Pets are known for their loving companionship and have many other wonderful benefits but a new study shows that they also help with social development for adolescents.
The study, published in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, analyzed a sample of 700 middle school students aged 11–16 in the greater Boston area, in Massachusetts, US.
Adolescents who have dogs were more likely to check social media more frequently, give and receive online social support, and feel less social isolation.
According to the study, the more time spent with a pet, the more likely the adolescent played online games for leisure and browsed the Internet about animals. The study added that the fact that those who spend a lot of time with pets also tend to browse on the internet for animal content suggests that their affection for animals remains present even during social technology use.
Furthermore, the study found that the more attached one was to a pet companion, the more likely an adolescent provided and received online social support.
Linda Charmaraman, co-writer of the study, a senior research scientist and head of the Youth, Media and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women, a research and action institute at Wellesley College, said, “We found that the type of pet mattered—for example, that adolescent dog owners preferred not to spend their free time alone, and were more likely to socialize frequently on social media than non-dog owners. They were also more likely to report that online social support such as social media allows them to express themselves and relate to others.”
“Our study found that the more attached an adolescent is to their pet, the more likely they will have a greater sense of community and connectedness to others in their online worlds. They are willing to take higher social risks online—meaning they reach out to others who seek support, and they lean on their online communities when they need support,” Charmaraman said.
“It may be that youth who have strong social skills are more likely to have these skills reinforced through pet relationships, and further extend their social networks online,” Charmaraman continued.
“This is the first study to explore cross-sectional 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,” the report states.
The study was also co-authored by Megan K. Mueller and Amanda M. Richer.