Last week, my 8-year-old son and I buried his pet hamster, Frosty. He chose a spot in the wooded part of our yard, along a path where he walks to a little pond where he has several tadpoles he is patiently watching as they grow into frogs.
Frosty weighed just several ounces, but he taught my son a lot. He needed to be fed and given water, leading my son to feel responsible for another living creature. When a leak during one of this winter's fierce storms dripped right onto the spot where Frosty made his bed, my son worried whether he would be okay. He empathizedwith this small creature. And he helped "rescue" Frosty, dry out his home and make him feel safe and comfortable again.
Frosty seemed to enjoy time outside his cage, and my son thought frequently about this and made it possible. He improved the quality of life of another living creature. Frosty and the dogs and cats and fish who have shared my son's existence have helped him exercise his humanity. This is no small thing in a world given over to computers, the Internet and mobile phones. No animal will allow you to believe a text message is just as good as the sound of your voice. No animal will mistake a "poke" on Facebook for the touch of your hand. There is no walking a dog "virtually."
As adolescents and adults turn to sex to remind them that they are human, we might do well to immunize our children against the threat of feeling dehumanized by giving them the opportunity to nurture creatures that receive and give warmth very directly.
So rescue a cat or dog from an animal shelter today. Or just pick up a hamster at the store. That animal will live in the strong and good heart of your child long after its own life has ended. Dr. Keith Ablow is a psychiatry correspondent for Fox News Channel and a New York Times bestselling author. His book, "Living the Truth: Transform Your Life Through the Power of Insight and Honesty" has launched a new self-help movement including www.livingthetruth.com. Dr. Ablow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.