The BC SPCA recognizes that animals can help kids develop empathy and offers summer camp programs to create healthier communities.
A child’s ability to imagine themselves in another person’s shoes is a valuable skill needed to build strong friendships and relationships. Yet, research from the University of Michigan suggests that kids are 40 per cent less empathetic than their peers 30 years ago and more narcissistic. Experts, such as educational psychologist and author Dr. Michele Borba, point to increased screen time as impacting a child’s empathy development. More kids are interacting with a screen instead of spending time playing together. This lack of face-to-face communication inhibits the development of emotional intelligence – the ability to recognize their own feelings and other people’s feelings.
The SPCA offers youth workshops and summer day camps that teach kids to respect animals, each other and nature. “At camp, we provide opportunities for kids to interact with pets in a respectful, gentle and caring manner,” says Paula Neuman, humane education manager for the BC SPCA. Kids learn about animal care and animal welfare issues through fun activities, group discussion questions and projects.
The SPCA’s humane education programs incorporate cooperative learning activities that foster self-reflection and build self-esteem. Kids develop a respect for people’s differences and feelings while working towards common goals.
Animals provide youth, particularly boys, with a chance to practice their nurturing skills and can act as early intervention to prevent violence and other antisocial behavior. “We encourage kids to think about animals from an animal’s perspective,” says Neuman.
There is a well-studied link between animal cruelty and violence towards humans. Animal abuse often coincides with child abuse and domestic partner violence in the home. Children who witness animal abuse have a higher risk of becoming abusers themselves. Teaching children to be kind to animals can help create healthier communities by reducing levels of bullying and violence while promoting healthy interpersonal relationships.
The SPCA’s summer camps enrich the lives of 1,600 youth across the province every year. Parents definitely notice positive changes in their children’s behaviour after camp.
Here are a few of their comments:
“She feels more empathy for all animals and wanted her friend to release a spider she caught because it wasn’t right to keep a wild animal.”
“He talked a lot more about the environment, human impact on wildlife, responsibility towards animals and the planet.”
“He truly understands what it takes to take care of a pet.”
“She treats the cat more gently.”