Peter Pan syndrome: a symptom of society’s bigger problem

Unless your aspiration is to live in a treehouse with your friends who dress up like animals, it’s time to grow up.

By Samantha Thompson

(VANCOUVER) Capilano Courier — Peter Pan said: “Once you’re grown up, you can never come back.” Lucky for him, he lives in Neverland, the place where you never have to grow up and can spend your days fighting Captain Hook and rescuing Tiger Lily. It sounds like a high-quality way of life — relatively free of stress, high emotions and complicated responsibilities.

Strangely enough, some people in the real world are suffering from similar symptoms — they’re choosing to live a life in which they never grow up, and don’t take on adult responsibilities. Adults resonate with “childish” things because of nostalgia. Watching The Little Mermaid brings back memories of a childhood filled with happiness, a time when they could find solace in animated movies. And just because adults have aged past childhood doesn’t mean they need only enjoy “mature” pastimes. Truly reaching adulthood means that you recognize the freedom to make decisions for yourself and enjoy whatever you want.

The Peter Pan syndrome, however, is a label given to those adults who still have the mind of a child. Although the World Health Organization has not yet recognized it as a psychological disorder, articles on the subject suggest that there are a growing number of adults who are demonstrating emotionally immature
behaviours. Humbelina Robles Ortega, a professor for the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment at the University of Granada, told Science Daily, “It usually affects dependent people who have been overprotected by their families and haven’t developed the necessary skills to confront life.” She says that those with the syndrome “see the adult world as very problematic and glorify adolescence, which is why they want to stay in the state of privilege.”

Symptoms of the condition include an inability to take on responsibilities or keep promises, a significant obsession in appearance and personal well-being, and a lack of selfconfidence. Because there’s a fear of evaluation, people suffering from the syndrome will often trade in their partners for younger ones — so that the level of commitment can remain relatively low.

A society that enables this syndrome is problematic because it encourages people to reject growing up. If people refuse to mature, they will not seek out professional jobs, find partners, or even potentially have children so that the life cycle will continue. Society will stagnate, but it’s important to recognize that those who experience this syndrome are suffering because of the society in which they live. The syndrome is often borne out of a situation where the person has been protected for much of their life, given very little independence, and not made to make any decisions for themselves. As our culture has changed, we’re seeing an increase in this trend of “bubble children,” where the parents are so protective of their child that the child cannot do anything lest they be injured. In an environment like this, there is no chance for the child to make decisions or learn things for themselves through experimentation.

As a result, the transition to adulthood can be all the more daunting. There’s no manual for how to be an adult, and often we make decisions without knowing the full impact of them. This is what frightens people into remaining childish. To keep Peter Pan in the storybooks, we need to encourage each generation to experiment, to try new things, and to make decisions for themselves. We need to establish that failure is not a bad thing, and if mistakes are made, it is so that we can learn from them to be more successful next time. This gentler approach will make adulthood a less terrifying idea.