Are aquariums good for children?
This is a question I get asked all the time. Are fish tanks beneficial for my children? Many parents who are fish-keepers will attest to the benefits they see from ownership of an aquarium in a household with kids. Yes, there are too those parents who use it as a crafty excuse to visit their local fish store every weekend, for sure!
Now, I've written many blogs and articles, and there is always the temptation to give clean and popular views based on trawling Google or books on the subject. This time, however, I'm going to write this from personal experience. In my household (as you might expect from the owner of an aquatics company) I have six aquariums - and almost as many children.
Our home aquariums range from a small 30L nano tank right up to a six-foot 650L fish tank, with many variations in-between. At the time of writing, we keep a wide variety of fish species including Jack Dempsey's, Malawi cichlids, fancy goldfish, leopard mollies, musk turtles and a very special giant snakehead. I personally did not grow up around fish or tropical fishkeeping, but my children certainly have.
From a very simple and superficial point of view, its easy and true to say that looking at fish swimming in an aquarium is nice, and often compels small children to jump around excitedly, or conversely acts as a calming influence to counteract hyperactivity; but there's certainly more depth to it.
I have nearly twenty years experience in the aquatic trade, and have seen things from both sides of the aquarium shop counter, and more often than not, find myself smiling and contented by children's reactions to and experiences of fish and the hobby in general. From my own experience and years of observation, I believe the benefits, even the most superficial and fleeting ones, soon outweigh any negatives.
For those who choose to focus on the negative, I'll identify the risks and mention the downsides for you. There is water and electricity involved, and chemical additives such as de-chlorinator, bacteria and medicines, plus the costs of upkeep and the need to invest time and effort. There is also the very small risk of drowning and injury, particularly around a pond, so parental supervision, patience and instruction is most definitely required. The fishkeeping hobby is a responsibility.
The most common complaint I hear from other parents always concerns responsibility, wherein they assume that, over time, their children will neglect their responsibilities, and the task of feeding and maintaining fish tanks becomes the sole and begrudging task of the adult. I respect and can relate to this, for sure, but as a parent, I also consider it an opportunity for self-reflection.
When I hear or observe of this happening, I often wonder, is it not partly the failing of the parent? Speaking as one myself, I believe that if children enjoy something or receive positive encouragement, they will take interest in it long-term. I mean, my kids have never lost interest in video games, or football. So surely any other hobby, or interest, is as rewarding as you nurture and encourage it? If you are not enjoying the hobby or applying self-discipline, is it perhaps rubbing off on your kids?
Running an aquatic business, aquarium maintenance has become somewhat routine for me, but that doesn't mean I always enjoy it. I'm efficient at it, and can do it on autopilot, safe in the knowledge that I usually know what I am doing; but it's quite understandable that, given it is not always fun or easy, an adult as much as a child can easily lose interest or begin to see it as a physical chore.
If I didn't maintain the tank or feed the fish, they wouldn't thrive and the lives I am responsible for will suffer, as will my enjoyment of the hobby. But isn't that what life is about - responsibility? What a valuable lesson for a child to learn from an early age, applying discipline to responsibility, and reaping the rewards. Caring for animals, in whatever form, is a responsibility that nurtures many valuable life skills.
As my children have grown, fish and fishkeeping has played a huge part in their lives, and helped me to bond with my children, providing so much enjoyment and many positive memories. I have seen their consideration toward others improve, their compassion and caring developed particularly towards animals, and their emotional health and wellbeing improve. A child understanding how different the world fish live in is from ours is feeding their imagination and broadening their creativity.
Understanding the cycle of life from an early age is proven to help produce well-adjusted adults. In fact, fishkeeping fosters many valuable life skills I believe will reinforce development into mature and responsible adulthood. I have definitely witnessed the calming influence fish have on young children too, and am certain that it has helped improve sleep patterns. After all, how many of you have listened to ocean sounds or moving and trickling water to help you meditate or sleep?
There is also what I like to refer to as "the hunt". This refers to the will and enthusiasm of people to travel hundreds of miles to visit tropical fish stores for a particular species, or the sudden delight in discovering a store whilst on a journey and popping-in for a look. I have yet to meet a child who doesn't enjoy looking at the wide variety of species on offer in your typical aquarium shop. Kids enjoy road trips, for sure, and also associate positive memories with visiting such places if you are already enjoying a holiday or out spending quality weekend-time together.
Teenagers, particularly older teens, can be very handy and generally more interested and involved when it comes to the manual labour aspect. The older I get, the more appreciative I am of help to carry 25L barrels after a water change!
Most teenagers however, if they haven't succumbed to the hobby's addictive tendencies, tend to lose interest, although they do often revisit the hobby later in life. I see and hear this all the time, and firmly believe that it is because of the influence of their parents during their formative years. The desire to recapture nice childhood memories, and the enthusiasm to create new ones for their own children or grandchildren, is certainly a common occurrence amongst our customers.
So in summary, it is my own personal belief, that yes aquariums and the fishkeeping hobby in general has many positive benefits for children, particularly in terms of development, mental health and wellbeing.
Photo credit(s): Getty Images / Canva Pro Licence.