by Athena A. Drewes, Psy.D. & Sally Feather, Ph.D.
Patsy, 14, reported “I dreamed one night this girl would wear a red and black checkered shift, navy blue shoes, which she never wears, and a white blouse. So the next day she wore those very things.”
Nancy, 17, shared “I have often had experiences of ESP, such as knowing what someone is going to say before they say it, knowing a song is going to be played on the radio before it is played, and once, dreaming that my sister – who was a the time studying to be an airline hostess was burned and killed in an airplane crash. Luckily she missed her plane by five minutes, a plane which did crash and there was only one survivor. At first I was in my room sleeping and was suddenly awakened by a loud noise. This is all the dream. I looked at my back window and there was my sister in her blue airline suit banging at the window in an effort it seemed to either get in or out of something. The sky was a mixture of red and orange. The next instant I was looking out my front window and there she lay, all black and charred upon our sidewalk with bits of the airplane around her. The sky was dark and smoke was all around. I then awoke remembering this. About two weeks later a plane chartered from Washington, DC to Lynchburg then to Roanoke via Charlottesville crashed outside of Charlottesville with one survivor. My sister had been on a late plane from New York and had just missed this ‘doomed plane’.
Fred, 10, reported how as he walked with his male friend down the street and were talking, they both suddenly began singing the same song, at exactly the same moment with no radio around.
Could such experiences and dreams reflect psychic abilities in children and teens? Can children pick up another’s thoughts, know about events happening far away or even be able to know what might happen in the future? Could the current wave of movies, such as “The Sixth Sense” or TV shows such as “Crossing Over” be influencing children? Research in parapsychology, the study of such phenomena, has come up with some answers. A recent review of 157 letters received by Dr. Louisa Rhine from school-age children reveals some interesting results.
Dr. Louisa E. Rhine along with her husband, Dr. J.B. (Joseph Banks) Rhine, noted founder of the field of experimental parapsychology, helped bring credibility to the study of psychic phenomena. Together they explored scientifically the nature of psychic phenomena at Duke University and brought advances to science in the discovery that psychic or psi ability was indeed real. Dr. Louisa Rhine’s major contribution and recognition is as the foremost parapsychology researcher of spontaneous psychic experience leaving a legacy of over 30,000 letters sent to her by “everyday individuals” from across the world. The author of six books, and numerous scholarly journal articles, her first book “Hidden Channels of the Mind” (1961) incorporated summaries of her study of spontaneous cases. Her book “Psi: What is It?” (1975) helped to make understandable the complexity of psychic experiences so the public, especially children and teens, could readily understand them. Research in parapsychology continues to this day at many research labs across the world, with the work of Dr. J.B. Rhine and Dr. Louisa E. Rhine continuing at the Rhine Research Institute in Durham, N.C.
What exactly is psychic phenomena or psi? How does it happen?
Psi is the ability to perceive and obtain information about others, events and situations beyond the normal five physical senses of sight, sound, touch, hearing, and smell. Often it has been referred to as the “sixth” sense or “extrasensory perception (ESP)”. There are several categories of psychic experiences: telepathy, clairvoyance, precognition and psychokinesis.
Telepathy is the simultaneous extrasensory knowledge of what another person’s thoughts, mental state or activity is.
Clairvoyance is extrasensory knowledge about objects, places or events currently happening.
Precognition is the prediction of random future events, through dreams, waking images, thoughts, or knowledge, which cannot be inferred from present information.
Psychokinesis or PK is the direct mental, but not physical, influence exerted by an individual onto a physical condition or object (such as being able to use mental ability to bend a spoon).
Researchers continue to study when and how these phenomena occur and what types of persons are more likely to experience such events.
Could children and teens be more psychic?
Cases like those above, involving a child’s apparent use of extra-sensory perception (ESP), are numerous. Perhaps children are more open-minded about such experiences and do not yet accept as impossible what our society deems to be so, not accepting skepticism.
Research, however, has not conclusively found any age group as having more psychic abilities than another. There have been numerable school studies using telepathy and clairvoyance tests between teachers and students (of varying age groups) which have yielded significant results. Other studies have shown significant telepathic experiences between infants and mothers. It does not appear that age or developmental level is a critical factor in enhancing or limiting psychic abilities or experiences. However, personality differences can affect the scoring of children as of adults. Withdrawn children score significantly lower than non-withdrawn. As with adults, children who are “believers” achieve higher scores than nonbelievers, with nonbelievers even showing significantly below chance results.
