Host: Today we’re talking about children and their tendency to have imaginary friends. Liz McManus has a daughter called Caitlin, who’s eight now. When she was three, she had an imaginary friend called Tytner. Liz, tell us about Caitlin and Tytner.
Liz: Well, I’ll give you an example. One day I was driving Caitlin and Greg, her baby brother, home, when she solemnly informed me that Tytner was hitting the baby. So I said: ‘You tell Tytner that if he does that again, he’ll be walking home.’ Fifteen seconds later came the inevitable news: ‘He’s just done it again, Mummy.’ So I found myself in the embarrassing position of having to pull over, open the back door and say to this imaginary little boy. ‘Tytner, out, now!’ And of course, as we drove off, Caitlin started crying because her friend was standing on the pavement all alone. I had to turn back and go through the rigmarole of pulling over and opening the door to pick him up again. 
Host: Wow, that’s some story! But in fact Caitlin is no different from many children and her invented, make-believe friend is far from unusual. As many as 65% of children have had an imaginary friend at some point in their lives. The latest research suggests that invisible friends, far from being a cause for concern, should be welcomed by parents because they can help children to be more creative, confident and articulate, and have more advanced communication skills.  It is thought that these findings will help reverse misconceptions about children with imaginary friends and that they will come to be seen as having an advantage, rather than a problem that needs to be worried about. Did it worry you, Liz?
Liz: I know it does lots of parents but I never fretted about it, I think I was just amused. I’d be reading to her and I’d say, ‘Is Tytner around?’ and she’d say, ‘Yes, he’s just sitting at the end of the bed.’ He became the centre of her life. She’d have tea parties with him, and he’d go to bed with her. She was shy and this was her answer. I knew she would grow out of it. 
Host: Now Liz is one of 15 people taking part in a study of imaginary friends at the Institute of Education in London, run by Karen Majors, an education psychologist and lecturer at the institute. Karen, should parents worry about it?
Karen: Well, parents sometimes think, ‘Is this healthy and how long should it go on for?’ But it is a normal phenomenon for normal children. And it’s very healthy.
Host: Why do children invent imaginary friends?
Karen: I think that children create pretend friends for many reasons: as safe, trustworthy best friends at a time when they are just starting to make real friends; as someone to confide in; and as someone to play with. Sometimes it is about wish fulfilment; children who cannot have a pet, for example, will invent one. I interviewed one little girl, aged six, who had a pony called Minty for several years. It went to school with her and the teachers knew all about it. It was a really strong relationship. 
Host: Presumably, when they get older, children no longer have these imaginary friends. Karen?
Karen: Well, my most surprising finding is that children don’t always stop having these made-up playmates when they start school.  The imaginary friends often stay with them through their teenage years, providing comfort and escape – although in secret. One teenager I talked to had invented a superhero to help him through tricky patches. When things hadn’t gone well at school, he would come home and play with the superhero, for whom everything always went well.
Host: How should parents treat these invisible people, Karen?
Karen: Well, sometimes of course parents get irritated by them – for instance, if a child insists on having the playmate at the dinner table with an imaginary setting and glass. Actually I myself had a friend called Tiger when I was young, who would sit beside me at mealtimes. But I don’t think parents should tell children off for this kind of thing, or tell them that their friends are not real. Perhaps the best way is Liz’s down-to-earth approach.
Host: How did you handle it, Liz?
Liz: Well, I patiently acknowledged Caitlin’s playmate but I tried not to get involved.  I never used to have to get out of the friend’s way or anything. Other than that one incident in the car, Caitlin’s imaginary friend didn’t impinge on my life.
Karen: Yes, I agree that parents should recognize imaginary friends, but they shouldn’t try to overly influence the friendship. Parents who interfere too much risk driving their children’s playmates away. If they try to direct the friends, they could spoil the fantasy altogether.
Host: Fascinating subject, thanks for coming in to talk about it, Liz and Karen.
Yes, I choose the acts myself. People send me recordings of themselves and I give them a listen and decide whether they’d go down well here or not.  We have a good crowd of regulars and I can tell pretty well what they’ll like and what they won’t. I think the artists who play here get a pretty good deal. Of course, this industry is full of people who are on the make, and everyone knows that artists get ripped off all the time.  But I’m not like that, in fact I like to think I’m an exception to that. I try to be fair to everyone. Of course, I have to be able to keep the place going and make something for myself, but you don’t have to be dodgy to do that. 
We get all kinds coming in here, from people who’ve got some chance of making it to absolute no-hopers. What I’ve noticed is that you get two kinds of people – the ones who are doing it out of a passion for music and the ones who are doing it because of what they think they can get out of it. Of course, I tend to prefer the former, because they’re only really interested in making good music and I think that’s how you should be. And it makes my job more interesting, because we can discuss what sound they’re trying to create and I can help them to achieve that. [22,27] I do my best for the others, too, because after all, they’re paying as well.
Of course, there are all sorts of stories and legends about people who do what I do, and how they left the poor artist with no money and took it all themselves. In actual fact, I’ve never met anyone who conforms to that stereotype. They’re mostly people like me, who are in it because they enjoy it and because they want the best for their artists. I think sometimes people exaggerate our influence – sure, we can make sure our people get good contracts and the right amount of promotion , but in the end I think the ones who make it to the top would do so anyway, regardless of who’s looking after them. You’ve either got that special something or you haven’t – and if you have, one way or another, you’ll make it. 
Yeah, we started it up years ago and it’s really grown and grown. All sorts of people contribute to it and some of them have been doing it for years. Of course, the public are very fickle and things go in and out fashion very quickly. Today’s big thing is soon forgotten, until people hear an old song on the radio and get nostalgic about it.  But our fans are very loyal and many of them have grown up with the band. It’s almost like a big family, and when the band goes on the road, they often meet people who regularly write in. And they make suggestions about things we can include in it, and I often act on those suggestions. 
Of course, I get to listen to all sorts of rubbish, although I always try to be fair. It frequently astonishes me that some people who really aren’t any good at all make it, and some fantastically talented people remain obscure.  That’s the way the business works – the right manager and you’re in the public eye, whether you can play or sing or not. I try to do my bit for the ones I think should make it – I give them five stars when their new record comes out, and I put in glowing comments about them.  I know it has some effect – people come up to me and say that, if they hadn’t seen what I said about so-and-so, they’d never have heard of them.