A study published this week in Child and Adolescent Social Work Journal examines associations between adolescents’ relationships with their pets and their social media use. This is the first study to explore links between owning pets, online social competence, and social technology use, particularly focused on how pets can act as either a substitute or a complement to social interactions online. 

The results include the following:

  • Adolescents who have dogs were more likely to check social media more frequently, give and receive online social support, and feel less social isolation. 
  • The more time spent with a pet, the more likely the adolescent played online games for leisure and browsed the internet about animals.
  • The more attached the adolescent was to their pet, the more likely they provided and received online social support.  

The paper was co-written by Linda Charmaraman, a senior research scientist and head of the Youth, Media and Wellbeing Research Lab at the Wellesley Centers for Women, a research and action institute at Wellesley College; Megan K. Mueller, assistant professor at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and co-director of the Tufts Institute for Human-Animal Interaction; and Amanda M. Richer, research associate at the Wellesley Centers for Women. Charmaraman is available for interviews on the study.

Charmaraman says:

“We found that the type of pet mattered—for example, that adolescent dog owners preferred not to spend their free time alone, and were more likely to socialize frequently on social media than non-dog owners. They were also more likely to report that online social support such as social media allows them to express themselves and relate to others.”

“Our study found that the more attached an adolescent is to their pet, the more likely they will have a greater sense of community and connectedness to others in their online worlds. They are willing to take higher social risks online—meaning they reach out to others who seek support, and they lean on their online communities when they need support.” 

“It may be that youth who have strong social skills are more likely to have these skills reinforced through pet relationships, and further extend their social networks online.”

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