*The following is excerpted from an online article posted on Verywell Health.
New research shows that the family dog might be even more a best friend than the old saying goes—especially for teens.
The study, published in the Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal, looked at the relationship between adolescents and their pets. The findings showed that middle school-aged children reported feeling less social isolation if they had a pet, but dogs specifically.
Lead author Linda Charmaraman, Ph.D., and her colleagues started out investigating how teens’ online social competence, social technology use, and pet ownership were connected. The team expanded the scope of their research to explore human-animal interactions and pet ownership.
Ultimately, they were surprised by the influence and overlap. When adolescents were more attached to their pets, they were also more likely to give and receive online social support. Teens who had dogs checked social media more frequently, played online games for leisure, and browsed the internet for information about animals.
The researchers analyzed a sample of 700 middle school students ages 11 to 16 from three schools in the greater Boston area. The majority of the participants were white female students with mothers whose average level of education was between “completed college” and “graduate/professional school after college.”
The authors examined the role of pet companionship on four levels: ownership status, type of pet, time spent with the pet, and pet attachment. These factors could indicate attachment level and the influence of pets on teens’ social interactions.
Adolescents with higher attachment to their dogs were more likely to provide online social support to others. As the authors explain, the adolescents “not only reach out when others share positive news about their lives (e.g., low risk and more socially acceptable), but also when times are tough, which can be somewhat of a social risk (i.e., feeling vulnerable and uncertain about the social norms).”
Teens often turn to their pets when sad or upset. Charmaraman and her team explain that the attachment could be associated with adaptive coping behaviors during stressful events, offering further evidence that pets are positively associated with social support and well-being.
According to Charmaraman, “Dogs are also social creatures so teens can learn how love and friendship can be reciprocated if tended to. Teens can receive social validation and feel confident that others will also accept them as they are.”
Source: Verywell Health