Last summer my daughter showed me a Facebook status of a friend trying to urgently rehome a kitten that her boyfriend got for her but who her mother would not let her keep.
“Can we take him?” my daughter asked. “Just until they get their own apartment, maybe a few weeks?”
“If no one else gives the kitty a home, they can bring him over here and we’ll see how it goes, if they even show up,” I replied, not thinking they would make to my house before I had to leave.
I value people who can arrive on time, so I figured if they could meet my first standard, then perhaps I would be willing to help them out. Temporarily.
Literally within days, another of my daughter’s friends was frantically trying to find someone to adopt two kittens, a sibling pair who had to be gone by the end of the day.
Being the sucker that I am, that was how the final three feline members of my family came to live in my house — short-notice cat rescue and adoption. I thought it was perhaps a strange phenomenon, maybe some kind of thing happening in the universe with the planets being aligned just so.
However, since then, my daughter continues to show me Facebook updates from her friends desperately seeking adoption for cats and dogs they’ve gotten but are not allowed to keep. To top it off, they are always URGENT or EMERGENCY situations in which the teen MUST get rid of the animal IMMEDIATELY.
While I am proud to say that I have finally learned some boundaries and no longer welcome these castoffs into my home, the fact that so many kids and parents are in disagreement over their pets concerns me.
Teenagers have a notoriously poor reputation with regard to responsibility. To their credit, their brains are not finished developing and they don’t have the ability to process their choices the same way they will later in life. Even so, as a parent, I believe pets can be very beneficial for these youngsters. And while I don’t know the full stories of every teen/parent dynamic, I do believe that maybe these parents are forcing their children’s animals to go a little too quickly, without either being actively involved in finding new homes for them or considering the benefits the pet could have for their child.
The American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry and the American Psychological Association say there are multiple benefits for children who own pets. The National Center for Biotechnology Information states that human-animal interactions increase oxytocin levels in humans, which lead to the following:
Becoming involved in animal rescue and caring for homeless animals with my teenage daughter has been among my best parenting decisions. I believe this activity prevented my daughter from falling down the rabbit hole of substance abuse and addiction, a path that she’d started upon in middle school, and which, tragically, runs in our family.
When I agreed to adopt our first cat, I explained to my daughter that she would be active in helping to clean up after him. We went on to adopt several more pets, and with each addition she and I had a conversation about what it meant to take on additional responsibility. Each time, she agreed to step up her efforts.
My daughter is not a perfect animal guardian, but she does spend a lot of her time helping to take care of our cats and dogs. It is true that I have to oversee a lot of the work. But I think it’s worth it. Teens can be very self-centered, and I believe animals help get them out of this mindset.
Personally, I would rather have a house full of rescue animals then a teenager who drowns her sorrow and angst in illicit substances or bad relationships because she doesn’t feel respected, loved, or connected.
I know sometimes parents quite simply cannot, for whatever reason, let a teenager keep a pet. In these cases, I encourage parents to become actively involved in finding the animals new homes. If that is too much work, then please take the animal to the local shelter.
I fear that animals who are adopted out via Facebook fall victim to a larger problem in which the communication between parents and teens is lacking, and that many of them wind up in the same predicament repeatedly.
It is fair for a parent to request a teenager to be responsible and help maintain pets. This is a process that takes time. Just as it took us time to become the responsible adults we are today, it will take time for our children to do so. Being willing to guide them on this path is a way to open up a larger dialogue about responsibility and ethics while teaching them the lifelong skills required as part of caring for others. Participating in animal rescue can also be good for teens and their parents alike.
Did you have pets as a teenager? Do you have a teenager with a pet? How has it worked? Let us know in the comments.
Read more by Kezia Willingham.
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About Kezia Willingham: Kezia, also known as The Breadwinning Laundry Queen, works as the Health Coordinator for a Head Start program and lives with her family, which includes a pack of rescued animals, in Seattle. She writes for Catster and Dogster and has been published in The New York Times, Literary Mama, the Seattle Times, and xoJane.com. She has a master’s degree in Social Work and a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Sciences. You can follow her on Twitter @KeziaWillingham.