likely the adolescent played online games for leisure and browsed the internet about animals. And the more attached the adolescent was to their pet, the more likely they provided and received online social support.
Together, these exploratory findings show that on the whole, pet owners are not necessarily equal in how they use social technologies. Factors such as the amount of time spent, the type of pet, and the level of attachment to the pet all come into play. But the more attached an adolescent is to a pet, the more likely they will have a developmentally appropriate, strong sense of and respect for a reciprocal online relationship with others and greater sense of community and connectedness to others in their online worlds.
This work was funded by Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development and the Nan May Holstein New Horizons Award from the Wellesley Centers for Women. The study was conducted by the Youth, Media & Wellbeing Research Lab.