I hear it all the time, “My, husband is an idiot! Some people never grow up.”
So the question is – Do some people never grow up? Is Peter Pan syndrome a real thing?
It never used to be a thing, my grand-dad would scoff at the idea of a grown man (or woman) acting irresponsibly or carelessly and thinking it was OK.
Let’s take a closer look. I suspect this topic is going to raise a lot of eyebrows and there is a lot more to it once we scratch the surface. Three questions I have straight off the bat are:
- What makes everyone think this trend is confined to men only?
- Who determines, or what happens when someone is grown up? or an adult?
- Does being an adult have to be all doom and gloom?
First up I think we need to explore what attributes best define adulthood.
Adulthood defined – What makes you a grown up?
I had never thought about it before now but I found it is not a straight forward thing.
There seems to be three distinct attributes that a child needs to attain before they can be deemed a fully fledged adult. These are (in no particular order):
- Sexual maturity (biologically capable of reproducing)
- Legal adulthood (legally deemed an adult by the government, typical at a certain age)
- Social development to the point of autonomy (also known as independence)
The sexual maturity and the legal distinction both seem to be fairly black and white (in most cases) but the social adulthood is the massive grey area.
I think it is fair to say that no one will disagree that all these three criteria need to be met. One by itself will not be enough, or two by themselves will still not be enough, without the third to consider someone an adult.
Social development to the point of proper autonomy needs high self-esteem, self-motivated tendencies, positive self-concepts, self-initiating behaviors and self-regulating behaviors gained through long term good mental health.
Adolescence – transition from child to grown up
The physical development through adolescence should be pretty obvious to everyone. It doesn’t need much discussion here, it has been the same for millennia and will go on unchanged. Women menstruate, men get hairy.
There is distinct difference between male and female biology (and development thereof) that I can discuss in future posts if you’re interested. Let me know.
Adolescence therefore can be said to be mainly an exercise of social development.
The Peter Pan syndrome problem seems to be that more and more people are remaining adolescents and never graduating into adulthood.
The prevalence of this problem within our society is pretty obvious when you just start listing out all the common terms we use. Twixters, kidults, rejuveniles, adultescents & Boomerangers and many more.
The missing factor appears to be this point of autonomy for social acceptance as an adult.
Lessons from our past – Times when people had to grow up or be shamed
If you ask your grandparents about their transition from adolescence to childhood you will find they lived in an entirely different social construct. (Yes that is a Matrix movie reference, brilliant movie).
The social expectations of them seemed to be aligned across the whole community and achievable. Social expectations were static and enforced by parents and the community at large.
Shame was used vigorously as the social tool to get adolescents and young adults to toe the line. It was not always a pretty affair but tough love in the form of consequences and boundaries were necessary to achieve the alignment.
Whether those social expectations aligned towards something reasonable or not is a topic for another post. I am not proposing we go back to the good old days our culture has clearly progressed to a different social construct, but where is the alignment.
Today’s typical ManChild/WomanChild – Some people will never grow up.
The Manchild/Womanchild is most commonly portrayed as someone in their late 20s or early 30s hooked on playing video games, socially immature, still living with their parents, financial and or sexually irresponsible, not a good enough job and without the correct level of self sacrifice required of today s culture.
The thing is this “Manchild” can be autonomous to the point of being married and providing for himself wife and children but still be deemed a Manchild if his level of autonomy doesn’t meet his wife’s (and her social groups) social expectations.
Whilst the “WomanChild” is accepted as a victim by today’s social culture unless the case is very extreme.
A key concept here is that the female determines a large part of our social construct.
This phenomenon was coined first by Robert Briffault well over 100 years ago now. It is now known as Briffault’s law. Refer to this article for further information or google “Briffault’s Law” Psychology today article – Briffault’s Law.
Also read my partner post which is called Peter Pan Syndrome In Women.
I think it is possible to become an adult in your early 20s and then regress if your social culture is not sufficient to maintain your good mental health.
It is encouraging to think that mental health has become a much more significant topic over the last decade but as I have found out today the issue is a lot bigger than I had previously considered.
If you don’t believe me that a social culture can be bad enough to destroy someone’s high self-esteem, self-motivated tendencies, positive self-concepts, self-initiating behaviors and self-regulating behaviors let us all know your secret, it could save us a lot of heartache.
The key lessons I hope my kids learn when they are adolescents is that to graduate out of adolescence and into adulthood you need:
- To put in some work on yourself (social development is not related to your physical development at all)
- Social acceptance without the autonomy is a false adulthood and a dangerous position to be in (for everyone)
- Autonomy (also known as independence) is required to be an adult and can only be achieved with high self-esteem, self-motivated tendencies, positive self-concepts, self-initiating behaviors and self-regulating behaviors gained through long term good mental health
- Our society is failing our adolescents and young adults by not providing a clear path into adulthood. Unclear social expectations that differ with each fragmented social group or that change with the day of the week damage a person’s ability to gain the required social development and autonomy
As a final note I would also add that Autonomy reaches beyond the emotional and into the physical. Autonomy does not include reliance on the government for your financial security, housing, protection or validation.
The article that sparked this post is found here. >> ” Male Initiation in modern culture article
It refers to a need for male initiation. Perhaps the cure was found in our past and forgotten.
Tragic Dad Joke:
Why is Peter Pan always flying?
Because he never-lands.