As children, many people can recall holding tea parties or playing games with their imaginary friends. But in adulthood, the days of spending time with our imagined phantoms are seldom spoken about — however, according to studies, those who conjured up imaginary friends as children may be more emotionally sound than those who did not.
New York University Child Study Center states that 65% of children aged 3 to 5 develop imaginary friends to “form their own identities and test the line between fantasy and reality.”
It is in these formations that children may be setting up the ground work for a more stable emotional state in the future.
“Children who pretend and imagine usually are healthier emotionally as adults,” explained Diane Glasgow, a family and child specialist with Louisiana State University to USA TODAY. “Children who have imaginary friends tend to be very creative and have good verbal skills.”
Danielle McMonagle, a sophomore at Villanova University, admits that growing up she had her own host of imaginary friends that were seamlessly adopted by the rest of her family; her sisters actually shared some of these non-real friends. Reflecting on her own imaginary friends, McMonagle agrees with Glasgow.
“I used imaginary friends as means to express my own desires. Certain personality traits, like being more outgoing, were things I aspired to be, and made sure that my imaginary friends succeeded at acquiring these traits. Growing up, I always felt a little more mature than most people my age, and actually often continue to feel that way now. Like I did as a child, I still have my reservations, but definitely feel much more confident in approaching new people and creating friendships, ” McMonagle said.
Sarah Carpenter, a senior at Boston College, did not have her own imaginary friends but did interact with her younger sister’s, Elizabeth, imaginary friend, named Hunnybun, growing up.
“I believe Elizabeth used her imaginary friend as a way to construct a companion for herself,” said Carpenter, noting that she and her brother were older and not always at home to spend time with Elizabeth.
Glasgow would find Carpenter’s experience understandable but slightly atypical, as children who are the oldest sibling or an only child are more prone to developing imaginary friends. As such, these children do not have readily available playmates or peers in a sibling and so imaginary friends serve as means to practice social interactions.
“Children learn how to express their emotions without any chance of ridicule for those emotions by expressing them to an imaginary friend,” Glasgow said.
Whether one has imaginary friend or older siblings, or a combination of the two relationships, statistics and personal accounts prove that social interaction improves the ability to interact socially.
Still, Carpenter said that she is wary to attribute her sister’s ability to make real-life friends directly to the presence of Hunnybun, but rather as a reflection of having older siblings.
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