Blogs Are Stupid

Doesn't anyone believe in Dear Diary anymore? What happened to the joy of putting actual pen to paper? And why does every ordinary Jane and John think they can write well enough to burden the world with their scribblings? It’s a mystery that badly needs solving. My first entry contains my thoughts about blogging and will set your expectations. The rest will probably be stream of consciousness garbage, much like you’ll find on any other blog. Perhaps we will both come away enlightened.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Mystery of Imagination

I've been a mother for almost 13 years.

I've been frequenting parenting sites, boards, and blogs for more of them than I’d like to admit. I've fought in the Mommy wars. I have even, in desperation, attended various neighborhood playgroups.

I've heard every parenting issue under the sun debated, dissected, analyzed, rationalized and vilified. It has provoked thought on matters I might not have otherwise considered.

Sometimes that's been a good thing, others, not so much.

I have expended a lot of time and effort defending an opinion or a point of view that seemed terribly important at the time, but that really didn't amount to a hill of beans once my kids left toddlerhood behind.

But you know what you don't hear much about anymore?

Imaginary friends.

When I was about 6, I had an imaginary friend named Luis. I think he was inspired by Luis from Sesame Street, upon whom I had a fairly serious crush. My sister's imaginary friend was Casper.

My parents tell many stories of how they had to accommodate the needs and wishes of Casper and Luis. I think Luis just sort of faded away once Jamie Tookshure came into my life. Luis just couldn't compete with a living breathing boy who had amazing Leif Garret like hair.

Unfortunately, my sister's parting from Casper was not quite so amicable. In her attempts to exorcise poor Casper, he somehow became a malevolent presence. She had terrible nightmares and spent her waking hours jumping at shadows.

My father tells of how, one evening, he gave Casper a very stern talking to. He'd had enough, he told Casper. If Casper could not behave kindly and respectfully he would have to leave our home. And so, my father packed him a bag and ushered him out the door with a firm handshake to demonstrate there were no hard feelings.

And that was the end of him.

Husband also had an imaginary friend. His name was Bill Wilson. Bill Wilson was sort of the town rogue; but he was a lovable scamp rather than a hardened criminal. However, he did burn down the jail house in order to escape, which of course, did not endear him to the noble townsfolk. As you can imagine, poor Bill Wilson was the fall guy for a lot of Husband's foibles.

My children don't have imaginary friends.

They are both very imaginative children, so I have wondered about it a time or two. Why, when Husband and I both had imaginary friends, wouldn't our children have that same tendency?

I've come to the conclusion that they just don't need an imaginary friend.


Because they are fed a steady stream of imagery, ready made adventure, fantasy and fiction. At virtually any time of the day or night, they can plug in, turn on, or tune in. They can upload, download, network and interface. There are entire networks dedicated to entertaining and anaesthetizing our children. An entire industry revolves around pandering to every playful or pleasureable impulse from birth to adolescence.

This past week when I was volunteering for Science Day at Diminutive One's school, I was really struck by the lack of imagination that some of the kids demonstrated.

During one activity, the children first made existing constellations with styrofoam cups and flashlights. They were then instructed to think of their own original constellation and write a story of how their subject ended up in the night sky.

I was amazed and disheartened at how many of the children really struggled with that.

"I can't think of anything." said one.

"This is too hard!" whined another.

"You tell me what to." they implored.

"What do you like to do? What do you like to learn about? What do you like to dream about, think about, read about?" I asked them.

They would shrug or look at me blankly. They simply had no idea how to reach inside their minds, pull out an idea and breathe life into it.

One child, when asked, told me he liked football. His constellation was in the shape of…a football. His story consisted of one sentence: "I kicked it."

My kids are very imaginative, so it's odd for me to encounter a child that doesn't have that spark of creativity and whimsy.

Perhaps I'm not being fair. Nobody really knows where imagination comes from after all. Is it learned or is it innate? If it is innate, can it atrophy, shrivel and die, like muscles that lie impotent and unmoving? If it is learned, can it be unlearned if not constantly exercised?

Perhaps my children are imaginative not because of anything that I did, but because it's just in their genes. Maybe another child lacks imagination not because of something their parents didn't do, but simply because it is not part of their DNA. Maybe you can't teach a literal minded realist to indulge in flights of fancy.

Whatever the case...I find it puzzling and sad when a child can't imagine.

But since we don't know...there's a chance that it is something we can give them. There's a chance that we can infuse their minds with imagination, just as we infuse their blood with beneficent antibodies.

With that in mind, shouldn't we treat every child as if they are inherently capable of imagining?

In order to do that, then we certainly need to stop spoon feeding them.

But it's more than that.

