(CIRCUS ANIMALS) A child psychiatrist explains the unintentional negative effects of going to the circus with children. She asserts that showing kids that wild animals can be dominated and used as objects sends the wrong message about controlling other beings. We’d add that the circus teaches that animals are made for our entertainment and the sanctioned suffering of animals by adults is an assault on developing empathy. – Global Animal
The circus is coming to town — in Oakland this week, and in San Jose next. For parents who want their children to experience the best of everything in life, the spectacle of wild animals performing amazing tricks seems like thrilling family entertainment. However, attending these events has subtle effects on children that parents should consider.
As a psychiatrist specializing in child development, I have observed directly the relationship between how children treat animals and the way that they eventually treat people. Children who abuse animals are much more likely to be aggressive toward humans. When they become teenagers, they often experience behavioral problems at home and school. As adults, they continue to display violent tendencies and may engage in criminal activities.
When parents take their children to the circus, they indirectly send them the message that animals are objects to be used, and that it is OK to ignore any pain and suffering that the animals might be experiencing. These children may grow up lacking empathy, or the ability to understand the feelings of others. If they are unable to recognize when someone else is in distress, they will have difficulties getting along with people.
On the other hand, children who are taught to treat animals with dignity and respect will also learn to treat humans in this manner, considering the needs of others as well as their own. The development of empathy and the ability to work collaboratively in social settings are key components of emotional intelligence, proved by research studies to be vital for success in school, the workplace, and personal relationships.
Animals such as tigers and elephants are not willing participants in circuses. Unlike domesticated animals, they have not been bred to work and live with humans. On occasion, they have suddenly run amok and attacked spectators. Trainers must utilize whips, chains and hooks to control them. Wild animals that stand on their heads and jump through hoops are performing unnatural acts, under the threat of force.
Children who watch these performances learn that it is acceptable to force another living creature to do something that is stressful, and often even painful, as long as it serves the purpose of entertainment. This mindset will carry over into their relationships with people, and it will not serve them well in life.
Circuses featuring human acrobats are wonderful alternatives to animal shows, and equally delightful for children. For parents who are truly interested in teaching their children about wild animals, watching nature videos is the best option.
For example, observing a group of elephants driving away predators, caring for a youngster, or playing in the mud together is not only entertaining, it is also educational. Elephants are complex, fascinating, and intelligent creatures. They live in extended family systems, with younger generations learning survival skills and appropriate social behaviors from the older ones.
Teaching children to appreciate them for what they are will help them develop empathy and respect for all living things. When we are striving to raise socially responsible and successful citizens in our community, nothing could be more important.
SUJATHA RAMAKRISHNA, M.D., of San Jose, is a child psychologist. She wrote this article for this newspaper.