For Adults, TV Can Serve the Same Role as an Imaginary Friend | Smart News | Smithsonian
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For Adults, TV Can Serve the Same Role as an Imaginary Friend

Despite what The Shining might say, research suggests that imaginary friends and enemies are a good way for kids to practice for their real friendships. And adults simply replace their imaginary friends with television and movies

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Chances are you had an imaginary friend or two. About a third of preschoolers have at least one imaginary friend (and, weirdly, about a third of those imaginary friends are actually imaginary enemies). Parents shouldn’t be worried, though: despite what The Shining might indicate, research suggests that imaginary friends and enemies are a good way for kids to practice for their real friendships.

Live Science says:

These companions come in all shapes and sizes: Aliens, fake cousins and even dolphins—with a range of personalities.

Imaginary enemies help negotiate conflicts, researchers say. They ease kids into the harsh reality that you can’t always get what you want.

Imaginary enemies are also really good scapegoats for all a kid’s misdeeds. But what sets some imaginary friends apart from others? Well, if your imaginary friends lived in their own world (called a paracosm), then researchers think you might be more creative than the average bear. Studio 360 explains:

Take Maxine’s paracosm for example:

Maxine, who is eight years old, walks us through her paracosm and the friends in it. Some are a little creepy, like Devil Man and Betchaboo, who takes the shape of a gun, but they’re not frightening to her. “They’re not the kind of people who will go and kill people. They’re not like gangsters, they’re just tricksters.” Besides, Maxine says, if imaginary friends caused trouble, “then they would be deleted. Because then you don’t exist. Sometimes when I forget about them they die, but they’re not deleted.” When you imagine the world, you get to set the rules.

If you didn’t have imaginary friends, it’s not too late. WikiHow has a guide for how to make the best imaginary friend possible. Their 8 steps are:

1. First, decide if your imaginary friend is a boy or a girl.

2. Decide what his/her name is going to be.

3. Decide what his/her personality is like.

4. Make a description for him/her.

5. Decide what school they go to.

6. Figure out how you communicate with your imaginary friend.

7. Pick a birthday for him/her.

8. Do things that you both enjoy with your imaginary friend!

And if you don’t think you can invent your own imaginary friend—or feel like people might look at you weird for being an adult who talks to one—never fear. Researchers say that for grown-ups the television can act a lot like an imaginary friend. Scientific American writes:

New psychological research suggests that loneliness can be alleviated by simply turning on your favorite TV show. In the same way that a snack can satiate hunger in lieu of a meal, it seems that watching favorite TV shows can provide the experience of belonging without a true interpersonal interaction.

So while Omar from The Wire might not be as cuddly as an imaginary unicorn friend, he can serve a similar purpose.

More from Smithsonian.com:

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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