The Peter Pan Syndrome

Posted on 28 August 2009

Peter Pan

If “thirty is the new twenty” today in terms of people’s maturity, could ten be the new five?  It might be, given that children seem more overindulged and pampered than ever before.  Today’s youth benefits from freedoms never enjoyed by prior generations.  In the past, youngsters were forced to grow up quickly, assuming much more responsibility than their counterparts of 2009. 


Nowadays, babies come into this world because of their parents’ desire to have a family.  Cherished and spoiled, many children have no real obligations other than school and extracurricular activities, including various sports.  With all of their free time, they text and chat with friends on their cell phones, surf the Internet, and watch a good deal of television.  Today’s teens stay up longer in the evening, sleep later on the weekends, go to the movies, and hang out at the mall.  While the young ones enjoy all this leisure time, their parents take care of their laundry, tidy up their rooms, and act as chauffeurs for all of their social engagements.  Kids are generally given material wants such as electronic games; they do not have to work to earn the money to purchase those items.


Things were very different in times gone by.  Children were born out of their families’ necessity to create an unpaid source of labor.  This labor was vital to the maintenance of households and farms that did not contain the appliances and other technology that we now take for granted.  Of course, children were not put to work the moment they left the womb.  But as soon as they had developed the proper motor skills, they pitched in, doing whatever needed to be done.


This entailed and was by no means limited to weeding the garden, gathering kindling for fires to heat the home, harvesting vegetables, drying the dishes, or carting water into the house. A trip to a creek or a well to carry water back to the home was a real chore.  It was worse in winter, when kids had to break the ice on streams and ponds to access water for the family, including companion and farm animals.


The laundry was not a matter of tossing dirty clothes and detergent into a washing machine.  A roaring fire had to be built to heat a large caldron filled with water.  Once the water boiled, the clothing was placed into it and stirred with a long pole to agitate the garments and thus ensure their cleanliness.  More water had to be toted in to rinse the clothes of the soapy, dirty water.  As electronic dryers did not exist, the clothing was hung on clotheslines to dry.  And if no rope was available, the garments draped onto trees or bushes.


We complain now about working eight to ten hour days, but before technology (and labor unions), the workday was much longer. Children had to rise at dawn, or earlier, to feed the farm animals, muck out the stalls, milk the cows, and gather eggs.  Since breakfast items were not bought in stores and placed in refrigerators by hard-working parents, meals had to be planned more carefully around the hens’ and cows’ production.  And, fresh water was required for cooking and washing the dishes.


Children attended school when it was feasible, usually in clement weather; winter dictated that children remained housebound.  The snow was too deep to travel across and frostbite was a real danger.  Also, in bad snowstorms, it was easy to lose one’s way just a few feet from one’s own front door for lack of landmarks, such as the crowded developments and streetlights that we have today.  Children took much of their knowledge from their parents’ experiences.  For instance, the sons of blacksmiths, farmers, and carpenters learned their crafts at their fathers’ knees.  Mothers taught their daughters how to cook, can food, sew, and keep the house clean (imagine doing this with no vacuum cleaners).  When the crops ripened, children were often pulled out of school to help with the harvest, which was a critical chore.  To literally survive the long, cold winters, families were dependent upon not only their farm animals for sustenance, but upon the crops that they could “put up” in glass jars or store in dark basements.


As a result of their responsibilities and close relationships with their immediate families, kids did not have much time to socialize beyond school or church functions. Transportation was not readily available unless the family was fortunate enough to have extra horses.  These precious commodities were not only used for transportation but also for clearing land and plowing fields.  Horses were not to be used for a lighthearted visit with friends.


While today’s offspring may perform chores such as taking out the trash, babysitting, or mowing the lawn, they certainly are not as overwhelmed as the kids of yesteryear.


As a member of the Baby Boomer generation, I can relate to some extent to some of the things these hardworking youngsters endured.  I grew up in a large middle class family that lacked some of the modern appliances of the day.  For instance, we had an old Maytag ringer.  It was a pain to lug the water needed to fill up the tub to start the first load.   When the water got too dirty, it was time to refill it.  I also had to fill up a rinse tub and feed the clothes and linens through the wringer without popping it.  That particular task was scary, because I always feared that I would break the device and receive a lecture or worse, a lesson on my derriere.  By the time I had hung the clothes out to dry on the line and had emptied the machine, I felt as if I had put in a long day’s work.


As I grew older, I was expected to work in the garden during the summers, pulling weeds out of the ground by hand, not with a chemical spray.  When the vegetables began bearing crops, my duties expanded to picking green beans off the vines.   This may not sound like much of a chore, but imagine working beneath a hot sun and getting bitten repeatedly by mosquitoes. Once the green beans were picked, we had to snap off their tough ends so that they would be ready for cooking.  Sometimes, my sisters disappeared during this phase, leaving my mother and me sitting on the porch, snapping beans.  This was the best of this particular job, as it gave me a chance to talk and connect with my mother.


I did not grow up with a telephone in the house.  My family finally acquired a phone when I was a teenager, but even then, my siblings and I were not allowed to use it much; it was an added expense for our large family.  In those days, frequent caller plans did not exist.


Lacking a dishwasher, more than a few arguments ensued over who was in charge of washing or drying the dishes.  My mother had to referee her share of fights.  If the situation called for it, my dad stepped in.  If he felt that we needed more encouragement to behave, my dad would grab a switch (a branch) or the fly swatter, and use it our behinds.


