When adults refuse to grow up

A great guy goes to the courtyard next to a children's pool.In Peter Pan, the prominent protagonist occupies a fabulous place called Never-Never Land, where children never grow up. While people with Peter Pan syndrome can become adults, they are persistently resisting taking on the responsibilities of adulthood and adopting social rules related to the rise of older people.

Peter Pan syndrome, sometimes called launch failure, is not a clinical diagnosis. Indeed, it can apply to a wide range of people and symptoms, from a 40-year-old woman who chooses not to work and still lives with her mother to a 30-year-old man who has children for whom she has little support.

Treatment can help people who feel uncomfortable getting older by understanding the root of their difficulties. With patience and hard work, they can move towards happy adulthood and create lasting relationships.

What is Peter Pan Syndrome?

Psychologist Dan Kiley applied the term Peter Pan syndrome in his 1983 book, Peter Pan Syndrome: Men who have never grown up. Kiley worked with annoying teen boys. He found that many grew up in adult men who struggled to accept the responsibilities of adults.

Some features of Peter Pan syndrome may include:

  • Chronic unemployment or underemployment. Another competent person may refuse to look for a job. They can be constantly evicted from work because of absence or bad behavior.
  • Do not do the fair share at home. A person can get married and have children, but they spend most of the day playing video games while their partner works, cleans and tends to children.
  • Relying on someone else to take financial responsibility. A person with Peter Pan syndrome can rely on others to take care of the money (without contributing anything worthwhile in return, such as child care).
  • Launch failure. A person can stay at home with their parents despite opportunities to earn money, get a job or move.

Kiley claimed that refusing to grow up is a male insult. He also believed that women who "mate" their male partners – a compound called the Wendy Dilemma – can allow these men to continue to avoid adult responsibilities. While men and women may refuse to grow up, most of the literature on Peter Pan syndrome continues to focus on men.

What causes Peter Pan?

Peter Pan syndrome is not a clinically recognized diagnosis and is a newly recognized syndrome. For these reasons, little research has explored the phenomenon. Some factors that may play a role in Peter Pan syndrome include:

  • Gender roles: Women often socialize to take home responsibilities, do emotional work and take care of children. This can make it easier for their male partners to abandon these tasks and avoid adulthood.
  • Anxiety: Adulthood can be difficult. It is common for you to feel impatient about one's ability to get out of work, to make a living or to achieve other measures of success. When there is a viable path to avoid these responsibilities – such as a responsible spouse or a parent who tends to do daily work – some people may refuse to grow up.
  • Loneliness: Psychologist Humbelina Robles Ortega suggests people with Peter Pan syndrome to fear loneliness. Therefore, they are constantly looking for people to look after them – usually romantic associates.
  • Fear of commitment: People with Peter Pan syndrome often have a pattern of unstable relationships. They can build relationships with progressively new partners, who assume that they will have fewer plans for the future and require less investment.
  • Questions about helicopters: Ortega says overprotective parents can make their children too dependent. These children may fail to develop basic skills necessary for adulthood, which forces them to develop Peter Pan syndrome.
  • Mental Health Diagnoses: Some research shows that men with Peter Pan syndrome may have personality disorder. For example, a 1982 study suggested that Peter Pan syndrome is often a complex family system in which the man has narcissistic personality and the female partner is depressed.

Having "childish" interests – like dolls or comics – does not cause Peter Pan syndrome. On the contrary, this syndrome concerns the refusal to take responsibility and the creation of mutual relations.

What maturity means in a cultural context

The concept of adulthood and maturity varies considerably between cultures. In some cultures, people live with their families for a lifetime and show adulthood by marrying or having children. In others, the characteristic of adulthood is the ability to live independently and away from their parents. However, other cultures consider living separately from their parents a sign of abandonment of their duties to their family. In other words, the characteristic of this syndrome is not necessarily a single symptom, but not the adoption of common adulthood rules.

Some young people who appear to have Peter Pan syndrome may simply need more time to grow because of forces outside their control.That being said, the inability to leave home or find a spouse is not always proof that someone has Peter Pan syndrome. A person with severe motor impairment may need help from a carer to tend to daily work. The same level of assistance for someone who is not disabled would be inappropriate.

Complex sociological and economic factors can also be delayed when a person reaches certain milestones. A world of 2013 found that young Americans become financially independent at later ages than previous generations. This is partly due to a changing labor market, increasing the cost of education, increasing rent prices and many other factors. Economic dependency can in turn affect other milestones, such as finding a husband.

Some young people who appear to have Peter Pan syndrome may simply need more time to grow because of forces outside their control. Only the economic situation does not determine the maturity of the individual. Conversely, adult life is demonstrated by a person's willingness to work towards milestones and take responsibility for his actions.

Treatment of Peter Pan syndrome

In many cases, a person's failure to grow hurts the people around him. A person's partner may feel overwhelmed and exhausted by taking on all household responsibilities. The individual's parents can get money from their savings to continue to provide material support.

People with Peter Pan syndrome may not consider their symptoms as being problematic. Many only seek help when they lose support or when their symptoms compromise their relationship. Lovers struggling with Peter Pan syndrome someone else should be aware that clear boundary training can encourage their loved one to seek help.

Family therapy or counseling for couples can help an entire family understand its current dynamics. In therapy, they can cope with their own contributions and work for healthier and more balanced relationships.

In individual advice, a therapist can help a person understand his reluctance to grow up, deal with underlying factors such as trauma and make a plan for the transition to adulthood. Getting a job, forming a relationship and independence can feel like a monumental task. The right therapist can break down these tasks in easy steps, helping a person steadily improve their lives.

Bibliographical references:

  1. Arnett, J.J., & Galambos, N.L. (2003). Culture and perceptions of adulthood. New directions for the development of children and adolescents, 100, 91-98. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/1dd8/8dfff10bb9d61fdfa5aef2997a6c7fabbbe8.pdf
  2. Carnevale, A. P., Hanson, A. R., & Gulish, A. (2013). Unable to launch: Structural shift and new generation lost. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED558185
  3. Parents with overprotection can lead children to develop "Peter Pan Syndrome". (2007, May 03). ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070501112023.htm
  4. Quadrio, C. (1982). Peter Pan and Wendy Syndrome: A family dynamics. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 16(2), 23-28. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3109/00048678209161187?journalCode=ianp20
  5. Thomas, R. M., Jr. (1996, February 27). Dan Kiley, 54, dies. wrote the Peter Pan syndrome. New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/1996/02/27/us/dan-kiley-54-dies-wrote-peter-pan-syndrome.html

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