A new study about the benefits of having a cat or dog finds that teenagers benefit from household pets in a number of ways. The study looked specifically at the associations between adolescents’ relationships with their pets and social media use. This is the first study to explore links between owning pets, online social competence, and social media use. In particular, it focuses on how pets can act as either a substitute or a complement to social interactions online.
Pets and social media: dogs linked with less isolation
The study, published this week in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, had several key findings. First, adolescents who have dogs were more likely to check social media more frequently, give and receive online social support, and feel less social isolation.
Secondly, the more time spent with a pet, the more likely the adolescent played online games for leisure and browsed the internet about animals.
And thirdly, the more attached the adolescent was to their pet, the more likely they provided and received online social support.
“We found that the type of pet mattered,” said co-author Linda Charmaraman of Wellesley College. “Adolescent dog owners preferred not to spend their free time alone,” she said. Furthermore, they were “were more likely to socialize frequently on social media than non-dog owners,” she said.
“They were also more likely to report that online social support such as social media allows them to express themselves and relate to others,” she said.
Benefits of having a cat or dog: more community and connectedness
“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,” Charmaraman said. “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.”
“It may be that youth who have strong social skills are more likely to have these skills reinforced through pet relationships,” she said, “and further extend their social networks online.”
The paper has three co-authors. The first is Linda Charmaraman, heads the Youth, Media and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women. A co-author is Megan K. Mueller, assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. She is also co-director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction. The third co-author was Amanda M. Richer, a research associate at the Wellesley Centers for Women.
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Study: “The Role of Pet Companionship in Online and Offline Social Interactions in Adolescence“
Authors: Linda Charmaraman, Megan K. Mueller, and Amanda M. Richer
Published in: Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal
Publication date: September 14, 2020
Photo: by Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels