Acquired: Bred animal myself,
California, United States
Posted Jan 05, 2012
I've owned quite a few hamsters, most when I was on the younger side of teenager. I've had both male and female hamsters. The females tend to be more aggressive, often in need of nip-training. So, I would recommend a male hamster for younger children (under ten). My favorite hamster, in personality, was a male dwarf hamster (who lived a surprisingly long time for a hamster).
Hamsters are cute, small, furry, and lack the "ugly" tail that many people can't stand with rats. But, they are also more aggressive, and quite adept at escaping their habitrails. They're active and usually friendly, but do tend to bite before they're nip-trained (particularly the females).
The habitrail can be pretty difficult to keep clean and in good shape. It's not nearly as easy as a cage to take care of. Because there is less air flow, it gets stinkier quicker, it's harder to get into the grooves, and the plastic doesn't last as long as a wire cage. It's also more expensive than a wire cage. But hamsters do better in a habitrail than they do in a wire cage, so that's something else to keep in mind.
In my experience, hamsters tend to be very active, live for an average of two to three years, and are lots of fun to play with (once you've taken care of the potential nipping issue, depending on the specific hamster). They're fun to watch as the run around their little home, spin in their wheels, and I have a soft spot for the way they eat - kind of like squirrels.
Overall, I would recommend a rat more than a hamster, especially for children. BUT, if you have an issue with rat tails in particular, hamsters are great for older children and adults (and even though the habitrails can be murder to keep looking and smelling good, they do make for a much more interesting and stimulating environment - even for the humans watching them).