To pet or not to pet? It's a major decision for families.
There are lots of benefits for kids in having a pet. There are also lots of responsibilities and expenses that go along with a pet.
The real key in agreeing to get your child a pet is knowing that you will be the one who is ultimately responsible - just like you are ultimately responsible for all the other lives in your household.
Consider these pet pros and cons before agreeing to bring an animal home.
Advantages of Pet Ownership
Here are just a few of the ways pets can enrich your child's life:
Pets can be a real comfort to children under stress. We've all had those times when you feel no one loves or understand us. Somehow, it really helps to bury your face in a loving dog or cat's tummy and just cry it out.
Pets offer children unconditional love. Step on Poochie's tail, yell at him, even take him to the groomer - and you're still his favorite person in the world. Go figure.
If you allow Fluffy or Spot on the bed, he or she can be a real comfort for kids who are afraid of the dark or who don't want to sleep alone. This, in turn, can be a real comfort for parents who do want to sleep alone.
Pets, especially dogs, are reassuring for kids who are alone in the house occasionally. Latch key kids have a living being to welcome them home. Teens feel comfortable alone while the parents have a night out.
Pets are an excellent way to teach children about loving, caring, and sharing. Show your kids how to care for a pet by the way that you care for it. If you kick the dog, they will, too. If you love it, pet it, and brush it happily, they will, too.
By caring for an animal that cannot talk, children learn lifelong skills such as reading nonverbal cues that they can use with people later on in life. And kids who own pets often score higher on tests for social skills, empathy, and self-esteem.
Pets are an easy source of entertainment. Most furry bets are fun to play with. Dogs fetch. Cats chase string. You can even train them. Some children even show their animals.
Kids who grow up with pets are less likely to develop allergies than kids who grow up solo. Scientists speculate that may be because the children acquire immunities to animals early on.
Pets provide biology lessons. Not only can alert kids learn the facts of life, but they can also earn about the life cycle from birth to death.
Finally, pets are an excellent way to teach a child responsibility. Though this is often touted as one of the main reasons to let children have pets, I think it's overrated.
While most young children are not mature enough for such responsibility, they are old enough for the main value pets offer - namely, something to love that will love them back. Once that love is established, responsibility will gradually follow as the child matures. Here are some easy pets for younger kids.
Disadvantages of Pet Ownership
Now, let's address the parental knee-jerk responsive to the perennial question, "Can I have a ______?" Which is often, understandably, a resounding "No!"
Your instincts are initially correct. Pets are a lot of trouble. They can be dirty, messy, noisy, and expensive. Here are just a few of the concerns that you should consider before agreeing to any pet - big or small, furry, finned or feathered:
Animals are messy. Even caged animals seem to be able to hurl shavings to the far corners of the room. And we won't even discuss the repercussions of a cat with a hairball.
Animals are a lot of work. Pets need to be fed, bathed and groomed. Dogs need walking. Cats need litter boxes scooped. Aquariums and cages must be cleaned.
Often, this will be your work. You cannot punish a negligent child by punishing the animal. If the kids goes off to school without feeding the rat, you can't let it go without food or water all day. (Consider these pet care consequences for kids instead.) Just realize that there are times - no matter how old or responsible the child - that the pet will be your responsibility by default.
Pets make vacations difficult. Consider how often you are away from home and how easily you will be able to get someone to look after your pet. The best bet is to get a pet that's easily cared for, and switch off vacation pet duty with a neighboring family.
Animals eventually get sick and/or die. Can you say Pet Insurance? Seriously, you might want to check into it. An animal is a member of your family and you cannot let it suffer. What kind of parenting skills would that teach your child? Even a box turtle can rack up the vet bills. Be sure that you are willing to pay what it takes to keep your pet healthy.
Pets are expensive. "But Mom, the rat is only $2!" Yes, darling, you're right. But then there's the $35 cage; the $9.95 bag of shavings; the $4.95 house; the $11.95 bag of food and the $6.95 rat care book. And he will need toys, of course, and treats. And he will need these things for the two or three years that the rat lives. And that's just a rat!
Wait! Aren't we missing something? I saved the worst for last: Kids lose interest. Of course they do - kids lose interest in everything.
Their attention spans are about a nanosecond long. Why would you assume it would be different for pets?
The real key here is knowing the pet pros and cons before you agree to bring an animal home. Because it will probably be your pet. If you don't want that responsibility or if you don't like cats, dogs, snakes, whatever - don't get one. Period.