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Gee co-authors study that finds pets promote social skills, self-esteem in children
Thursday, March 30, 2017

Gee co-authors study that finds pets promote social skills, self-esteem in children

Dr. Nancy Gee

Psychology professor Nancy Gee was a co-author of a new study conducted at the University of Liverpool, England, that concluded growing up with a pet can bring social, emotional and educational benefit to children and adolescents.

The study, published in March in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health and funded by the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, found that youngsters with pets tend to have greater self-esteem, less loneliness and enhanced social skills. The research, Dr. Gee said, adds strength to claims that household pets can help support healthy child development.

“The patterns among sub-populations and age groups suggest that companion animals have the potential to promote healthy child and adolescent development” said Gee, a WALTHAM researcher. “This is an exciting field of study and there is still much to learn about the processes through which pet ownership may impact healthy child development.”

Anyone that has grown up with and loved a family pet intrinsically feels the value of their companionship, said project leader Carri Westgarth, of the Institute of Infection and Global Health. “The scientific evidence investigating the benefits to children and adolescent development looks promising. We dug deep into that evidence to understand which potential benefits were most strongly supported. Ultimately, this will enable us to know more about how pets provide young people with emotional, educational and social support,” Dr. Westgarth explained.

“Critical ages for the impact of pet ownership on self-esteem appear to be greatest for children under 6, and preadolescents and adolescents over 10,” according to lead author Rebecca Purewal. Dogs and cats are generally considered to be the best providers of social support, perhaps due to a higher level of interaction and reciprocation in comparison to other pets.

“In both western and non-western cultures pets may act as a form of psychological support, helping youth feel good about themselves and enabling a positive self-image,” Dr. Purewal noted.

Researchers carried out an in-depth review and quality evaluation of studies investigating the effects of pet ownership on emotional, educational or behavioral development in children and adolescents for the study, which was funded WALTHAM, part of Mars Petcare, which focuses on the nutrition and well-being of dogs, cats, birds and fish and their benefits to humans.

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