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What is Peter Pan Syndrome?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The term “Peter Pan syndrome” is sometimes used informally to describe people who are socially immature. Peter Pan syndrome is not a medically recognized diagnosis, and discussions about it are primarily seen in the realm of pop psychology, although socialization problems are certainly a very real issue all over the world, and they could probably bear closer examination. Dan Kiley is usually credited with coining the term in his 1983 book of the same name, and Kiley has subsequently explored the issue in other texts as well.

Peter Pan is a fictional character created by author J. M. Barrie in the early 1900s. He is a boy who never wants to grow up, flying off to Never Never Land and embarking on a variety of adventures, and he has captured the imagination of many subsequent generations, appearing in a number of books and performances such as plays.

Kiley theorized that some individuals mature into adulthood physically, but retain the minds of children. They have difficulty in social situations, and often behave with extreme immaturity, refusing to take on adult responsibilities, engaging in childish behavior and emotional extremes, and experiencing outbursts of anger and other emotions. Kiley coined the term “Peter Pan syndrome” to describe this, arguing that the syndrome was seen primarily in men.

The idea that some people refuse to grow up is hardly new. Jung wrote extensively about the puer aeternus or “eternal boy” in his works, for example. People with Peter Pan syndrome suffer in social situations because they are unable to mentally process adult issues, and their responses to events in their lives are childlike. The syndrome probably arises from issues with socialization which occur during childhood, with children not being given a chance to grow up, and some psychologists have theorized that overprotective parenting may play a large role in the emergence of Peter Pan syndrome.

Because Peter Pan syndrome is not a recognized psychological issue, there is no established treatment. However, people who are emotionally immature can benefit from the services of a psychologist, who may be able to use behavioral modification, talk therapy, and other techniques to encourage the patient to grow up. As with many psychological issues, treatment is most effective when the patient actively seeks it out and wants to modify his or her behavior, as this will mean that the patient is willing to put in the work to make the treatment work.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon359573 — On Dec 18, 2013

I'm a girl, 16 years old, and this explains me perfectly. As a kid, I was always laughed at for wanting to grow up, which led to me being socially awkward. People still don't know that I have my period, that I have been boy crazy since kindergarten, and I even tricked people into thinking I listened to kidz bop since I was about 7 out of embarrassment of liking my own music. Weird, right?

In seventh grade, I got my period at lunch, and I was so afraid that I bled on the seat that the security had to literally carry me -- feet off the ground-- out of the lunchroom because of my refusal to leave. I have never been able to deal with adult issues well. Thanks for this article.

By anon279706 — On Jul 13, 2012

Why would anyone care about this? People can do what they want. These people are adults (legally), so maybe this is a topic that probably is just a waste of time.

Either that or you're Western women and single or something.

By KoiwiGal — On Jun 11, 2011

@pleonasm - I've only ever heard of the term "Peter Pan syndrome" applied to men who didn't want to commit to an adult relationship before. I didn't realize there were people who just didn't want to grow up at all.

Don't they realize that none of us do? We all just have to make the best of what we have and what we have to do. I wouldn't work or live away from my parents if I could tolerate having no money and... well, living with my parents either.

But, I have no choice so I suck it up and get on with life.

By croydon — On Jun 10, 2011

@pleonasm - I think that it is happening all over the world that people are reacting to the current social climate and withdrawing to a child-like state. There is a Japanese term for it: "hikikomori".

Young people who live in a room by themselves, often with their parents, and hardly ever come out. They usually just play video games and don't have adult relationships.

People blame the parents and say they have spoiled and sheltered their kids too much.

I think that might be true, but it's also true that sometimes pressure just gets to be too much and a person decides they don't want to deal with anything anymore.

By pleonasm — On Jun 08, 2011

The young adults of this current generation (people around 20-30) have been called the "boomerang generation" because they tend to move out for a short time and live independently, and then move straight back in with their folks again.

I have heard some negative things said about them, but in reality it is a tough economic world at the moment. It's only in the last few generations that it became normal to live away from your family as it is.

I don't blame people who have Peter Pan syndrome for not wanting to grow up. I think they should not be given the choice, but I get the reluctance.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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