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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.