Peter Pan syndrome

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Peter Pan syndrome
Peter pan 1911 pipes.jpg
Illustration of Peter Pan playing the pipes, by F. D. Bedford from Peter and Wendy
Coined byDan Kiley

Peter Pan syndrome is a metaphor,[1] based on the concept of not growing up,[1][2] and being trapped in childhood.[3] It is not a recognized mental health illness.[4] The phrase has also been used to describe companies who avoid productivity-enhancing technologies and remain small.[5]

It is a pop-psychology term used to describe an adult who is socially immature.[6] The term has been used informally by both laypeople and some psychology professionals in popular psychology since the 1983 publication of The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up, by Dr. Dan Kiley. Kiley also wrote a companion book, The Wendy Dilemma, published in 1984.[7]

Peter Pan Syndrome is not recognized by the World Health Organization.[8] It is not listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5).[9]

People who exhibit characteristics popularly associated with the Peter Pan syndrome have sometimes been referred to as Peter Panners. This term and concept is not accepted in the DSM-5 and is used disparagingly.[10] Distinctions have been made with puer aeternus, a psychological concept advanced by Carl Jung.[11]


The concept gained popularity through psychoanalyst Dr. Dan Kiley in his book The Peter Pan Syndrome: Men Who Have Never Grown Up first published in 1983. His book became an international best seller and led to a wave of copycat pop-psychology books. Dr. Kiley got the idea for "The Peter Pan Syndrome" after noticing that, like the famous character in the J. M. Barrie play, many of the troubled teenage boys he treated had problems growing up and accepting adult responsibilities. This trouble continued on into adulthood.[12] Dr. Kiley later admitted that he had been a Peter Pan himself.[13]

Island (1962)[edit]

Prior to Kiley coining the term in his 1983 book, Peter Pan syndrome is evident in Aldous Huxley's 1962 novel Island, in which one of the characters talks about male "dangerous delinquents" and "power-loving troublemakers" who are "Peter Pans." These types of males were "boys who can't read, won't learn, don't get on with anyone, and finally turn to the more violent forms of delinquency." He uses Adolf Hitler as an archetype of this phenomenon:[14]

A Peter Pan if ever there was one. Hopeless at school. Incapable either of competing or co-operating. Envying all the normally successful boys—and, because he envied, hating them and, to make himself feel better, despising them as inferior beings. Then came the time for puberty. But Adolf was sexually backward. Other boys made advances to girls, and the girls responded. Adolf was too shy, too uncertain of his manhood. And all the time incapable of steady work, at home only in the compensatory Other World of his fancy. There, at the very least, he was Michelangelo. Here, unfortunately, he couldn't draw. His only gifts were hatred, low cunning, a set of indefatigable vocal cords and a talent for nonstop talking at the top of his voice from the depths of his Peter-Panic paranoia. Thirty or forty million deaths and heaven knows how many billions of dollars—that was the price the world had to pay for little Adolf's retarded maturation.

— Aldous Huxley, Island (1962)

Real-world examples[edit]

A prominent example of a celebrity with Peter Pan syndrome is alleged to be Michael Jackson,[15][16] who said, "I am Peter Pan in my heart."[17] Jackson named the 1,100-hectare (2,700-acre) Los Olivos, California property, where he lived from 1988 to 2005, Neverland Ranch[18][19] after Neverland, the fantasy island on which Peter Pan lives. He said that it was his way of claiming a childhood he never had, having started early as a performing artist with his family.[15][16] He had built there numerous statues of children, a floral clock, a petting zoo, a movie theater, and a private amusement park containing cotton candy stands, two railroads, a Ferris wheel, carousel, Zipper, Octopus, Pirate Ship, Wave Swinger, Super Slide, roller coaster, go-karts, bumper cars, a tipi village, and an amusement arcade.[20][21]

