Imaginary Companions Friends Term Paper

Pages: 6 (1614 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 0  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Children

¶ … Friends & Companions in Children

During the preschool years, many children create imaginary companions that become a regular part of their daily routines. Imaginary companions are surprisingly commonplace, and research shows that as many as 65% of preschool children have imaginary friends (Mauro, 1991). The definition of an imaginary companion (IC) used by most researchers on this topic is taken from Svendsen (1934, as cited in Taylor, 1993): "an invisible character, named and referred to in conversation with other persons or played with directly for a period of time, at least several months, having an air of reality for the child, but no apparent objective basis."

This character is most often created during the preschool years, however imaginary friend creation is common any time between the ages of 2.5 and 9 years of age (Coetzee & Shute, 2003).

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Several studies on the topic of imaginary companions, however, also include personified objects in the category of imaginary companions. Personified objects are objects of which a child is very fond, such as a stuffed animal or a doll, which the child treats as animate (Gleason, 2000). Examples of personified objects include Winnie the Pooh and Hobbes from the comic, Calvin and Hobbes. There are several flaws in grouping personified objects and imaginary companions together in one category. First, a study by Gleason, Sebanc, and Hartup (2000) showed that personified objects are more pervasive in children's lives than invisible friends are, even though most children with invisible friends have more than one. This suggests that not all children who create imaginary companions do so for the same reasons. In this study by Gleason et al. (2000), mothers explained that 50% of personified objects resulted from the child's acquisition of the object. Mothers of children with imaginary friends, on the other hand, frequently explained their children's friends in part as a function of a lack of playmates, a change in the family, and the child's birth order (Gleason, 2000).

Term Paper on Imaginary Companions Friends Assignment

The findings with respect to the quality of the child/imaginary companion relationships also provide persuasive evidence that personified objects and invisible friends differ in nature and function, and thus should not be grouped together. Children's relationships with invisible friends are most often horizontal in nature and resemble a true friendship, whereas the vertical nature of relationships with personified objects mirrors a parent-child relationship, where the child is the parent and the personified object is the child (Gleason, 2000). Thus, it is important to discriminate between personified objects and invisible companions when looking at the developmental significance of imaginary companions in the social domain. For this reason, personified objects will not be included in the present study, and only imaginary companions without an objective basis will be examined.

Many variables affect each child's creation of and feelings towards the imaginary companion. One such variable is gender. Studies conducted by both Meyer and Tuber (1989) and Taylor and Carlson (1997 as cited in Coetzee & Shute, 2003) reveal that more girls than boys have imaginary friends. However, the imaginary friends that girls tend to have are more homogenous (and often more commonplace) in nature, while boys exhibit more variability in the creation of imaginary friends, ranging from talking animals to super heroes. Harter and Chao (1992 as cited in Coetzee & Shute, 2003) found that 70% of boys created imaginary friends that were more competent or talented than themselves, while 75% of girls created imaginary friends that were less competent than themselves. The psychoanalytic conclusion drawn by Harter and Chao is that boys may be creating ego-ideals with whom to identify and relate, while girls were creating friends to nurture in a motherly fashion; in both instances children used imaginary friends to boost their own sense of competence. Gender role stereotypes were likely to have an impact on this division, as the competent male is portrayed as brave and strong, while the competent female is protective and nurturing, and children attempt to fulfill these gender roles once the stereotypes have been internalized. An example of such a gender difference in literature is James Barrie's Peter Pan, in which boys that find Neverland become brave, adventurous Lost Boys, while the girl that finds Neverland becomes their mother. Other studies, such as that conducted by Coetzee and Shute (2003) did not find conclusive evidence that gender roles have this effect, as they found that both male and female children created imaginary friends that are less competent than themselves. Nonetheless, it is an important factor that should be considered during any study of imaginary friends, as the role of nurturing and the nature of the relationship with the imaginary friend is a vital part of understanding how the social surroundings of children affect the creation of their imaginary companions.

Further research into the connection between real-life relationships and imaginary friends was conducted by Teplin, Grus, Sandler, and Reiff (2003).

Their study of 85-four-year-old children compared the perceptions of the quality of various relationships and the extent to which the children distinguished between these relationships. Children with invisible imaginary friends, those with personified objects, and those who had neither imaginary companions were studies. The findings suggested that the creation of imaginary friends may be related to children's ability to distinguish between social relationships, such as those between parents, siblings, and friends. Relating back to gender issues and imaginary friends, most imaginary friends are male, as almost all boys create male companions, while girls create both male and female companions.

The majority of this data has been collected with little or no consideration for the role of social factors such as family size, birth order, and availability of playmates. The conducted study will focus on these factors as an addition to the body of knowledge regarding the functionality of imaginary friends.

In addition, many of the methodologies used by earlier researchers examining the topic of imaginary friends have been questionable (Bouldin, 1999). This concern, however, was addressed by Manosevitz, Prentice, and Wilson (1973 as cited in Bouldin, 1999), who conducted one of the most systematic investigations of the factors associated with the presence or absence of imaginary companions. Parents of preschool children were administered a self-report questionnaire that requested information on factors such as their child's birth order, play activities, and personality characteristics. The results of this study indicated that birth order was associated with the presence of imaginary companions: First-born children were more likely to have a companion. The presence of imaginary friends was also correlated with increased self-initiated play and engagement in greater number of different family-play activities. Despite the systematic nature of the Manosevitz et al. study, this study also had one major drawback. The age range of the sample was restricted to include only 3- to 5-year-old children. Previous researchers have reported the presence of imaginary companions in children up to 9 years of age; thus, some of the factors associated with the presence of these companions may not have been apparent in younger children (Bouldin, 1999). The present study will encompass a broader age range to ensure that factors associated with the imaginary companions of older children can also be explored.

Gleason, Sebanc, and Hartup (2000) discussed the lack of conclusive evidence linking social structure to imaginary friend creation in children. The results of studies attempting to explain why some children have imaginary companions while others do not are inconsistent, which is the reason more research such as the present study are vital to the developmental and psychoanalytic understanding of children.

Many studies have combined the categories of role-playing (children taking on a different persona than their own or impersonating characters), personified objects, and invisible imaginary companions, making distinguishing factors difficult to identify. The present study will be conducted only in regards to invisible imaginary friends to help solidify the conclusiveness of the data, rather… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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