It's s simple: if you don't want to become an adult, don't grow up. Peter Pan managed to do that in Neverland, where he lived with Tinkerbell and the Lost Boys. We must admit that it is rather tempting: a life without constraints, commitments or obligations.
In the early 1980s, American psychologist Dan Kiley became interested in the modern day Peter Pans he met at his clinic. These were men who turned their backs on all their responsibilities, and sought to escape adulthood at all costs. According to Kiley, his patients would say, "I never want to grow into a man. I want to remain a little child forever, and have fun."
"We all have a dormant Peter Pan on the inside."
Kiley published a book in 1983 titled Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, which became an instant international bestseller. His ideas have inspired a wave of pop-psychology concepts, such as the Cinderella Complex. Despite this significant success, the Peter Pan Syndrome has never been recognized as a mental disorder or a clinical entity; for instance, it hasn't appeared in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
Furthermore, this notion has been criticized, for several reasons. For instance, observers have said that men of all ages experience the Peter Pan Syndrome, not merely those in their twenties, as Dan Kiley had suggested. Kiley also found that the syndrome only affects men. But why they be the only ones afraid of growing up? Psychologists have criticized Dan Kiley for excluding women from his definition of the Peter Pan Syndrome.
In 2013, American writer Tracy McMillan wrote a blog titled "Nine Signs You're a Female Peter Pan." Her piece was sharply criticized for depicting the "Princess Pan" as a woman who refuses to be in a committed relationship or to have children, and who needs to be reminded that her biological clock is ticking. This depiction of women was derogatory. But besides that, Tracy McMillan was not entirely wrong about the existence of female Peter Pans.
In 2000, psychologist Jeffrey Arnett observed that out of the hundreds of young adults who visited his clinic, the vast majority suffered from anxiety related to making the transition to adulthood. Based on that experience, the psychologist coined the term "emerging adulthood" to refer to the state of adolescence that extends over people's late twenties and thirties. Why does it take this long to cross into adulthood? Parents may have something to do with it.
"Our generation may need more time to manage the fear of growing up than the previous generation did."
A study published in 2007 by the University of Granada in Spain has shown that overprotective parents could cause this type of anxiety. "It usually affects dependent people who have dealt with overprotective families, and have not developed the skills necessary to cope with life," said Humbelina Robles Ortega, a professor in the Department of Personality, Evaluation and Psychological Treatment at the University of Granada.
Because they were spoiled, these young adults think of their adolescence as a golden age, and seek to extend it at all costs. They have difficulties with taking responsibility, keeping their promises, and above all, they suffer from a lack of self-confidence. This creates issues for them at work, where they are often extremely anxious about getting fired. Their romantic life is not that great either. They are serial monogamists, not by choice, but because they fear commitment. They avoid dating partners their own age, and go out with younger people instead.
Again, it would be risky to make a generalization across an entire generation, especially the controversial 'Generation Y'. But it seems that adolescents are learning to deal with their problems, and consulting psychologists has become increasingly common.
We all have a dormant Peter Pan on the inside. Our generation may need more time to manage the fear of growing up than the previous generation did. Or it could be that people are just growing up later than they were. As American psychotherapist Brooke Donatone wrote on Slate.com in 2013, 30 could be the new 18. Just have a little patience; we will grow up eventually.
This post first appeared on HuffPost France and was translated into English.