Studies show that as children develop into young adults, the relationship with their pets can become distant. When children grow older, typically around their high school years, attachment to pets starts to decline.
This is analogous to how a child loses interest in their stuffed animals as they grow older. There is evidence to suggest that the same loss of interest can apply to teens with their pets.
The relationships humans have with their pets creates a fascinating dynamic. Adults have a powerful attachment to their pets in many profound ways. Some adults have even risked their lives to save their pets. For others, their pets’ love and compassion have helped them navigate depression or grief.
There have been many studies on the subject of pet attachment theory, and the research is ongoing. As developmental studies are becoming a focus in the scientific community, researchers have been able to learn more about the relationship between humans and pets.
This relationship is fascinating. The love people have for their pets is incredibly deep. This poses the question: why during teenage years does the bond between a teen and their pet seem to decline?
What studies show about pet attachment theory
What happens during puberty that would cause attachment to pets to reduce? There are many variables to consider when searching for this answer.
Does the teen have a general fondness of animals? Do they find their pet to be comforting? Would they be lonely if they did not have their pet?
By asking these questions, you can start to paint a picture of the attachment relationship between pets and teens.
Interestingly enough, studies find a significant decrease in the attachment to pets during their teenage years. The highest level of devotion is observed at age 11 and decreases steadily to age 15.
Even more peculiar, studies have determined this decrease in attachment is higher in boys. While girls’ devotion to pets does decline, the degree is not nearly as high.
There is an argument to be made about the significance of the difference in attachment between boys and girls. Some researchers conclude this disparity isn’t statistically significant. However, others believe it’s worth scientific consideration.
Another intriguing aspect of this study is the difference in species. Studies have found that children who grew up with dogs exhibited less of a decline than children who owned cats or other small pets.
Why does attachment to pets change?
At first, it may not seem to make much sense why teenagers lose interest in their family pets. But consider what is going on in a teen’s life during puberty. This is a period of immense social development.
Between the ages of 11 and 15, teens are starting to seek more social approval from their peers at school. They begin to look for acceptance by their friends and establish their place in the world. They may start competing in sports, and their school work may take more time and energy.
This process is distinct from their familial relationships.
In previous years, the family seemed like the essential component in a child’s life. But as they start to get older teens’ focus shifts to being popular or accepted by the other kids their age.
That shift relates to the attachment theory for pets. By extension, the pet is part of the family base, so as teens start to distance themselves from their family members, their attachment to their pets starts to decrease.
To be clear, this does not always mean that teens will completely ignore their pets. It just means that teens will not need their pets the way they previously did. The relationship may change. For example, a child who used to walk their dog regularly might instead be happier sitting with the dog on the couch while watching television.
What does this all mean?
Understanding the principle of why a child might distance themselves from their pets as they get older is essential. Having a clear picture of the why tells you a lot about child development and the stage of the child’s maturity.
The teenage years are a crucial time for development. Studies have found that encouraging your child’s relationship with animals is an excellent way for them to cope with stress. Though it may seem counterintuitive to a teen, animals provide an excellent way to express your feelings during difficult times.
By encouraging your teen to interact more with animals, you may be helping them transition between child and adult. Animals will always love and listen to you when no one else will. This is a positive and healthy form of companionship that is not based on social acceptance.
Pets also help with stress and anxiety. Whether that is through play or going on a walk with your pet, studies find that having that relationship is a great way to decrease anxiety.
While you can’t force a teenager to stay home with their pet, you can keep them involved with animal relationships. A great way to encourage independence while also helping your child spend more time around animals is by volunteering at animal shelters or pet stores. Some nature centers even have student-volunteering programs.
You also could encourage your child to start pet sitting. This is a great way for them to learn the responsibility of caring for a dog while gaining the independence of having a job of their own.
Final thoughts about pet attachment
While teenagers tend to stray from their pet relationships, it isn’t necessary. Animals are incredibly therapeutic and are great companions during crucial developmental stages. Through encouraging your child to spend more time around animals, you can help them deal with the stress that comes along with growing up.
If you do not have a pet, you should consider adopting one or volunteering at a shelter. Being active in your community is always a good thing to learn when you are young. And providing the opportunity for them to have an animal companion is excellent for developing stress management skills.
Alexis Schaffer is a former ballet instructor and aspiring nurse. In her free time, she teaches yoga and writes for various online publications. She’s also the proud dog mom of a beagle named Dobby. You can reach Alexis by email.