In on-line world, young still escape through fantasy

March 28, 1995|By ELISE T. CHISOLM

She was alone in her bedroom talking to someone. Her voice was soft, cajoling like a parent talking to a child, there was a special sweetness to the tone. Now happy, now giggly. But when I peaked in she was talking to her Barbie dolls. She was bringing them to life in a mystical way only a child can do. She was the voice of each Barbie, and then the voice of a mother. She was 5 back then, she's 25 now. She is one of my grandchildren, I was baby sitting.

I listened at the door for a moment because the performance was so beguiling. It was an intimacy gilded with the fantasies of childhood. My heart smiled. I wished I could have taped it. But then one doesn't intrude on the privacy, even of a 5-year-old.

I became transfixed at her creativity.

When I was a young parent, my two oldest children, at 6 and 8, had Gheekin and Geller. The spelling might have been correct but their sex was unknown to us -- imaginary friends that they shared and I heard about.

But I have wondered: does the contemporary child have nTC imaginary friends? Or are invisible friends out of style?

Then, recently, my 5-year-old grandchild and I were talking about imaginary friends. He told me he had one named Ghost. But that I will never see him, or talk to him, but that he talked to him every night after he went to bed.

"Is he scary?" I asked.

"No, he is cool, my best friend, we talk over the day together."

Good. This grandchild, too, is expanding his sphere and parameters with a form of "software" straight from the mind.

I am glad he has Ghost, amorphous as Ghost may seem with that name.

I have to admit I had thought children today did not have imaginary friends, because they have tapes, computers, televisions and so many planned activities.

With all the inviting cyber-babble and techno-games, it's reassuring to know a child wants a friend to love unconditionally, and receive love in return. And that even a VCR in the room has not diminished the invisible playmates.

What does the popular pediatrician Dr. T. Terry Brazelton think of imaginary friends? He's devoted a whole chapter to them in his 1992 book, "Touchpoints."

"Nearly all 3- and 4-year-olds develop imaginary friends. I'm always delighted when they do, for these are signs of a child's developing imagination . . . the need for privacy that they represent is a reminder that children do not want to be invaded."

Dr. Brazelton says that imaginary friends serve a very important purpose. They give a child a safe way to find out who he or she wants to be. The child can dominate these friends, control them, be bad or good safely because of them. Through them he can identify with children who are overwhelming to him.

And what does the book say about the effect of television on this important part of growing up?

He writes that television does undoubtedly cut down on the time a child might devote to exploring his own fantasies.

If he is allowed to watch television for too much of the day, he will not have the time or energy to explore his own world -- and that television forces a child into a kind of passivity.

You bet. Television does not bring out the imagination but bombards it. It's too easy.

Now for confession time. My brother and I shared an imaginary friend whose name was Jorgy, although we never knew how to spell it. But I can remember setting a place for Jorgy at the table, and my brother took Jorgy for rides on his bike, and we took him to the market with Mother. We liked him, and when we didn't need him and were playing games outside, we ignored him.

Our mother heard us talking to Jorgy and she respected his presence, too, even though she knew he was slightly ephemeral. One day, Jorgy was sick and she offered to take him to the hospital. He got well.

Now sometimes I laugh with my brother over Jorgy, as in what did he look like? How old was he? Neither of us can remember.

That wonderful thing about the Ghosts, Gheekins, Gellers and Jorgies of the world, they only live in the hidden recesses of the creative child's head and heart -- and cannot be taken away by violence, abuse or abject neglect.

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