As The New York Daily News staff writer, Carrie Milago, reported on 26 June 2009: "On Jackson's dime, thousands of schoolchildren visited over the years, from local kids to sick youngsters from far away." Visitors "often recalled it as dreamlike," she observed.[22] A preschool teacher visiting the site told USA Today in 2003, Neverland "smells like cinnamon rolls, vanilla and candy and sounds like children laughing."[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Fried, Risto; Vandereycken, Walter (1989). "The Peter Pan syndrome: Was James M. Barrie anorexic?". International Journal of Eating Disorders. 8 (3): 369–376. doi:10.1002/1098-108X(198905)8:3<369::AID-EAT2260080312>3.0.CO;2-V. ISSN 1098-108X.
  2. ^ Kalkan, Melek; Batık, Meryem Vural; Kaya, Leyla; Turan, Merve (1 June 2021). "Peter Pan Syndrome "Men Who Don't Grow": Developing a Scale". Men and Masculinities. 24 (2): 245–257. doi:10.1177/1097184X19874854. ISSN 1097-184X.
  3. ^ Groh, Lucille Sider; Lane, Bethann (1 March 1988). "Overcoming the Peter Pan Syndrome: Grieving in Psychotherapy". Journal of Pastoral Care. 42 (1): 39–44. doi:10.1177/002234098804200105. ISSN 0022-3409.
  4. ^ "Peter Pan Syndrome: Signs, Causes, and Dealing with It". Healthline. 19 March 2020. Retrieved 5 September 2021.
  5. ^ Sudhir, K.; Talukdar, Debabrata (29 May 2015). "The "Peter Pan Syndrome" in Emerging Markets: The Productivity-Transparency Trade-off in IT Adoption". Marketing Science. 34 (4): 500–521. doi:10.1287/mksc.2015.0921. ISSN 0732-2399.
  6. ^ "Psychopathology: History, Diagnosis, And Empirical Foundations". Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  7. ^ "The Wendy dilemma". Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  8. ^ "Health topics". Retrieved 2019-11-20.
  9. ^ "Peter Pan Complex: Signs and Behaviors of the 'Eternal Boy'". Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  10. ^ "Forever Young - Bicultural Urbanite Luke: Goethe-Institut Australien".
  11. ^ Bélteczki, Zsuzsanna; Erdélyi, Agnes; Beszterci, Felícia (2011). "[Puer aeternus]". Psychiatria Hungarica: A Magyar Pszichiatriai Tarsasag Tudomanyos Folyoirata. 26 (2): 112–119. ISSN 0237-7896. PMID 21653996.
  12. ^ Bonny Caballero, Maria (February 2016). "¿Puede afectar el Síndrome de Peter Pan a la alimentación?" (PDF).
  13. ^ "Dan Kiley, 54, Dies; Wrote 'Peter Pan Syndrome'". Retrieved 2022-01-28.
  14. ^ Huxley, Aldous (1962). Island (1st Perennial classics ed.). New York: Perennial. pp. 184–185. ISBN 0-06-008549-5.
  15. ^ a b Hiatt, Brian (30 July 2009). "Michael Jackson: What Went Wrong - Over the past 20 years, Michael Jackson went from being the biggest star in the world to a reclusive broken man. The inside story of his downfall". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  16. ^ a b Corliss, Richard (26 June 2009). "Michael Jackson: The Death of Peter Pan". Time. Archived from the original on June 28, 2009. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  17. ^ Stanley, Alessandra (6 February 2003). "TELEVISION REVIEW; A Neverland World Of Michael Jackson". The New York Times. Retrieved 12 September 2012.
  18. ^ "Neverland Never More", by William Etling (author of Sideways in Neverland: Life in the Santa Ynez Valley),, 2009
  19. ^ Toumi, Habib (23 January 2006). "Jackson settles down to his new life in the Persian Gulf". Gulf News. Archived from the original on 12 February 2006. Retrieved 11 November 2006.
  20. ^ Soriano, Cesar G (2003-11-24). "At Neverland, they believe". USA Today.
  21. ^ "Vegas Hosting Big Jackson Family Auction". Fox News. Associated Press. 2007-05-29.
  22. ^ a b Melago, Carrie - Daily News Staff Writer (26 June 2009). "Michael Jackson's Neverland, his own 'Oz' and place to reclaim lost childhood". Archived from the original on 2012-10-27. Retrieved 13 September 2012.