Imagine a world where your children don’t need real friends

Around 25pc of children aged four to 11 have an imaginary companion, an invisible friend or 'one embodied in a toy or stuffed animal'.

New research suggests that instead of burning your children as witches or sending them to every after-school club available until they ask someone real to their birthday party, you should celebrate their invisible chums because: 'Children who have had an imaginary friend often develop language and cognitive skills at a faster pace than children who do not.

'Part of this beneficial effect is due to the fact that such children must make up both sides of conversations and activities, hence they get more practice and are actively engaged in mental activity of the type which will lead to greater linguistic, social and mental skills, for a far greater proportion of time than those who interact only with real persons.'

Shame on all you parents out there who are only allowing your children to socialise with 'real persons' as opposed to shadowy creations of their own imagination.

After reading the researchers' findings, I immediately pointed out to my own children that their shocking lack of make-believe friends has been holding them back educationally for years.

Ditch those flesh-and-blood losers you insist on hanging around with, I told them, and start inventing some friends, pronto. All to the good if those imaginary friends have a villa in France they'd like to invite the whole family to and that, unlike the friend, the villa is real.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked the sound of imaginary friends.

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Imaginary friends don't have to come round for sleepovers, or if they do, they don't wet the bed, refuse to eat one of many options you offer them for tea, pick their nose and eat it while watching X Factor in your front room or regale you with stories about how much nicer their house is than yours.

The children, however, have persisted in their outdated desire to have friends who actually exist.

No one can say that I didn't try: if they fail their GCSEs (and O-levels, by the time my boy has been turned into one of Gove's educational guinea pigs) now I'll simply inform them that my imaginary children did brilliantly in their exams and therefore they're the ones I've remembered in my will.