In the recent analysis by Dr. Drewes of 216 letters received from 1961 to 1977 by Dr. Rhine, 65% were from females, and 35% from male writers between the ages of 10-18 years, with the average age at 14 years. Out of 157 reported experiences, 77% were of the precognitive kind, either dreams or intuitions about events that were to occur in the future, and turned out to be accurate. Smaller proportions of experiences involving Telepathy (10 %), and Clairvoyance (14%) were reported. These results were similar to studies by others conducted on experiences reported by adults through letters, or surveys. The school-age children’s letters dealing with precognitive dream material was highly emotionally-laden, and “stuck” in the person’s mind. Often precognitive dreams feel “unshakeable,” resulting in unsettling feelings because there is no certain time frame with which one could know when the events would occur. What was even more striking across the three categories was that the person the school-age child identified as the target, the person they dreamt about or had an experience about, was usually a friend or acquaintance (47.4%) rather than anyone in the immediate family (13.3%). This is in marked contrast to studies analyzing the letters received from adults, in which immediate family (65.4%) was reported as the target.
In addition, school-age children were more concerned about trivial items (54.1%), by adult standards. Psychic experiences around such items as, grades, clothes, relationships, dating, school were reported most often, as compared to experiences about death or serious injury or illness of another. Interestingly 8.9% of the psychic experiences were about family pets. Analyses of the adult letters found quite the opposite, with adults’ psychic experiences being much more concerned about death and the health and well-being of family members. One explanation for this difference is that teens are developmentally more appropriately connected to peers, spending the greatest amounts of time with them, while experiencing age-appropriate separation and individuation from parents. It would be normal at this stage for peers to replace family as the center of a young child’s social and leisure activities and interests, spending almost a third of their waking time and emotional investment in the company of friends.
Interestingly adults tend to have their psi experiences more around their children or family members. One example is from Susie, age 35, who was pregnant with her second child. She was hoping it would be a girl, and not knowing the results from a recent test, began thinking of possible girl names. She had the following precognitive dream about her unborn child: “In the dream I saw a gift being wrapped in baby paper. On the gift was pink wrapping paper, but it kept being wrapped over with blue paper. No matter how hard I tried to wrap the gift in pink paper, it would keep coming out wrapped in blue paper. Finally, in the dream, I said to myself, “Ok, ok. I guess I will be having another boy. Then I awoke”. That very next day, the results of her test showed she indeed was going to have a baby boy.
Another example, is from Kara, who reported how while on a trip without her children, she had the strongest feeling of danger and concern regarding one of her younger sons. She called home, only to find out, that he had gone to the hospital with the grandmother, as he had suddenly developed a very high fever.
Many mothers believe that it is their intuition combined with their reading subtle behaviors and expressions that explains mother-infant or parent-child communication. Jan Ehrenwald, M.D. has written extensively on psychic phenomena, and believes that psi phenomena has a role related to the survival of the human species and functions most strongly in the symbiotic mother-infant relationship. “The traditional, conventional explanations are that there are unconscious movements, facial expressions, or whatever which contribute to the communication. But telepathy is a strong element, although it is overlooked.”
Most psychic experiences tend to revolve around everyday events. Dr. Berthold Schwarz, a psychiatrist, documented more than 1,500 cases of apparent psi occurrences in his own family, with his children from infancy to teen years. In his book, Parent-Child Telepathy, he recounts over 500 cases. For example, while in the kitchen one day, Dr. Schwarz was silently reading the label on a can that had an advertisement for drinking glasses. His daughter, Lisa, who was then two and half years old, sitting in her highchair nearby, suddenly exclaimed, “new glasses, new glasses”. Or the experience of another mother, Maria, who had a strong headache, and was too preoccupied with keeping a close watch on food cooking to stop and get an aspirin. Suddenly, her daughter Jennie, age six, came over with an aspirin and water and gave it to her, without comment or being asked to. Such incidents seem to be typical of the kind most families encounter on a day to day basis. However, there are times when experiences can be quite startling.
