WE ALSO HAD A SERIES OF IMAGINARY FRIENDS DURING OUR EARLY SCHOOL YEARS. THEY WERE KNOWN AS OUR CLASSMATES. (SIGH.)

If you're keeping score at home, imaginary friends are now in the good column, according to a spate of new research that praises children for displaying the active imagination required to maintain these fictive relationships. (Of course, by the time they get into high school, they'll be maintaining fictive relationships with half the football team/cheerleader squad, but that's an issue for another time.)

Ann Hulbert, writing for Slate, acknowledges the advantages of imaginary playmates but also raises a reasonable quibble with a much-cited study that claims two-thirds of seven-year-olds have had an imaginary playmate, by pointing out that the study covered stuffed animals and established fictional characters, as well as those truly original creations like the now-infamous Mr. Ravioli, imaginary friend to the daughter of estimable New Yorker scribe Adam Gopnik. Gopnik's overpraised essay about Ravioli two years ago put a fresh spotlight on imaginary playmates; his daughter, having internalized (generously) either the phone conversations she overheard her parents having or (less so) her own relationship with her parents, created a character who was friendly, but always too busy to actually play with her or make firm plans. (Article apparently not available online.)

One of FD's favorite child researchers also offers a splash of cold water. The author of a separate volume on the imagination claims that imaginary playmates are ways for children to try on a variety of real-world adult social relationships. However:

. . . these researchers are exploring a phenomenon that encompasses, for example, fondness for a 2-inch-tall, green-furred, good-humored dog named Alicia. If children's pretend activities are all about adapting to social reality, the cognitive psychologist Alison Gopnik has astutely asked, why do they spend so much time dreaming up such far-fetched creatures?

Hulbert wraps up with a question worth considering. While two-thirds of seven-year-olds met the researchers' definition of having an imaginary playmate,

If anything, perhaps we should worry at the finding that only slightly more than a quarter of preschoolers fit Taylor and Carlson's sweeping criteria for having imaginary friends. After all, pretending is the main active, as opposed to passive, pastime that preliterate kids (even the most prosaic) are equipped to enjoy in their spare time.

Small Fellow has had a rich relationship with a changing roster of plush sleeping companions, many of whom express marked preferences for which side of the bed they prefer and which Bingo cards they'll sit behind. Tiny often offers food and drink to her animal friends. And this is behavior which, as far as we can tell, is fairly widespread and pretty firmly echoes the children's relationships with their own parents. In our case, the animals play the roles of our children and our kids serve in loco parentis. Which means that all parents would be well advised to watch for serious changes in their kids' relationships with their play playmates.

LAST NIGHT'S EPISODE OF "WITHOUT A TRACE" FEATURED A HARROWING SUBLPLOT IN WHICH A MAN FOUND OUT THAT THE AUTISTIC BOY HE'D BEEN RAISING AS HIS OWN FOR 10 YEARS WAS NOT HIS BIOLOGICAL SON. BUT WHEN WE HEAR SMALL FELLOW SAY THINGS LIKE THIS, WE KNOW HE'S ALL OURS

After another well fought but traumatic checkers defeat to his mom, Fellow, who is four years old, approached us and asked, "Is anyone in my class 3?"

- You mean 3 years old?
- Yeah.
- Well, I guess a few of them still are, yeah.
- OK. I want you to find one of them who is 3 and a boy. The first one you find who is 3 and a boy.
- Why, do you mean you want to play checkers with them?
- Yeah, that's what I want.
- But they might not know how to play.
- Then you can teach them and then I can play with them.
- Because you'll probably beat them?
- Yeah.

IF TINY GIRL IS TO BREAK INTO STAND-UP COMEDY, SHE'LL NEED SOME . . . FRESHER MATERIAL

Here's her favorite joke, which she has told to every passerby and fellow elevator rider she's encountered in the last month:

Do you know what we saw at the zoo?
No, what did you see at the zoo?
A SMELLY SKUNK!!

WE'RE GOING TO NEED TO FILL THAT FD.COM MARKETING DIRECTOR OPENING SOON

Sunday's Times offered a tour of the world of parenting blogs, sans FD.

YOUR SALES WOULD PLUMMET, YES. SO WHAT'S YOUR POINT?

The chief executive of Mister Softee blasts proposed revisions in New York City's noise code that would "silence the 347 Mister Softee trucks that operate in the city" and cause the company's sales to plummet. According to James Conway:

"To get a sense of what this would do to us, remember when you were a kid," he said. "You heard the jingle, you grabbed your money and you ran to the truck. The way you knew Mister Softee was in the neighborhood was the song."

Oh, yeah, we remember being a child and thrilling to the jingle of the ice-cream man's truck (even though there was perfectly good ice cream in our freezer). It was one of the great joys of childhood - and it probably caused our parents no end of stress.

Now parents ourselves, we comprehend the full scope of Mister Softee's evil. The ice-cream truck is as intrusive as a telemarketing call, except it's targeted at our children, who are so ill-equipped to resist it. What gives Mr. Conway's fleet the right to advertise its product via amplifier up and down quiet residential streets? What gives him the authority to decide it's time for our kids to eat ice cream? And above all, why should we have to debate the merits of an 11 a.m. ice-cream sandwich with a stubborn preschooler just because we're on Mr. Conway's route? We say, shut him down.

(But if that fails, we'll have a Rocket.)

LAURA, WE APPRECIATE THE THOUGHT. JUST DON'T PUT MICHAEL JACKSON ON YOUR BLUE-RIBBON COMMISSION

A couple of weeks after the fact, we're allowing ourselves to read a little bit about the second inauguration of, you know. A major profile of Laura Bush contained this bit of news you may have missed:

Mrs. Bush said she intends ... to get involved in programs to support adolescent boys because schools and parents have placed special emphasis on the developmental needs of girls in the last three decades. "We have this idea, this stereotype, that boys don't need the same nurturing that girls do, that boys can take care of themselves," she said. "And, of course, we all know that's not true, that boys need a lot of attention. Boys get in trouble more .... Boys father children and aren't fathers-don't know how to be fathers."

February 2, 2005 | Permalink | Subscribe to RSS

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