My first pet was a gerbil I got when I was eight years old. I begged and begged for the little guy, and finally my parents cave in. Of course, like most kids, I got my initial thrill, and then the novelty started to wear off. But the responsibility did not, and I had to keep taking care of the gerbil for several years to come.
One night the little guy got accidently crushed in a door. I used to let him run around for exercise, and he was on one of those runs when my sister opened the door and he got squeezed between the frame and the door. Blood was pouring out of his nose, and his legs looked broken. Mom helped me patch him up as best we could, and then it was a long night of waiting. Mom brought a hot water bottle and we covered it in a towel and put it next to where he was sleeping. I remember crying with Mom as we watched over his little body.
Miraculously, he survived, and went on to live for many years. But I never forgot that harrowing night. It was my first experience of watching helplessly while something – or someone – struggled to survive. I learned something that night. A hard lesson for an eight year old, but a good education nonetheless.
A few years ago my wife bought home a hamster that belonged to one of her client's children. The kid had grown bored of the hamster, and the poor thing sat completely neglected on a shelf in his room. If it was not for his mother coming in to feed it, it would have died and he would not have known the difference. My wife and I looked after that little guy for almost 3 years, until he died at a ripe old age. I was surprised to find myself nearly as shocked by the loss as I had been when my first gerbil died when I was a kid.
Zhuzhu pets are fake hamsters, that look and act like the real thing, but are actually electronic toys. Now, the attraction for many parents might be obvious; no muss, no fuss, and a near real experience of looking after a pet. But I see it as another step in the direction of losing all real experience for children.
A Zhuzhu pet is nothing more than an animated teddy bear. If parents are looking for a real learning experience for their child, then the responsibility of looking after a pet is a mighty good one. Forget to feed and water a real hamster, neglect it and do not give it any attention, and you are in for one hard lesson. Knowing that it is one day going to die, and your child is learning a true lesson in life.
Of course zhuzhu pets and other such toys have their place in a child's life, especially for the very young. But they are not going to teach kids anything about responsibility or the realities of life and death. For that, you might want to think about getting a real hamster.