Danny was four years old, sitting in the family van with his mother, during a trip to the store. The traffic was stopped for a period of time, which indicated some type of problem existed up ahead. While waiting, he suddenly said to his mother, “why does that lady have blood on her?” His mother quickly looked outside the window and all around, but did not see anyone. When she inquired further, he replied that “she was standing outside of the window (next to him), bleeding, with a bike helmet on, and she looked sad.” Soon after traffic began to move on and indeed an accident had occurred, but they did not know what happened. The next day in the newspaper, the mother learned that a woman riding a bicycle had been hit and killed by a car on the road about a half-hour before they encountered the traffic. Danny had not known this woman.
The concept of a child having psychic communication between family members or others can be extremely upsetting and even frightening. For a child, “knowing” something that he thinks he shouldn’t know can be confusing and unsettling. For a parent, it can be intimidating, frightening or even go against family or religious beliefs. It can also create strain between a parent who believes and accepts the phenomena, and the other parent or a family member who resents it and is unconvinced of the experiences. For the child, such conflict can create confusion over their abilities, result in suppressing talk about them, and inner turmoil. Dr. Drewes is a consultant for the Parapsychology Foundation in New York and helps parents and children talk about and understand their experiences. She frequently receives phone calls from parents about their children’s psychic experiences and offers support on how best to adjust to the experience and respond to their child. Connie, in a recent conversation, commented on how she as a child had various psychic experiences, and now her daughter, age three, was showing similar signs. “My family thought I was strange and even a bit crazy. They were not truly supportive and even laughed at me. I know I am not a freak. And my psychic experiences have often been helpful to me in many ways. I don’t want my daughter to suffer what I went through, or feel desperate and confused because peers or adults do not believe her or tease her.”
In addition to the books by Dr. Louisa and J.B. Rhine, there are other helpful books that parents and children can read in order to understand their experiences:
The Gift. ESP, the Extraordinary Experiences of Ordinary People. Sally Rhine Feather and Michael Schmicker (ISBN: 0-312-32919-9). order from our shop
Psychic Children by Samuel H. Young (ISBN: 0-38507958-3)
Is Your Child Psychic? by Alex Tanous and Katherine Fair Donnelly (ISBN: 0-59510064-3)
Develop Your Child’s Psychic Abilities by Litany Burns
How should you respond if your child or teen does show psychic abilities?
A psychically gifted child is not odd or weird. He or she is talented, but looks, acts, and plays like any other child. The difference is that the psychic abilities are so pronounced, they cannot be hid. The child cannot deny them nor develop strong defenses to block them from use. The child most frequently misunderstands them. In addition, psychically gifted children may have unusual sensitivities, being more affected by a casual slight or emotional experience, or is more reactive to the emotionally confusing states of other people. Because the child cannot create strong defenses, feelings of being vulnerable, hurt or confused by the actions of others can result. This can lead to withdrawal into oneself to create a sense of balance, or may result in feeling overwhelmed or at odds with the sometimes conflicting energies of other people. Psychically gifted children appear bright, perceptive and seem to express “unworldly” insights.
There are many ways in which parents, teachers or friends can help psychically gifted children begin to see themselves and their abilities in positive ways and to explore those areas to find out who they are and could become.
Listen to your child without judgment. Create an accepting atmosphere of understanding and caring, without ridicule, so that your child will not be afraid to speak of the experiences. Allow your child to talk freely about the experience. Try not to display your disbelief, fear, worry or embarrassment to your child. Otherwise, they may withdraw or avoid talking to you about their experiences. Casual comments such as, “Oh you picked up what I was thinking,” “Isn’t that interesting,” or “Tell me more about your dream and why you think it will come true” are the types of reinforcement and encouragement children can subtly incorporate. Do not force a child to explore or consciously develop psychic abilities if the child does not wish to do so.
Normalize the experience. Let your child know that such experiences have happened to other children and adults, and there has been research conducted on such occurrences. Be matter of fact about the child’s experience, so as not to frighten or capitalize on the event. Let your child know there are places to get answers to their questions about their abilities and experiences and you can help them if they want. Obtain books to read, contact The Rhine Research Institute, in Durham, NC, or the Parapsychology Foundation for more information or someone to talk to.
