3 Ways Pets Can Positively Impact Your Teen's Mental Health

"UNTIL ONE HAS LOVED AN ANIMAL, A PART OF ONE'S SOUL REMAINS UNAWAKENED." - ANATOLE FRANCE

Everyone I'm sure has experienced or heard someone talk about the joy they experience when they come home and their beloved pet greets them after a long, challenging day. And let's face it, here in the San Ramon Valley, the pet culture is thriving. But did you know that pets can naturally curate in teens characteristics that help bring them fulfillment and success? Here are 3 specific ways that pets can improve your teen's mental health:

1. Purpose- Caring for an animal that is dependent on them can give your teen motivation to get up out of bed or up off of the computer. The daily needs of a pet can promote responsibility and help your teen think beyond themselves. Especially when a teen is struggling with something like depression, getting them to do anything to care for him or herself can be very difficult. This is because the depression tells them that they are not worth the effort. However, they may have an easier time caring for a pet who is outside of him or herself. The tasks of caring for a pet can also be helpful in distracting teens from their own struggles. 

2. Play- Pets (especially depending on the type of pet you have) naturally have energy and need their owners to help them expend that energy. Taking pets on walks or playing around with them in the yard or at the park helps your teen get outside, out of the house, and be active. Activities like these act like natural anti-depressants, which can serve to help improve your teen's mood. 

3. Relationship- In a world where we are surrounded by judgments and demands, the unfailing and unconditional love of a pet can go far. In addition, pets can serve as facilitators in teaching your teen how to maintain a healthy relationship. While pets are known to be free of pretense and judgment, there is also a measure of trust and care that needs to be in place to build the bond between pet and owner. Allowing your teen to practice building a relationship with a pet can help better prepare and remind them about what it takes to maintain a human to human relationship: time, effort, and being attuned to another's needs. 

I understand that being able to own a pet is not feasible for every family, and also is not the best fit for every teen. Some suggestions for families that are unable to own a pet or are not ready to take on the risk and efforts it takes to own a pet are to allow your teen to volunteer at an animal shelter or rescue and finding a way that they can care for another person's pet like petsitting or offering to walk a neighbor's pet. Finally, if your family is ready to take that step to adopt a pet, help your teen take ownership of the process by allowing them (within appropriate reason) to pick out the pet that they want to adopt and allow them some freedom to name and to direct the care of the pet. 

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