There are lots of us—typical animal-loving kids who ceaselessly pester their parents for a pet: pitching presentations on the advantages of a furry friend, promising to undertake responsibilities way beyond our capabilities, randomly dropping the benefits of animal ownership into conversations—yes, I did all of those things. I can now say that having a cat has been nothing short of what I imagined it to be. It was only once I’d adopted my new feline companion, Sebastian, that I truly recognized the unanticipated ways that he benefitted me, particularly as a teenager.
Purrfect at reducing stress levels
The teenage years are an undeniably difficult time with endless exams catapulted on us and not enough time for much else. Statistics have shown that 61% of teens say they feel a lot of pressure to get good grades (www.pewresearch.org). In the 18-24 age bracket, 60% of young people have felt so stressed by the pressure to succeed that they have felt overwhelmed or unable to cope and almost six out of ten young people said they have become stressed because of a fear of making mistakes (www.mentalhealth.org.uk).
These are worryingly high statistics that clearly need to be addressed. On a personal level, having a cat has helped alleviate daily stressors - just petting or playing with Sebastian relaxes me and helps take my mind off what is bothering me. I was not surprised to learn that stroking a cat releases oxytocin (a hormone that can induce anti-stress-like effects) and that the sound of a cat’s purr can calm nerves and lower blood pressure. I’m not saying that animal companionship is the sole answer to our problems, or that it will fully resolve them, but there is a chance it could make a difference.
A four-legged friend
On a related note, he’s a good friend. For many young people, it’s difficult steering their way through the discord and disputes of friendship issues and the consequential feelings of loneliness. Having a cat means benefitting from a loyal, understanding companion by your side - animals are always willing to listen even when your other friends are ghosting. Although their purrs and meows can’t give any advice on the situation at hand, cats won’t judge or argue, which is sometimes all you need when you’re feeling hurt.
Pawsome Organisation Skills
Although cats are independent animals, they still require considerable care and attention. Feeding needs to be scheduled and monitored and food types tailored to your cat’s health and breed requirements. Playtimes and grooming must also be consistently sustained on a daily basis to prevent health problems and boredom. Cats depend on you just as much as you enjoy their companionship - feline friendship is a two-way street. With hectic teenage lives, reciprocating their love means making enough time to spend with them amongst our numerous commitments.
An important lesson Baz has taught me is the value of being organized. I’ve learned to schedule his responsibilities alongside my own which has helped me to develop this vital life skill. Thanks to him, I’ve found the demands of school and extra-curricular activities less stressful and easier to manage overall.
Fluffy bundles of joy
Finally, Sebastian is like having a live ‘funny cats’ YouTube video to enjoy 24/7. Hilarious videos of whimsical and energetic cats have taken over the internet and there’s a reason why. With the heaviness of teenage life these days, young people use these videos to relieve stress. Their humorous nature releases endorphins which boost our mood and essentially make us happier. As comical as these videos may be, watching your own cat’s mischief can be even more entertaining. Sebastian has stolen treats, fallen off fences, and destroyed toys to pieces; his absurd behavior has given me massive laughs when I have most needed some light-hearted distractions.
My younger self envisaged animal ownership on its most basic levels: petting, playing, and feeding. Now that I’m older, I understand the deeper and more complex ways in which Sebastian has enhanced my life. Those who are dubious will say “he’s just a cat.” But to me, he’s a dependable friend that I will always remember as a wonderful part of my teenage years.