Some people never grow up? aka Peter Pan Syndrome

Manchild playing video games

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.

Do some people never grow up

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.

I did a related article on initiation rites. Click here.

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.

Conclusion

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.

Peter Pan SyndromeThe 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.

Escape Immaturity CTA

Tragic Dad Joke:

Why is Peter Pan always flying?
Because he never-lands.

12 Replies to “Some people never grow up? aka Peter Pan Syndrome”

  1. Hey there,

    Thanks so much for sharing this post, this is a topic that’s rarely mentioned but is so important in and of itself. As a young adult in my early 20s, I can say that it’s a very tough process to finally grow from being a child to a functioning adult. There are so many expectations, and as you said, these expectations may differ from one source to another, it’s a confusing time. I can see how some folks would not be able to grow out of this period.

    This is a very informative post and I’m glad I came across it. 🙂

    Cheers,
    Anh

    1. Welcome Anh stay tuned for a series on male initiation.  There is good reason why some of there ceremonies and rites of passage stood the test of time over thousands of years prior to today.  I was fortunate enough to have some elders in my life early on to at least clue me in on what was missing.  There is a big picture on life and connection to life that young men don’t get to experience until well into their 40’s these days.

  2. This is indeed a one of a kind article. some people may really never grow up, no matter the age.

    I have seen a lot of people even those in their early 40’s with the Peter Pan Syndrome. And i have come to a conclusion that the main reason for this, is how children are being brought up by their parents.

    1. Hi John,
      thanks for the comment. I agree that your childhood has a massive impact on your adulthood. It pretty much creates your ego from an early age (ego in the sense of your own personal opinion of who you are).
      But accepting that, change is possible and growth is possible. Too many people told me through my life that “people don’t change” or “you are what you are”.
      I reject that mentality, growth is possible and holding onto the past is just an excuse for people not to do the work required for personal growth.

  3. Great article! as someone in there early 20’s I must say I have always wondered how can some people turn out this way and prior to reading your article a quote I heard a long time ago which was “Children want to be grown ups fast and grown ups want to be children again” so I always thought maybe this was the case for a lot of people/ everyone. apologise for the tangent to be honest i’m still trying to figure out my purpose on this giant sphere called life lol. But anyway this is a very thought provoking article :).

    1. Welcome Marquis and thanks for the comments,

      I am preparing two follow up articles that will lead on from here.  

      First is about male initiation (or lack thereof), research on this topic is proving illusive but i am reading a brilliant book by Robert Bly called “Iron John” which will probably form the cornerstone of the article.  

      Second article will be an article on Carl Jung’s principles of something he calls “Individuation”, it is basically his (psychology) theories on personal wholeness.  Massive topic that I could spend years on.  

      Let me know if you want to know more on I can share with you my Youtube channel and some playlists I have created on these topics.

      What sort of mentorship has been available to you in the realms of adulthood marquis?  Unfortunately it seems to be every man for himself these days.

  4. It is very important that everybody realizes that you have to grow one day. And some people grow up earlier than others which is fine. Of course I think adults should still have jokes and enjoy their life because growing up doesn’t mean becoming dull. It simply means you have to learn to have responsibility.
    I personally think children can help you grow up too. I have 2 sons and I’m only 20 so I had to grow up quickly. When my oldest son started doing or saying things that I never thought was anything wrong, I realized that it actually sounded very childish and it was my time to just grow up and take the responsibility of raising our sons with my husband. And believe me I think you’ll always have areas where you can act more grown up.

    1. thanks for sharing your thoughts justina,

      a lot of the time it can be a fine line between responsibility and accountability  The society would be a hell of a lot better off is at the very least everyone could be held accountable for their own actions (or lack thereof).  Instead of accountability there has been a fog of victimhood and criticism envelope us all.  Depravibility soon follows.

      good luck with the little ones..

  5. Thanks for sharing I found your post to be interesting and funny at the same time. I agree with you however today men are starting to become more soft. Maybe its the age of social media that took away our pride. I mean come on back in the day men had to endure a whole lot more

    1. thanks for stopping by silvano,

      glad you got something out of it.  Quite a few people are leaving comments about the dumbing down of masculinity.  It prompted an article I wrote.  Here is the link.

  6. Wow, so true! I meet so many people living with what you described as Peter Pan syndrome. They are immature, and don’t have a plan for their life. The only thing that they have that makes them an adult is their sexual maturity.

    I can’t help but pity individuals who don’t see their need for more responsibility in life. Sure I’ve got my faults, but I work full time, pay my bills, and do my best to help my family, big difference.

    I like how you pointed out that men need a point of initiation. I know many people who never had a dad or male role model come along side them and tell them, “You are a man now”.

    1. cheers Jacob.

      It is even more sickening when you see people who get rewarded for not taking any sort of responsibility at all. 

      I have come across a handful of organisations and individuals who share your thought on initiation.  Stick around I will do my best to share their work.

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