Peter Pan Syndrome: The Need For Gen-Y To Grow Up And Leave Our Teenage Years Behind

by Gabe Tompkins

Our generation has completely changed the definition of what being a 20-something means. It is a decade of exploration, adventure and discovery.

Waiting longer to settle down certainly has its benefits, but this trend has also yielded some unintended consequences. Many do not consider Millennials (myself included) to be “grown up." Although we're physically mature, we are stuck between adolescence and adulthood.

As a result, our early 20s has begun to resemble an extension of our teenage years -- hence why a few outspoken critics have called us the “Peter Pan Generation.”

Sure, it isn’t entirely our fault; the economy is still weak and we cannot be held to the same standards as our parents. However, we’d be lying to ourselves if we didn’t admit that there is some truth to this notion.

Dealing with the pressures of adulthood can be difficult. Sometimes we even wish we could go back to when our parents handled everything and we didn’t have to worry about the daily trials and tribulations of life.

Why We Hold On

Let’s face it: The media glamorizes teenage years more than any other life stage. Just consider the number of TV shows and movies dedicated to high school drama or coming-of-age scenarios.

Though we spend our entire childhood looking forward to this period, it also happens to pass by pretty quickly. Only 5 percent of our lives take place during high school (assuming that we'll live to be 80 years old); it’s not a very long time!

The reality is our teenage years pass in the blink of an eye. It is only natural to feel somewhat disappointed when it’s over.

Some may feel that they didn’t get the full value, while others may experience a deep sense of loss. As a result, it’s easy to allow your twenties to become “High School 2.0” and attempt to relive it all.

We tend to look at the past through rose-colored glasses, forgetting our bad memories while focusing only on the good. As such, it’s easy to take many of the luxuries that come with adulthood for granted.

Of course, certain people are completely immune to this line of thought, like those who had unfortunate high school experiences and would never consider going back. I almost envy these people who aren’t bound by the chains of nostalgia.

For the 20-somethings who don’t want to grow up, what can we do to escape this quarter-life crisis? The answer isn't black and white; yet, a good place to start is to remind ourselves how much being a teenager really sucked so we can begin to appreciate all of the benefits of adult life.

We Can Finally Control Our Futures

While it’s true that our parents provided us with food and shelter, they also gave us something else: rules. After becoming accustomed to the freedoms of adulthood, it can be easy to forget just how restricted we were as teenagers.

When you wanted to spend a weekend in the city with your friends, you better have asked for permission. Wanted to come home at 4 am? You had to make sure you wouldn't get caught!

In addition to those trivial examples, there were also more serious constraints we had to work with as teens. We had to rely on our parents, first and foremost. There was little we could do to change our personal quality of life. Our parents determined our family’s socioeconomic status.

If they decided to move halfway across the country, we'd have to join them. If they couldn’t provide for us, Child Protective Services would enter the picture. When it comes to big life decisions, teenagers have no choice but to go with the flow.

Many 20-somethings still depend on parents for support, but there is one major difference: We now have the ability to change our own lives.

As adults, we can finally begin working toward the future WE seek for ourselves. We can apply for jobs that involve more than being a cashier. We can determine where we live, whether it’s next door to our parents or 500 miles away. Of course, there will always be obstacles to overcome, but for the first time, WE are driving the ship.

We're Less Naïve And Dramatic

A few weeks ago, I saw a group of kids smoking cigarettes on the top of the mall’s parking garage. They were the type of group to which my 17-year-old self would have been drawn, but for some reason, I felt so distant from them. Suddenly, I felt like an old man grumbling about those “darned kids.”

After acknowledging what was going through my head, I had a bit of a meltdown. “I’m still young!” I thought. It took me a while to understand why I no longer identified with that crowd, but eventually, I figured it out. Those kids reminded me of myself – my younger, dumber self.

Teenagers only have a small amount of life experience. The world is still fairly new to them, and this is made obvious by the naïve and dramatic way in which they handle almost everything.

In a teenager’s mind, all events are either amazing or tragic. Heartbreak is the worst pain imaginable and an argument with a friend can be the end of the world. Life is one giant exaggeration.

Unfortunately, this attitude will probably lead most of us to make some ill-informed decisions. A couple of visits to rock bottom is a surefire way to snap out of it and most of us will experience this several times in our twenties.

This is probably one of the top reasons I am so eager to put all of the futility behind me: Now we get to worry about REAL problems.

Our Friendships Are More Genuine

The most obscure aspect of teenage life is the way friendships are about the group rather than the individual. We’ve all seen the media depictions of this.

There are the jocks, potheads, preps and nerds, to name a few. While real-life groups may not be as stereotypical as they are in the movies, no one can deny that cliques exist and are a significant aspect of the high school experience.

The end result is a bunch of fake people who are focused entirely on their image. When I was a teen, I made sure to dress like everyone else and listen to bad music just because it was popular. To top it all off, I hung out with people who I didn't even like, just because we had mutual friends.

Eventually, these cliques will break up when everyone realizes the people within them hate each other. These days, I make sure to consider each friendship individually.

Sure, we can all hang out together, but the gang mentality is gone. I choose my friends because I want them in my life, not because they’re part of a larger social circle.

This isn’t to say that none of your teenage friendships mattered; I met some of my closest friends in high school. However, I have also had my fair share of friends-turned-foes. In our twenties, our personal lives are much more deep, self-actualized and stable.

The reasons above only scratch the surface of why we should let go of our teenage years. Once we remove the rose-colored glasses and take ourselves out of the fantasy of teen life, we can start to move forward. There’s no reason why our twenties should be an extension of high school.

Today, we should be focused on building the foundation for the rest of our lives.

Photo Courtesy: Tumblr