Is your teen struggling with stress, anxiety or insecurity? Get them a pet! A review of 22 studies by clinical psychologist Dr. Lisa Damour found kids who grow up with animals tend to have higher self-esteem, better cognitive development and more social skills. Here’s why:

First: Animals don’t judge. Teens feel they’re constantly being judged on everything from their grades, to their looks, to their behavior, to their social standing. But a dog doesn’t care if you’re cool, failed an exam, or have zits.

Pets also offer comfort, no questions asked. Animals sense our feelings. They tend to gravitate toward anyone who’s lonely, upset or feeling “off.” Plus, pets give teens an outlet to be caring and loving without the fear of rejection. And Dr. Damour says that unconditional love and acceptance can be especially crucial during the anxiety-ridden teenage years. Contact with animals has been shown to lower heart rate and blood pressure – which can physically lessen the affects of stress and anxiety.

Finally: Pets help keep us “in the moment.” After all, they need to be fed and walked, preferably on a schedule. And when they try getting your attention, say by sticking their nose in your face, or climbing onto your laptop, they’re almost impossible to ignore. And Dr. Damour says anything that gets teens focused on the here-and-now, instead of worrying about the future, is a really good thing.

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