Monday, February 20, 2006

Children, Hobbies, and Responsibility

By Christina VanGinkel

Walking through a mall several years ago, my son, then about the age of ten, begged to walk into a large pet store. Lining the walls was every imaginable type of pet from the classic dog, to a variety of snakes that was enough for this person to want to decide she was not staying in the store any longer than she had to. I told my son he could take a quick look around, but that we had other shopping to do, so we could not browse for a long length of time. I also told him I would stay right at the front of the store and wait for him, as I could easily see around the store from that viewpoint and I really had no desire to walk amongst the cages tanks.

He wandered up and down each aisle and three or four times I saw him swing back around to the same cage up amongst things like crickets and small mice used for feeding the many snakes that were in residence. Finally, I motioned to him that it was time to go, but before he would leave the store, he really wanted to show me something. I conceded to look, and what he showed me was a small hermit crab.

Well, to make a long story short, he won me over with promises to take care of the crab, feed him (it), and keep the container it would need to live in clean. So, we drove the several hundred miles we were away from home that day, with a new addition to the household. It was not very hard for him to win me over, as I had already been through this same routine with my two older children, but he had not a clue to that fact.

Each of my older children had went through a similar phase at about the same age, or even a bit younger, where they so badly wanted a pet, something to call their own, yet my husband and I both felt that they were not yet ready for the responsibility. With each child, we did give in to a point, and allowed them to get pets such as goldfish, one time a small lizard type creature, and in that instance, a hermit crab. Kids all seem to reach a certain age, for some it is much younger than age ten, some maybe older, where they arrive at a point where they want to have something all their own, not always necessarily a pet mind you, but still something that they can claim as theirs. Some kids may be satisfied with a hobby such as model building, or drawing, but for some, only something living and breathing can satisfy that need.
Allowing your child to bring a small fish, a hermit crab, an ant farm, or even a tank with frogs into the house, can be a very rewarding hobby for them to participate in, and at the same time, possibly impart some skills in case they talk you into a larger pet down the road. While an ant farm is self-sufficient once it is all set up, other small animals, like the hermit crab, do require a moderate amount of care, but they will not fall over dead if a single feeding is missed, or the child is a bit lax on their cleaning skills. At the same time, as the parent, you can monitor their progress, and learn a lot about how ready they might be for something larger down the line. You can also judge how fast their interest stays or goes, and while depending on the subject at hand, this may differ significantly, you can still take note of how much effort they make in keeping up that interest.

Hobbies and pastimes will come and go with your child as they age, but a small pet such as fish, frogs, ant farms, and hermit crabs, are a good hobby for any child to test the waters of commitment. As for the hermit crab that came home with us that day, he lived out his life with us for about two years, after which time he sadly passed away. I later learned that hermit crabs have an average lifespan of two to five years when in captivity, but can live much longer if left in their natural habitat. Two years does not seem like a long time in retrospect, but considering he survived in the room of a pre-teen boy that long, I would reckon he might have just felt as if it was time to go!

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