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Adultolescence: Not Just a Man's World

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My post last week entitled Adultolesence: The Difference Between Men Who Won't Grow Up And Men Who Just Wanna Have Fun had to do with the Peter Pan syndrome many twenty-somethings take on. I appreciated all the comments about this topic and wanted to address one question in particular, "Why are there two men on the "tease" picture on the front page of HuffPo and why is this piece written exclusively about males?"

Adultolescence is in no way exclusive to men. Last week's question just happened to be asked by a male about his male friend. Many young women are also playing around in Neverland opting more for instant gratification. So no, the Peter Pan syndrome is not solely male territory. And as a fun, historical digression did you know that until the Disney movie, the role of Peter Pan was usually played by a young woman?

When a female gets stuck in adultolescence, it looks similar to the male version. The same mentality applies: fun and easy is good, responsibility and difficulty is boring.
One HuffPost commenter shared the following about female Peter Pans, "My group of female friends is divided. I'm part of the group that went to school, worked during school and came out with a degree AND work experience - landing a job that required both. We all make around the same salary and are starting our MA, MBA, CPA training. The other group consists of the girls who had parents who paid for their undergrad education, partied and had the "C's get degrees" attitude...majored in Comm or Psych and now work either as cocktail waitresses or are in "sales." Their jobs are between 15K-30K less than ours, but their hours afford them the ability to go out during the week and to arrive hungover to work the next day. They are ultimately "party girls" who are tons of fun, but they're swimming in debt while continuing to buy the newest LV purse. All of them are partying and are hoping for the rich husband who will bail them out of the debt and allow them to quit their jobs."

While this description is extreme, it does touch upon themes I've seen in my work with and research about today's twenty-somethings (Gen Y). Females who get stuck in adultolescence are often fiscally irresponsible and naive. Female Peter Pans are also more likely to be financially dependent upon their parents than men - and parents are more likely to give money to a daughter than a son. Of course there are exceptions to this, but we have not completely cleared traditionalist thinking that men who take money from Mom and Dad are weak.

Women in adultolescence focus on having a good time and keeping up with the latest trends. Some invest a lot of time and energy in looking for Prince Charming - or whoever will charm them in the moment. Building a career and working long hours are not as much of a priority or a desire. Although their lifestyle may seem appealing, many are painfully insecure and put extraordinary effort into looking good to compensate for how they feel inside. Over-achievers can be just as insecure, we just compensate by pushing ourselves and taking on more (and yes I put myself into the over-achiever category because my twenties were all about doing and proving). And young women who hear the ticking of the biological clock feel additional pressure to accomplish things on a timeline so a layover in adultolescence is not an option. Bottom line, the twenty-something years begin the lifelong quest for fulfillment and contentment - some take a layover in Neverland while others take a direct flight to grown-up life.

There are many more stereotypes I could write about and generalizations I could make about female Peter Pans, but instead I'd like to focus on how to support a young woman in getting out of adultolescence if it seems like she is heading on a path to nowhere. While men and women often take different approaches to advice, many of the things I mentioned in last week's column still apply. No one can come in as a magical fairy godmother and reality check someone out of adultolescence. So if Patricia Pan is your girlfriend, try to validate her based on her characteristics and accomplishments rather than reinforcing any external attributes. Share what you are learning about grown-up life and ask her questions about her future plans. But remember not everyone wants to escape from escapism; however, as I said last week, eventually every Peter or Patricia Pan wakes up.

If you are a parent of an adultolescent, ask yourself if you are enabling your child or supporting them with healthy boundaries. She (or he) is not going to leave Neverland if you keep footing the bill. Parents who enable Peter Pans (male or female) either by regularly buying them things they could not afford on their own or supporting them financially extend their child's trip to Neverland.

And a few words about what I mean about responsibility. Let me refer to the good old fashioned dictionary which defines responsibility as "the quality or state of being responsible (able to answer for one's conduct and obligations and able to choose for oneself between right and wrong); moral, legal, or mental accountability; reliability, trustworthiness." Responsibility does not mean selling out. And success does not mean working 60 hours for corporate America, owning a home, getting married and having 2.5 kids with a white picket fence. We each define our version of success, which is hard to do when you are not taking any responsibility.

Responsibility is a choice just as much as adultolescence is. Everyone has the power to make their own choices now which will effect both your present and your future. So have fun, but choose wisely.

- Christine
Please send me your questions by posting them in the comments section below. You can also email me at christine@huffingtonpost.com