Peter Pan Syndrome: The Science Behind It, What It Is & How To Treat It
Updated July 29, 2019
Reviewer Aaron Horn
We all know the story of Peter Pan, or at least the gist of it. Peter Pan is a boy who never wants to grow up, and he lives in Neverland, where he stays young forever. There is a disorder named after our favorite pirate fighting boy, and it is causing some waves, and not in a good way.
What Is Peter Pan Syndrome?
Peter Pan Syndrome, as you may have guessed, is when an adult doesn't want to take responsibilities and mature. Peter Pan Syndrome is a pop psychology syndrome that isn't listed in any diagnostic manual, and what Peter Pan Syndrome is may be different for everyone. The stereotypical sufferer from Peter Pan Syndrome is someone, usually a man, who does not want to enter the adult life. They may not work, take any responsibilities, and want everyone around them to support their lifestyle.
As this syndrome is not official, it's hard to tell who suffers from it. Just because someone has childlike tendencies, such as curiosity, a sense of humor, or love for certain things associated with a child, it doesn't mean they have Peter Pan Syndrome.
The Cause Of It
It's hard to tell what exactly would cause someone to want to avoid responsibilities, but there are a few theories. These include…
A Spoiled Childhood
We all know someone whose parents never said no. They never disciplined their child, they never taught them any life skills, and when they became adults, the parents still coddled them. While children should have a childhood to call their own, being too spoiled can lead to not wanting to take responsibilities. The sudden shift from being spoiled to having to work and pay bills is jarring for many people. Instead of gradually being introduced to adult concepts, there were no dipping toes in the pool for this person.
An Abusive Childhood
On the other end of the coin, someone who was abused as a child may feel like they need to "catch up" on their children once they grow into an adult. They're away from their parents and can do whatever they want, so they may regress into a child they feel is safe.
Perhaps the most famous example is the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. He lived an abusive childhood and was forced to be a star. As he grew up, he wanted to regress back into his childhood. He named his estate the Neverland Ranch, and it wasn't unseen of him to dress up as Peter Pan.
Yearning For Nostalgia
Being nostalgic for your childhood is not a new concept, but it has been magnified recently. You can't escape social media without seeing post after post about how everything was better when you were a child. They promote shows, music, and games from that era, and teach you that everything current isn't good. It's okay to be nostalgic, but when you're spending your time looking back too much in the past, you may not see what's ahead of you.
Not everyone gets to have the best job in the world, but as of recent years, the economy seems to be empty for millennials. Long hours, little pay, and no progress towards achieving your life goals. If one cannot progress, they may instead regress. They need an escape from their miserable lives. Escapism can be a good thing, don't get us wrong, but when you're not taking any responsibilities, it can become a huge problem.
Those are just a few reasons why Peter Pan Syndrome may occur. As we said, this isn't an officially recognized disorder, so it's all speculative.
Adult Skills Not Being Taught
We've all heard the term "adulting" before. It's a young adult who thinks basic adult skills are tough trials they must overcome. Making your own doctor's appointment, doing your taxes, paying your bills, and so on. The term is mostly used ironically, but some people are serious about it.
And in this modern world, it's easy to see why. Many schools don't teach adult skills. Another joke that occurs is how a person wasn't taught to do their taxes or apply for a mortgage, but they know that mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell. While learning science is important, many schools seem to forget how to teach their adults to be a productive member of society.
Symptoms of Peter Pan Syndrome
How can you know if someone has Peter Pan Syndrome? There are a few symptoms you can look at, including:
Lack Of Career Interest
Most jobs are not fun. There are few jobs where a person wants to come in every day and stay there for hours. Most jobs don't have pay that satisfies. It's understandable why a person would not be interested in having a career. However, it's a part of life. Someone with Peter Pan Syndrome may be unmotivated to get a job. When they do have a job, they may slack off and put no effort into advancing their careers. Or they may have a part-time job and refuse to work full-time, as this will take away from their escapism.
Not Being Able To Handle Situations
As adults, we are all faced with situations, and we must learn how to handle them. From arguments to stresses, a person will learn how to deal with them. However, one with Peter Pan Syndrome may find it hard to deal with these situations. Instead, they may scream and throw an adult tantrum, or they may yell at the person instead of having a proper argument or resolution to the problem.
Everyone has their occasional breakdowns, so just because someone did this once, it doesn't mean they have Peter Pan Syndrome. However, if a person is constantly refusing to solve problems, then this may be due to Peter Pan Syndrome.
Trouble With Commitment
Someone with Peter Pan Syndrome may be interested in relationships or sex, but not for long. They may get into casual relationships, or promise that they'll be committed, but then break up with their partner after a short period.
Some people do have trouble staying committed. Some people want to be wild in their youth and then settle down later. But if one doesn't want to have a long-term relationship all their life, they may have Peter Pan Syndrome.
Drug And Alcohol Abuse
Alcoholism is not uncommon for adults who have Peter Pan Syndrome. They want an escape and what better way to escape than to drink some alcohol or take some drugs? During a person's teens and early adulthood, it's common for a person to party, drink a lot, and experiment with drugs. However, if this is still happening far into adulthood, then the person either has an addiction or doesn't want to sober up and take adult responsibilities.
Everyone has flaked out of doing something every once in a while, but someone with Peter Pan Syndrome seems to be always be unreliable. They may promise to do something for you, and when the time comes, they're nowhere to be found. They may make an underwhelming excuse, or be someone who doesn't bring it up at all.
It's Everyone Else's Fault
Someone with Peter Pan Syndrome may not ever take the blame upon themselves. Instead, it's another person's fault, even if all the evidence points to the person with Peter Pan Syndrome. Taking responsibility is a difficult trait to have for many people, but if someone never takes responsibility, they may be the real-life version of Peter Pan.
Doesn't Want To Improve
Finally, someone with Peter Pan Syndrome doesn't want to improve themselves. They never self-correct or want to grow as a person. Instead, they want to be that irresponsible adult forever.
These are just a few examples. Some adults may have a few symptoms or tendencies, but may not be a full-blown Peter Pan. As this isn't a recognized symptom, it's a bit subjective if a person has it or not. However, if they exhibit many of these symptoms to an extreme degree, they may have Peter Pan Syndrome.
How To Treat Peter Pan Syndrome
If a person is hardwired to be childlike, it may be difficult for them to grow up. However, there are a few ways to help them move in the right direction.
- Stop enabling the person. Do not give them handouts or support unless they support you back.
- Gradually introduce adult concepts. For example, when it comes to a job, have them apply for an easy job and then move on up.
- Remove distractions from their life. While distractions are good in moderation, you don't want someone with Peter Pan Syndrome to spend their time on social media instead of taking responsibilities.
One of the best ways to treat someone's behavior is to seek counseling. If your child or partner has a hard time growing up, couple or family therapy may be the solution. It may take a bit, but you can turn Peter Pan into an adult.