When we were kids, there was time to gaze up into the sky and imagine shapes in the clouds. There was time to create fabulous structures and go on fantastic adventures.

Kids these days just don't have that luxury.

We need to give back to our children the time, the facility, and most of all, the motivation to imagine.

I don't think it's too late to raise a generation of stargazers and cloud watchers and swashbucklers and fairy princesses.

I'd sure like to try.

Wouldn't you?


  • At 9:00 AM, Blogger anne said…

    What a great post.

    Although, I think the anaesthetizing is of our culture over all - not just our children. When 90% of the non work related conversation in my office revolves around either what was on TV the night before or what someone went shopping for, I don't wonder at all where imagination went.

    My imaginary friend was Bakey. No first and last name - just Bakey.

  • At 9:02 AM, Blogger thailandchani said…

    Absolutely! In order to do that, there would have to be a lot less TV, technology and things that imagine *for* a child.

  • At 9:14 AM, Blogger S said…

    Yes. And I think it's critically important that we encourage our kids to be imaginative. Without imagination, it's hard to envision later idealism. And we need THAT, too.

  • At 9:21 AM, Blogger Sharon L. Holland said…

    I just had to read this while my children are watching a movie for the second time at 9:30 am. Crap.

  • At 9:38 AM, Blogger Six Green Zebras said…

    I had never given it much thought until I was nannying 2 boys, in addition to my own. Mine was in the middle of the 3, age wise, and had by far the most imagination. He would tell of witches flying in the sky, make up stories of animals driving cars down the road ("Did you see THAT?!?) and rather than play along, they would tell all the reasons why that wasn't possible - even at Christmas, with Santa...

    Imagination; it's a wonderful thing.

  • At 9:46 AM, Blogger Bea said…

    I never had an imaginary friend, but my sister did - her "pretendfriendnamedJennifer." Jennifer lasted well beyond most imaginary friends, right up into grade four or five at least.

  • At 9:47 AM, Blogger Bea said…

    Another thing - I suspect that my lack of a pretend friend AND my disinterest in playing with dolls and other pretend-based games had to do with my love of reading. Reading is good in lots of ways - and it requires a certain kind of imagination - but I think my early exposure to it limited my ability to suspend disbelief about ordinary childhood pretend play.

  • At 9:48 AM, Blogger Avalon said…

    This is exactly why my Princess LOVES the pre-school where she teaches. It is considered to be a "progressive" school, with the main focus on allowing the kids to think and figure things out for themselves without an adult jumping in to solve everything for them. She said that level of creativity from the kids is heartening.

  • At 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Your thought-provoking posts are always awesome to read, but this is the first time I've de-lurked to comment. I have a 4 yo daughter and a 2 yo son. My son isn't very verbal yet, so I'm not sure what kind of imagination he'll have. My 4yo, however, sounds a lot like your boys. Imagination out the yingyang. She doesn't have an imaginary friend yet, but she does carry around her "baby", a stuffed tiger that she takes care of day and night. With Simba around, she's got all the friend she needs :-).

    It makes me happy to know she can always keep herself entertained, even in a room without a single kid-like toy to help. I can't imagine how boring it must be for the kids who can't do this. Nothing in real life can compete with imagination! I've never really thought about actively fostering that ability, but I'm thinking about it now.

    I'm new to blogging, and I hope it's okay that I added you to my blog roll. Feel free to stop by if you get the chance!

  • At 10:56 AM, Blogger Amy Y said…

    Here, here, BA!
    I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about this... My kids' imaginations are pretty active but they do a lot of playing... I think a lot of kids these days plop down in front of TV's, video games, etc and those things imagine for them. I think some of it is nature... but a big chunk is nuture too... We can definitely encourage our kids to think creatively!
    And we should...

  • At 12:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Certainly everyone is born with at least a spark of imagination that simply needs to be fed? That's what I think anyway. Sean is terribly imaginative. He has an imaginary friend named Cindy who lives on his farm in Canada. Sometimes he'll talk about her quite a bit and then several weeks will pass where he doesn't mention her. I always wondered about how he came up with that until I realized that different parts of the story - Cindy, the farm, Canada - have been culled from different stories that we have read. Anyway, it's funny to hear her go on about his girlfriend Cindy in Canada.

    All that to say, yes to more goof off time and no to more playdates and lessons.

  • At 12:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I'd noticed something to that effect with my son not too long ago and wrote about it, how a little boy in a movie had a big bank robbery with his toys, Mr. Potato Head being the bad guy. He built a whole town out of cardboard and used so much imagination that I began to wonder why my son didn't play that way. So instead of tuning in the next day, I sat on the floor with him to play and he does have imagination. He just sometimes needs to have the distraction taken away in order to be able to use it. Sometimes I wonder if I haven't pushed TV on him in order to get my stuff done and have neglected to do enough of the cape wearing, mask making, free thinking playing that my sister and I did as kids. It opened my eyes to the number of ways I can either nurture his fancies or tamp them down with tube. Enlightning to say the least.