If your children make a fuss about the few minor chores they are required to do, feel free to whip out a copy of this article for them.  Kids now enjoy many luxuries, including indoor plumbing, air conditioning, dishwashers, the ability to communicate instantly with their friends through technology, and the gift of prepared and ready-to-prepare foods.  In addition, child labor laws prevent youngsters from having their education interrupted to do backbreaking work.  When you tell your kids to enjoy their childhood, they’ll understand a little better just how good they have it. 

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45 Responses to “The Peter Pan Syndrome”

  1. Joan R. says:

    To me, many children today are not only coddled, they lack true sensitivity to the feelings and needs of others. Because of the Internet, they also lack good verbal communication skills. In addition, they cannot spell or punctuate sentences (; i.e., R U my BGF). But the Internet is only a symptom of a deeper illness affecting too many families today.

    I think what has happened is that, as parents became more interested in their careers and giving children material things, they lost sight of what really matters in raising a child.

  2. Susan says:

    The work that people must do in order to make a living for the most part defines what sort of upbringing a child will experience. Here in the wealthiest country in the world, there just isn’t a need for many children to do even the smallest of household chores. Those kids too will grow up & probably fondly recall how hard they had it in comparison to their kids.

  3. Jennifer a Mother to be says:

    Everyone one tells me all the time , I look wonderful. I know this is a different topic but I have dealt with and invisible disability for 5 years now and now that I am pregnant I lose sleep even more. I found this site and it has even made me more sensitive of things we trust that may affect us. Hope this helps someone else with their pursuit for answers. Take care, jennifer

  4. Janak Patel says:

    Well with all due respect… i’d like to talk to the author of this blog… what if they are the lucky ones… we never could be enlightened because our minds were too sabotaged by the mundane “donkey” like tasks of the past world…

    What if the internet IS a blessing and that they are connecting and testing the waters so to speak.. and finding the right places to fit in and hang out and BE HAPPY…
    After all… it’s happiness that each and every soul wants right ?
    even us.. the oldies… well; i am 28 so i don’t know where i fit in… may be perfactly… i help kids by responding to questions on Spirituality and write inspirational blogs…

    and there is GOOD out there on the net… and due to peer pressure and good communication respect… not many say things on the net that are harmful as such.. coz they know it will be read my many.. and will be there Forever…

    it’s a mixed bag of nuts.. definitely… lets focus on the Positive…

    THe internet, electricity, washing machines… all these are Good…

    I was like that once… Ohh the children don’t punctuate right.. they don;t spell right…
    BUT what has this led to anyway… what good are Philosophies and books.. if they are on the shelf… dead… or dying…

    lets live with the people.. our children… lets LOVE them and show them a better LOVE to compare with…
    You want to critisize them… fine.. they will go ELSEWHERE for love… and acceptance…

    Do whats needed.. not what’s right…
    that’s what i think anyway…

    {incidently.. i stumbled upon this blog when i was writing a comment here…


  5. louise says:

    oh for Gods sake would you rather condem them all to a life of toil and labour? Why? Because YOU are annoyed you didnt have it as good? It’s a good thing that they ahve friends, freedom and little responsibility. God knows they will be adults for long enough let them enjoy their precious childhoods while they can and dont begrudge them a washing machine

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  32. LMS says:

    I agree with your post 100%. When I tell my kids how easy they have it they respond with times have changed. They feel it unfair of what little is asked of them to do to help out, but never think twice about sticking their hand out for money or keys to go somewhere.

  33. Destiny Suthers says:

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  39. Ben says:

    I think your jellous of the childhood that some of today’s kids are revieving. But there are a good deal living in a world of hurt. It’s ironic that you call it ‘The Peter Pan syndrome’ because Peter Pan has themes behind it dealing with children abandoned by their parents. Are kids today living in a different world that you grew up in, yes. There is an important distinction between the lives of children and teens. As to the teens, I would recomend to you the book Hurt by Chap Clark, if you can be open minded enough to believe it – That has a lot of spot on truths about the lives of high schoolers.
    Do you really believe that children SHOULD be born for cheep labor? Yes, at one point they were but that was not a good thing, that was not a good thing was it? If kids can be born out of parent’s desire for a family, (and not a desire for sex) then that is a beautiful thing!!
    Don’t be jellous of kid’s childhoods, and I’m sorry that you never had one. But be glad if today’s kids can actually keep their inocence and have some fun before they have to enter the hard world of work and pain.

  40. Ben
    Just to clarify I am not jealous of children who are living their childhood with more luxuries than I had growing up.
    I had a good childhood with both parents and siblings.
    I was only stating the fact that kids these days have things much easier. It does have something to with better job oppurtunies.
    Nowhere did I say children should be born for cheap labor. I stated that this was a practice of some in the olden days.

  41. JustaToy says:

    There are two sides to every question

  42. tina says:

    i just love peter pan and i think it is a great movie.

  43. tina says:

    if u have never seen peter pan then u should.

  44. Valerie rose says:

    Your assumptions are crazy. You think you had it so hard when you were young? ” oh poor me we could hardly afford a phone” oh please boo fricken hoo! There are some children who are not able to afford food! So y don’t you shut your moth cuz your wrong and just making a fool of your self!0

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