Animal Studies Bibliography
Robin, Michael and Robert ten Bensel. 1985. Pets and the socialization of children. Marriage and Family Review 8(3/4): 63-78.
Because so many children have pets, it is important to study pets' role in child development. Companion animals help children's normal development by providing an outlet for pent-up energy, security in scary situations like meeting strangers, and companionship that may replace missing human contacts like siblings. Pet care teaches children the developmental lesson of responsibility and competence, and the pet, by providing unconditional and uncritical affection, helps the child separate from the mother and become autonomous. Pets may help adolescents in their transitional period by serving as a confidant, an object of love, a protector, a social facilitator, or a status symbol (66). Pets serve these functions well because the interaction with them is uncomplicated because it is tactile, not verbal. Children may also treat pets as their own children, often to show their neglectful parents how they wish to be treated. A pet's role in the family depends on the family's emotional climate and structure. Positive changes (more happiness and family play) or negative changes (arguing over pet care, less time spent together) may occur in the family after a pet joins it. Pets may be very important in a family, often considered members of the family and included in family photos and central to family interactions. Pets may also be involved in family problems (abuse, etc.), and kids may use animals psychodynamically as part of their coping mechanisms (e.g. become overly involved with a pet to compensate for lack of family love or to avoid human interactions). Having a pet can be important in teaching children about death and grieving, although this grief is often dismissed or minimized. Such a death is an important experience in itself, not just as a practice for dealing with future deaths. Feelings about pet loss are shaped by developmental stage. Children under 5 have minimal attachments to their pets and see the loss as temporary; kids 5-9 think they can avoid pet loss; school-aged kids had a short period of deep grief, which was often alleviated by getting a new pet; and adolescents showed the most grief, due to longer attachments to pets and adult perceptions about death' finality and inevitableness. Reactions are also shaped by how the pet is lost (accident, illness, age, etc.), and empirical work should be done on this factor. Another important issue is childhood cruelty to animals. Philosophers have long thought that cruelty to animals leads to numbness toward hurting people. With urbanization and the introduction of pets, people realized that (at least some) animals could feel pain and were worthy of moral consideration. Several studies have shown that cruelty toward animals, often linked with enuresis and fire-setting and caused by parental physical abuse or neglect, does lead to violent adulthoods. For abused children, pets may be one thing they can control (and abuse), and may be a place to vent their anger against people. These studies do not address, however, the child's history with animals--whether the abused animal is the child's pet, whether the child has ever had a pet, etc. In the authors' study of 81 violent offenders in Minnesota, most had had special pets, 95% valued pets, and they were more likely than the control group to have had dogs in the home, as well as odd pets like a wolf of cougar. Offenders were more likely to have lost their pet to a gunshot, were more likely to be angry at the loss of the pet, and were much more likely than control to want a pet now , suggesting a possibly worthwhile intervention in prisons. In a similar study of institutionalized youth (juvenile offenders and some in psychiatric care), 91% had had pets and 99% cared for them, vs. 90% and 97% among controls, suggesting the importance of pets in all children's lives as well as the fact that pet ownership does not prevent children from going bad. Pets of the institutionalized children suffered more abuse but usually not from the child (in fact, the child often tried to protect the animal). All the youths (except for 1) that did abuse their pets expressed sadness and remorse (75). Adults often harmed children's pets as a way to keep the children quiet. Pets clearly play crucial roles in the lives of children.