According to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control, children’s mental health is in crisis. Even before the pandemic disrupted school and family life, data showed that one in five children had a mental health diagnosis — but only 20 percent of those were receiving treatment. More recently,
Between growing up during a global pandemic, lockdown drills at school, and the incessant pull of messaging apps and social media, it’s no wonder our kids’ mental health is suffering. A 2022 survey found that 15 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 reported at least one major depressive episode in the prior year. While nothing can or should replace the skilled care of a mental health professional, the love and companionship of a four-legged friend can be a valuable form of emotional support for your child.
Research shows that spending time with animals can decrease stress and anxiety, boost physical activity and social interaction, and enhance mood and self-esteem. And if that’s not enough, studies have also found that caring for animals can help develop empathy, kindness, and accountability.
Spending time with animals means being in a judgment-free zone where kids can just be themselves, explains Lynn McChesney, the owner of Triple Creek Ranch in Longmont. Horses in particular, can help ground us, teach character building, and are overall “a great mental health booster,” she says. “Moreover, the activities involved in caring for a horse—grooming, hefting buckets and saddles, cleaning stalls—can make for a great body/mind workout for kids.” If you can’t commit to adopting a pet or being around animals on a regular basis, that’s okay. “Believe it or not, one interaction can make a difference,” says McChesney.
If you’re interested in giving your child a chance to spend time with animals on a regular basis this summer, there are several local resources worth exploring. Triple Creek Ranch in Longmont offers summer camp programming that gives campers the chance to not only learn to ride but also to learn skills including responsibility, kindness, and self-discipline, through tasks like horse chores and grooming.
“Learning to – and enjoying the thrill of – riding a horse is a spectacular way to engage children in the world away from their bedroom or television screen. Plus, being immersed in the great outdoors brings them back to their center,” says McChesney.
For kids who are interested in smaller furry friends, the Longmont Humane Society offers summer camps both in person and online to teach kids ages 7-12 how to safely handle animals, encourage animal-related careers, and show them how to help animals in the community.
For more information about Triple Creek Ranch, including details on both summer camps and lessons, visit triplecreek-ranch.com.
For details on Longmont Humane Society’s children’s programming, visit longmonthumane.org/programs/humane-education.
By Pam Moore, Raised in the Rockies