A RECENT piece in The Guardian newspaper lamented the demise of the Imaginary Friend.

It was not exactly an obituary. It was more about noting the decline of these invisible but valuable creatures in their natural environment - the imaginations of children.

The number of British children who had an imaginary friend in 2001 was around 50 per cent but now this has fallen to 17 per cent.

The question is where have they all gone? Are they mooning about alone and sad with no child to talk with? Just because they are invisible to grown-ups does not mean they have gone away.


Has the place in a child's imagination been filled with so much other stuff that the Imaginary Friend has had to move out?

Do these unseen companions no longer have a place in the age of the iPad, internet and screen devices? Is technology replacing the way imagination steps on to that stage of a child's life, to dance with ideas, whirl like a carnival ride, able to create invisible worlds peopled by imagination?

If the power of imagination is being diminished in children and with it the existence of an invisible friend then this is a great loss. For many small children the imaginary friend is a trusted companion as they make sense of the world around them. They allow for a dialogue that will always be understood and heard.

I had an invisible friend when I was a kid. We used to do all kinds of stuff together and often talked for hours about life, the universe, icecream and snails. I can't remember his name or what he looked like but he was loyal and was always happy to take the blame for misfortunes such as spilt drinks, broken things and general naughtiness.

This imaginary friend, was a companion, a confidant, the one who could be entrusted with concerns, problems and the day-to-day trivia of a child's life. There were lengthy debates about the validity of various parental instructions and the merits of dirt and cloud watching.

This lasted until the time when, arguing a "No" with mother, I brought my invisible friend into it by announcing that "his mother would let him do that". I don't recall the actual reason for the "No" but this led to a banishing of my fictional friend from the house as it was clear that his mother was not going to be allowed to undermine mine.

I don't recall being particularly distressed by this turn of events. My imagination was able to accommodate both fact and fiction so I took my imaginary friend outside and I think he lived in the shed for a time.

At some point we drifted apart. I'm not sure whether it was him or me that moved on. Maybe he went to find another small person with a space in their imagination for an invisible tenant.

Can an adult have an imaginary friend? Politicians would like us to believe we have imaginary enemies that we should fear. They use this fear to get support for more surveillance, more secrets and legislation that undermines democracy.

Did the Prime Minister have an imaginary friend when she was little? I hope so as it means she is more likely to understand how imagination powers new ideas and creates genuine empathy in both children and grown-ups.

■Terry Sarten (aka Tel) is a writer, musician and social worker with a carnival mind - feedback: tgs@inspire.net.nz