Daughter Involved in a Unicorn Fantasy

Reader’s Question

I am worried about my 13-year-old daughter. I’m wondering at what point childhood fantasy is considered normal and healthy and where it lapses into something harmful. She has found a web site that explains that people like her, very sensitive, caring about the environment etc. are really Unicorns in human disguise. She has taken this quite seriously and believes that there are only two people on earth that understand her, the guy who writes the web site and her female peer that she has shared this information with. She has said to her friend that she is prepared to die for whatever cause she needs to. This is because unicorns are seen as saviours of the world. I have explained to her that fantasy is a good thing to engage in but that we need to keep some perspective. The more I try to reason with her that she is not actually a unicorn the more she assumes that I am just an unbeliver and will never understand. She is starting to withdraw from some of her friends because they don’t believe her either. How long should I allow her to engage in this fantasy?

Psychologist’s Reply

A general rule of thumb is to allow an interest or fantasy until it begins to change behavior or attitude in a negative manner. Children in her age range are especially sensitive to such fantasies and often become too involved. We are having some concerns with role-playing video games, specific attitude/dress fads such as “Emo”, and other fantasy-oriented activities that allow the children to escape from their normal age-related pressures.

As we talk to children about these fantasies, it’s important to remember that the fantasy serves a purpose for the child — often providing some understanding about the world. The unicorn fantasy explains why she believes the way she believes which makes sense to her. In discussing it, we can slowly describe that people often have behaviors and feelings that are like animals or religious and fantasy characters. I’ve always considered nurses the “angels” of medical care. She is like unicorns, being sensitive and conscious of the environment. However, we can’t be another animal, person, or fantasy character. While we can be brave like lions — we can’t be lions. Unicorns, angels, and lions have their own identity. In addressing the unicorns in disguise, we can’t tell looking at someone if they are like an angel or another character. Her job is to act like a unicorn would act, not be a unicorn.

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This can be a difficult parenting issue. The fantasy life, especially the video-game life often created by children, becomes much more rewarding than their routine life. Imagine a small, frail, teased preteen who online becomes “Ivan the Terminator” and is well-respected in the online world. As a parent, we need to determine what needs are being met by the fantasy. In your daughter, she may feel isolated and misunderstood by her peers for example.

If this fantasy begins to intrude into her real life or she talks about dying, you may need professional mental health intervention. I have some concern about the website itself where an adult male engages in fantasy conversation with female children. Adults have a legal responsibility not to act in a manner that endangers or harms children. The website owner’s agenda is unclear to me but gives me cause for concern. I’d be listening for her comments about “he says…” regarding contacts with the website owner. Maybe it’s my years working with the courts, but I’d look for his name and run it through the police in his state. I know this sounds creepy, but as a parent with two grown daughters and four granddaughters, I’m always on-guard for people who try to exert external influence on children. Be especially sensitive to comments from your daughter about “secrets” between your daughter and the website owner. As a parent, it pays to be paranoid…

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