Pets Can’t Teach Kids Responsibility. That’s Your Job.

One spring day, a couple walked into an animal shelter to surrender their young female shepherd. The dog was friendly and there hadn’t been a divorce, relocation, or other major event in the family that often precedes the surrender of a pet. The man had intended to teach his daughter responsibility by giving her a dog. When the 10-year-old girl didn't care for the dog, the parents realized they didn't want to assume that responsibility either. The shepherd, now past her "puppy stage," consequently found herself without a home. This true story illustrates one way acquiring a pet to teach your children responsibility can backfire.

Pets can have a profound social impact on the young. The experiences children have with their pets are different from the experiences they have with their toys. While both toys and pets are enjoyable to children, a toy's purpose is to be used according to the whims of children. When toys become tiresome, they can simply be put away. Children must be guided by adults to understand that living things aren't made that way. Even the simple act of pausing a video game to walk the dog demonstrates a mature ability to recognize the needs of another. This, however, is not something that happens without prior and continuing parental guidance.

Before acquiring a pet, families with children must decide if the children will have any pet-related duties. If so, the children should first and foremost know what will be expected of them in terms of pet care. Secondly, the ...

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