Do not force the child to “perform” their psychic abilities. Children’s psi experience will often be spontaneous and the child will most likely not be able to control such events at will. Psi often occurs when not pressured to make it happen. Being pushed to produce psychic events “on demand” may diminish the very thing parents wish to encourage. It is a tool and not an end in itself. Do not focus on using psychic abilities for personal gain. These abilities are there for the child to use, grow with, and share. They should not be used at the child’s expense. A child should not be pressured to produce psychic events, or perform as a “super-psychic”. Such approaches may actually cause abilities to decline, result in feelings of being exploited, may result in an inflated sense of ability or force the child into resorting to fraudulent activities to keep the attention and positive regard of the adult. Children often feel conflicted in such cases, in conflict with the need for approval and acceptance of others, and the push of their psychic abilities. Set apart because of these talents, the child may begin to feel something is wrong or may feel bad or unloved. The child will therefore focus on using these talents to gain attention rather than using them as potential tools for personal growth and development. And such pressure will force the child to live up to another’s expectations and desires and inevitably inhibit development of their own natural abilities.
Put psychic abilities in perspective. The spontaneity of psychic events and abilities will decline under feelings of self-consciousness or anxiety. Put psychic abilities in perspective. The child should understand while they may be talented in psychic abilities the child has other things to learn and other talents to develop. Let your child be a child, not treated as a little adult. Let your child develop all sides of him or herself, including psychic abilities. Help your child to understand that these abilities are just like any other talents or skills people have like being a gifted pianist, artist, actor, or athlete.
Keep communication open. If a child tells you about a psychic experience, accept what has happened, whether you feel it is coincidence or otherwise. If a child’s statements are received negatively, your child may not approach you again about another experience. Your child may also lose faith and trust established by feeling unable to talk about problem areas in general, or special unusual dreams or disturbing impressions. As a consequence, the child may try to suppress their psychic abilities, losing creativity, and may develop feelings of distrust and anger toward a parent.
Keep a journal of psi experiences occurring in the family. Encourage the child or teen to record such events or dreams. Write them down as soon as possible after it occurs to keep information fresh and get the most details as possible. Over time patterns can be seen, and the ability to distinguish a regular dream from one that might have precognitive components. Journal writing also helps the child and family discover if dreams or impressions were accurate and how long it takes to “come true”. Try to add documentation when the events have occurred, and record the times the events did not seem to occur or missed significant details. Often psychic impressions come through when there is minimal interference and the conscious mind is not distracted by other things, such as during sleep, during car rides, or when daydreaming.
Try out simple ESP games, which can be enjoyable and fun for child and parent alike. Guessing games can be used whereby the child guesses a word the parent is thinking, or draws a picture of an item being thought about. Reverse roles and have the child think about a word or item and have the parent say or draw the impression that comes to mind. Using a deck of 25 cards, or making up a special deck of Zener cards can be used for guessing. To make your own Zener cards, use 25 index cards. Make up five cards each, one symbol per card, of these five symbols: a star, three wavy lines, cross, circle, and square. Mix the cards up and have one person concentrate on each card while the other concentrates and calls out or draws what they think the symbol is (testing for telepathy). Repeat two or three times. Shuffle the cards, then put them face down. Have one person guess each card, just before it is turned over, without anyone looking at it ahead of time, will test for clairvoyance. And for precognitive abilities, have the person say or write down 25 symbols and then shuffle the cards. Then turn them over one at a time checking against the answers already given. See how many match the guesses! A score of 5 out of 25 is considered chance, the usual number when no psi phenomena may be occurring. A score of seven or higher (“psi hitting), or four or below (“psi missing”) can indicate psychic ability.
The use of m&m candies is another fun way to test psychic abilities, and can be used in the same way as the Zener cards. Place five m&m candies each, of five different colors, for a total of 25 candies, in a brown (not see-through) paper bag. Set the game up for the child to guess which candy will be selected from the paper bag (precognitive), or which candy has been selected and is being held in the bag by you (clairvoyance). Once the child has guessed the color, you can show it from the one selected from the paper bag, and then replace it in the bag, keeping 25 candies in the bag at all times. You could give a similar color candy to the Athena A. Drewes, Psy.DSally Feather, Ph.D.child as a reward or incentive from another bag of extra candies, which they could accumulate and eat at the end. Play the “game” twice. Research by Dr. Drewes with Dr. Sally Drucker has shown that brighter children do better on the second trial of 25 guesses after getting rewards for correct answers during the first time the “game” was played.