Children with Negative Pasts Imagine Bright Futures

Children are highly imaginative and able to create boundless fantasies. They are often undeterred by the realities that plague adults and instead possess an ability to conjure up grandiose pictures of what their lives will be like. This ability to imagine future events can have positive implications for children’s development. Similarly, the way in which a child recalls past events can give insight into how he or she will approach the world as the maturation process unfolds. To get an inside look at how children detail their pasts and futures, Annette Bohn of the Department of Psychology and Behavioral Sciences at Aarhus University in Denmark conducted a study that examined the autobiographical memories of 162 children ranging in age from 9 to 15 years old. The children were asked to write out a narrative of their past lives, including significant and nonsignificant events, and to describe what their expectations were as they aged.

Bohn found that all of the children were able to tell more cohesive stories about their futures than their pasts. She also discovered that past histories had negative components, while future lives were for the most part positive. The children also envisioned accomplishing culturally scripted milestones in their early adult years. However, the younger adolescents, those in eighth grade, described taking paths that would allow them to find their own identities. This was interesting because even though the participants were specific about discovering themselves on their future paths, their scripts followed the traditional trajectories expected from young adults. These results also offer a glimpse into the power of positive projection in that the children who had overcome negative past events, such as divorce, still had positive outlooks on the future.

Bohn believes that the results of this study demonstrate that traditional cultural expectations impact children’s future ideals significantly, despite their pasts. “For children and adolescents, the future seems bright and predictable,” Bohn said.

Bohn, A., & Berntsen, D. (2012, October 1). The future is bright and predictable: The development of prospective life stories across childhood and adolescence. Developmental Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030212

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  • hazel


    November 13th, 2012 at 11:55 AM

    although this could be dismissed as childish,I think it is a lesson to all of us adults.Yes,they do not know the implications of past and what effect it may have on future but never under estimate the power of positive thinking.

    a little child does not ind picking up a dangerous snake and maybe throwing it away but we are.And with our reasoning and other enhanced abilities as adults we can actually take things further than children.we really should learn to do this!

  • Will


    November 14th, 2012 at 7:36 AM

    Aren’t children just amazing? This positivity is one of the many reasons I chose the teacher route. I love to learn about psychology which is why I read this blog. But, I love the day-in, day-out relationship that I form with each child in my care for the school year. I could sit for hours on the playground swings listening to each child tell me about his or her plans for the future. They are always so full of hope and light.

  • Timothy D

    Timothy D

    November 14th, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    What happens to shift this positive thinking? Is it that experience makes kids realize everything doesn’t always go as planned? Is it simply a maturation of the brain? It would be so awesome if we could all aim for a bright future yet not ever give up on attaining it.

  • mark


    November 14th, 2012 at 11:24 PM

    I had the same thought,Timothy!It would be so good if we could do the same as adults.But alas,most of us are pessimistic and short of hope.Maybe these children will show us the way :)

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