Children have fewer imaginary friends, and screen time is to blame
The Sector > Research > Understanding Children > Children have fewer imaginary friends, and screen time is to blame

Children have fewer imaginary friends, and screen time is to blame

by Freya Lucas

August 27, 2019

A survey recently conducted amongst the early childhood educator community in the UK has shown that fewer children have imaginary friends than they did five years ago, with ‘screen time’ being identified as the root cause for the decline. 


The survey, which collated responses from 1,000 owners, managers and educators in early childhood settings, “highlights the impact technology is having on children”,’s Sue Learner wrote


Just under half of those surveyed said that children in their setting had one or more imaginary friends, a number viewed as “a decline”, with 72 per cent of respondents saying fewer children have imaginary friends than five years ago. 


Technology, and increased access to time with smart phones and tablets to “keep children amused” shouldered the blame, with 63 per cent of respondents saying screens are “making children less imaginative.”


Speaking about the results, a spokesperson said it was sad to see a decline, which they attributed to “helicopter parents filling up their children’s lives with activities and screen-time”.


“Parents can tend to fill every hour of a child’s day with activities and screens and they are no longer left to get bored. When children are left to their own devices, it forces them to be creative and discover an inner world where they meet fun imaginary friends.”


As an alternative, the spokesperson suggested that children be left to play, to day dream, and to be bored “so they can become adults who are innovative and resilient and think outside the box”. 


One owner who participated in the survey noted that it was not the screens themselves which have attributed to the decline, but rather the time the screens take up. 


“The biggest effect screens have is on the children’s ability to communicate with each other and problem solve. Screen applications are predictable and programmed, unlike real life.


“Our children are less able to cope when things go wrong if they spend large amounts of time on screens as they haven’t practiced the skills of problem solving, social interaction and how to build their own resilience,” he said. 


Managing Director Sarah Steel noted the role of the adult in ensuring that they modelled time away from screens, and in encouraging children’s imaginary play, by taking an interest in what children are doing. 


She recommended that early childhood settings work with parents and families to provide support and suggestions in relation to fostering imaginary play, encouraging them to read to their children, and modelling different activities which could be enjoyed with children.


To read the coverage of the survey results, please see here

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