A new research reveals kids who care for an animal may have stronger social relationships and connection to their communities.
"Our findings suggest that it may not be whether an animal is present in an individual's life that is most significant but rather the quality of that relationship," said Megan Mueller, a developmental psychologist and research assistant professor at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.
"The young adults who had strong attachment to pets reported feeling more connected to their communities and relationships," added Mueller.
Mueller surveyed over 500 participants aged 18-26 and predominately female about their attitudes and interaction with animals.
Those responses were indexed against responses the same participants had given on a range of questions that measure positive youth development characteristics such as competence, caring, confidence, connection, character and feelings of depression.
Young adults who cared for animals reported engaging in more "contribution" activities, such as providing service to their community, helping friends or family and demonstrating leadership, than those who did not.
The more actively they participated in the pet's care, the higher the contribution scores.
"We can't draw causal links with this study but it is a promising starting point to better understanding the role of animals in our lives, especially when we are young," said Mueller.
The study also found that high levels of attachment to an animal in late adolescence and young adulthood were positively associated with feeling connected with other people, having empathy and feeling confident.
The study was published in the journal Applied Developmental Science.