A growing body of research links pet ownership to the emotional wellbeing of children. A review of 22 studies found that kids who grow up with animals are more likely to have higher self-esteem, better cognitive development and more social skills.
In a New York Times article, psychologist and CBS News contributor Lisa Damour explains why teenagers in particular could benefit from pet ownership.
Animals don’t judge
“Teenagers spend a lot of time being judged,” Damour said. “I think for teenagers if they’re feeling terrible about like some quiz from last week, the dog’s not going to be like, ‘Well, maybe you should have studied more.'”
And when teens aren’t being judged by adults, they’re often being judged by their peers on everything from their appearances to social standing.
“The pet doesn’t care if you’re cool. The pet doesn’t care if you have pimples. The pet loves you just as you are, 100% in your corner. Again, everybody needs this but I think teenagers may especially need this,” Damour said.
Pets provide uncomplicated intimacy
“If you’re upset as a teenager, maybe you need a hug but you’re not gonna hug your parents. You may or may not be in a relationship where that makes sense. The dog is there, the cat is there to be hugged,” Damour said.
A substantial amount of research backs up the idea that physical contact with an animal reduces stress. Contact with animals has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure.
“Animals are like a totally reliable cuddle buddy and teenagers maybe more than people of other ages need a reliable cuddle buddy.”
Dogs pick up on human emotions
“Dogs are extremely attuned to physical cues from adults and children and teenagers. So if they notice that you’re different, they’re going to be drawn to you,” Damour said. “Think about what it means to be a kid or teenager. You can feel so alone and so lonely and if you come home and you’re not yourself and the pet picks it up and is drawn to you, it’s huge.”
Dogs love being loved and people love being loved. As Damour put it, “this is one of the least complicated ways to make it happen.”
And if you can’t get a pet, take some cues from what they offer teenagers.
“Teenagers need to be accepted. Teenagers need affection. They also need a way to give affection that doesn’t feel complicated or loaded.”
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