Embrace your imaginary friend

Illustration of women's silhouettes
Credit: Laiju Mod/sxc.hu

Results of a study into children’s imaginary friends have recently been published, and apparently they’re not such a bad thing as people always thought.

Funny thing is, as someone whose parents never made a big deal of my imaginary friends, it never occurred to me that they might be considered unhealthy.

My imaginary friends were Bibo and Da. One of them (don’t ask me which) had a blue square head, and the other one had an orange triangle head. Can you tell I was in preschool at the time? Bibo and Da didn’t always get along.

Eventually I added more friends: Kaa the snake living in our backyard (The Jungle Book was one of my favorite movies) and a wolf named Christian followed me around to protect me (he appeared to me in a dream one night).

As I grew older, I said goodbye to these friends and let them go. But my imaginary life stayed vibrant.

In the study, 9% of 12-year-olds surveyed admitted to still having an imaginary friend. I wouldn’t have been among them – in that I wouldn’t have admitted to it when I was 12 – but I did have a very active imagination. By then my pretend friends were real life people – The New Kids on the Block (yes, I’ll admit it) – and in my mind they were my best friends in the world. Okay, let’s be honest…they worshiped me. I created complex stories featuring them.

I don’t know where these researchers plan to go from here, but I hope they’ll follow those kids for another twenty years. I’d be willing to bet those 12-year-olds who still have imaginary friends grow up to be creative people.

Did you have imaginary friends? What do you remember about them? How old were you when your imaginary friends gave way to more realistic fantasies?


  1. I never had imaginary friends, but I did have imaginary horses. My son, however, had an imaginary friend that gave me a serious case of the willies. His name was Johhny Tay and he was from England and my son found him under a thorn bush. My son was three at the time, and Johnny Tay convinced him to do some really suspect things. THE EXORCIST had just come out (remember Mr. Howdy in the basement?). I’ll admit it–there were days I thought any minute my son’s head would spin around. It never did. But I still don’t like pea soup.

    1. I never had imaginary friends, either–I feel kind of deprived! But I had such an “all-American” childhood. Small town. All the neighborhood kids played together all day. Sleepovers. Birthday parties. How I avoided growing up into June Cleaver (I’m more like June wielding the meat cleaver), I’ll never know.

    2. Ha! Sounds like your son is just incredibly clever. “Freak Mom out and she won’t punish me.” I never knew anyone who had imaginary horses, but I did have a friend who believed she was a unicorn. Even ate our bushes. I think she has horses now.

  2. I had two: Lisa the Dog and Lisa the Girl. I guess I wasn’t that creative with names. 🙂 My brothers still tease me about the Lisas. I have lots and lots and lots of imaginary friends now, only I call them characters and give them their own books. Great post!

    1. Thanks, Roxanne! That’s the great thing about being a writer – having an excuse for developing imaginary friends when we’re adults! And I’m surprised you weren’t that creative with names, but that’s clearly changed with your Guardian Angelinos. 😉

  3. I’m 12, and i will admit, ive always had imaginary friends. I have one i’ve had since i was about 7? or 6. Hes a yellow fluff ball with a flowe ron his head and no mouth he had flat pink feet.Hes extremly fast. His anme is speedy. I also have KK’em (her real name is Kit Kat Mickey) i created her about a month ago. I write Stories alot. My friend reads them and says im going 2 be a very good writer.

    1. Hi Paige! I can tell from your imaginary friends’ names and descriptions that you’re very creative. I’m glad you write lots of stories, and I bet you’re a fantastic writer because the two most important parts of storytelling are: 1) imagination, and 2) practice. Sounds like you’ve got both!

      Keep writing, keep dreaming, and keep creating stories!

      1. Thanks, Though i never really thought about how i created speedy. He jsut appeared out of no where. Must have been my subconcious…. o.o

  4. Hi. My son of 11 has just revealed that he has imaginary friends and has had them for some time. He has just started secondary school. I’m really concerned as I had no idea that children this old would have them.
    Is this something I should be concerned about as this is not widely discussed.
    I’m really concerned
    thank you

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