    Great post.

  • At 1:53 PM, Blogger flutter said…

    I think I would.

  • At 4:32 PM, Blogger mamatulip said…

    I still remember all of my imaginary friends' names, and I had PLENTY of them. 13, I think. If my mother were alive she'd name them all off with me.

    Julia has 'pretend' friends. They don't have names, but they're her 'pretend friends' and they are very much a part of her day-to-day life. Oliver? Not yet. But I know he'll have one. Or two. Or thirteen. ;):

  • At 7:23 PM, Blogger painted maypole said…

    yes i would

    i think some people have more of a proclivity towards using their imaginations, but I think in nearly everyone it has to be nourished.

  • At 9:01 PM, Blogger Sarahviz said…

    Applauding here at that, BA.
    Kids don't just PLAY these days. They don't know HOW. It's sad.

  • At 11:04 PM, Blogger SUEB0B said…

    I think it is from a lack of time to be left on their own, with few or no need to make things be other with sticks and rubber bands and boxes. They need unstructured time to just fool around, and lots of it. Dream time.

  • At 1:37 AM, Blogger Cathy, Amy and Kristina said…

    Absolutely. My two sisters and I had so much fun coming up with imaginary friends and adventures in pretense.

    I agree that what many kids need is time -- to play, to roam, to think, to imagine.

    Time without the distraction of television, computers or too many scheduled activities.

  • At 8:37 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Here is what I wonder -- is it possible that imagination has changed so much we simply do not recognize it when it appears? My three year old is really into Thomas the Tank Engine. It started with real trains, moved to toy trains, then the books, and only later the television show, which he only sees a bit of each day. Yet, he spends hours making tracks, inventing stories, and telling me one train is pretending to be another. It goes well beyond regurgitating what he has read or seen -- there is a whole imaginary world. Maybe he does not need an imaginary friend because the trains are so alive for him...

    I really don't know if this is true -- I do hope so, though, because the thought of a life devoid of imagination worries me.

  • At 10:11 AM, Blogger Fairly Odd Mother said…

    I've wondered about this topic as well. My middle child does have imaginary friends but they change all the time, so I'm never sure what the right name is at any given time!

    I had the strangest experience in my oldest daughter's preschool that mimics very much this story I've heard before; instead of a "red flower", ours was a picture of an ice cream cone:

  • At 12:23 PM, Blogger said…

    You know, if you don't like what your kids are exposed to or are doing, then change it. I certainly think my kids have incredible imaginations! They are most definitely pirates and fairies, dinosaurs and magicians. And they still have plenty of time to just BE kids as I choose to not overschedule them.

    It's up to you. If your kids are overbusy, then UNbusy them.

    I never had an imaginary friend growing up. I had sisters. My oldest sister, however, had an imaginary friend. Probably because she was lonely. Strangely enough, "Tom" migrated to Mexico when her baby sister (Me) became old enough to play with.

    Also, I think every generation sings the woes of the next generation. Their "lack of" imagination, their crazy rock n roll music, the idea that women should wear pants. You know, things like that. It's just the way of the world that our kids will be interested in different things and will express themselves differently than we did.

  • At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    A very interesting and thought provoking post [for me]. We had to teach our boys to play 'pretend.' I didn't realise that it was such a common issue.

  • At 4:27 PM, Blogger Foofa said…

    Growing up I was limited to one hr of TV a day and most of my toys were things like lego (not the sets), lincoln logs, or stuffed animals. You can't play with those things without imagining and creating. I did read quite a bit but I think that only helps to fuel the imagination with other things. one thing I will say is that having an active imagination makes being punished a lot more fun.

  • At 8:18 PM, Blogger Jen said…

    I don't think I could add anything more meaningful than your own words here. Right on.

  • At 12:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I know what you mean. My daughter recently turned 13. I told her she was going to go outside today (unfortunately, she has a head cold and can't) because she sits at her computer all day long. Then she can't figure out why she doesn't feel well.

    She has some imagination, she had an imaginary friend or two, which I didn't discourage because I had them as well.

    Kids are so hooked up on electronics these days that they simply don't have imagination in them. The game tells them how to play and that's what they do, the movie doesn't give them a way of utilizing their imagination unless it's some form of Disney interactive where you sing or dance along.

    It's horrible. The world will come to a halt when it's time to invent new things, there won't be any imagination to do so.


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