Kids Today Have Fewer Imaginary Friends & Technology May Be To Blame, New Study Finds

Ad failed to load

From a fake sibling to a big, hairy, purple monster, imaginary friends have a place in many homes around the world. They help fill idle time and keep kids company as they explore their creativity. But as important as they can be to a young mind's imagination, these unseen pals may be on the decline. A recent study in the United Kingdom found that kids today have fewer imaginary friends than kids did in earlier years. The drop in invented friends has been attributed to increased use of technology by children, raising questions about how technology usage impacts creativity.

In a poll of 2,000 parents in the United Kingdom, conducted by Snazaroo, researchers found that just 17 percent of British children have imaginary friends, according to The Voice. This number reveals a rapid decline since 2001, when a similar study found nearly half of children to have imaginary friends, the publication noted. While seeing a child talking to an invisible buddy may seem worrisome to parents, this sort of imaginary play is actually good for kids.

Michael Dickinson, a Canadian Pediatric Society spokesperson and pediatrician told Today's Parent that imaginary friends are “not a cause for concern." In fact, Dickinson stated that “this can be a routine part of normal childhood development.”

Ad failed to load

There are mixed results as to how technology affects creativity. What is clear is that increased exposure to technology is changing the way that children think, and not necessarily in a good way. Dr. Jim Taylor posited in an article published in Psychology Today that the internet, and the technology that facilitates it, forced children "into a vastly different environment in which, because distraction is the norm, consistent attention is impossible, imagination is unnecessary, and memory is inhibited." Unlike reading or creative play, Taylor stated that technology has kept children from focusing, exploring, and retaining information.

Additionally, children overall are becoming less creative in recent years. A 2010 study from the College of William and Mary, led by creative researcher Kyung Hee Kim, found that American kids are less able to think creatively and produce unique ideas, according to NBC News. Kim also found modern children to be less humorous, less imaginative, and less able to elaborate on their ideas than their predecessors, the outlet reported in 2011.

Ad failed to load

Dr. Amanda Gummer, Founder and CEO of Fundamentally Children, told The Voice that the sort of imaginary play involved in imaginary friends is important for child development:

Imaginative play is hugely beneficial for children - being able to transport themselves into make-believe worlds with imaginary characters can help them make sense of their world or provide an escape from it (something that supports good mental health in later life). Suspending reality give children the opportunity to think outside of the box and be as creative as they like, with none of the restrictions that are placed on real life activity.
Ad failed to load

The drop in creativity and imaginary play does not have to be a life sentence for children. Gummer told the publication that there are a number of ways for parents to foster creativity in their children:

Parents can help children engage in imaginative play by providing them with a balanced play diet and managing the amount of time children spend as passive receivers of digital content. Tools such as face paints, building blocks, dressing up clothes and play dough can help to stimulate this.

While there are a number of benefits to technological experience for children, there are potential drawbacks as well. For this reason, both the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the White House Task Force on Childhood Obesity recommend that parents keep children younger than 2 years old from screen time as much as possible and limit screen time for older children as well.

Ad failed to load

All of this is not to say that parents should instantly be concerned if their child doesn't have an unseen companion and that they should keep them away from screens for good. Rather, parents should look for opportunities to encourage creative play and supplement screen time with more hands-on activities. And if your kid does start a conversation with a friend that you can't see, there's no need to worry.

Check out Romper's new video series, Romper's Doula Diaries:

Ad failed to load

Watch full episodes of Romper's Doula Diaries on Facebook Watch.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

The Entire Family Can Enjoy These Movies & Shows Coming To Netflix In June

It's just one of those sad facts of life: every month, shows and movies vanish from Netflix, their varied excitements no longer at your fingertips. But luckily the streaming service is always prepared to fill that content void with lots of new things…
By Megan Walsh

The Reason Why Babies Smile At You Will Seriously Make You Smile

Whether you're currently the recipient of your own baby's sweet smiles or you just seem to be a magnet for baby grins in general, you might find yourself wondering why babies are always smiling at you. Sure, you could be a 'smile whisperer' but scien…
By Kate Miller

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills