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'Peter Pan Syndrome': Revisited Helping Boys Become Men

Erma Bombeck is credited with saying, “There is a thin line that separates laughter and pain, comedy and tragedy, humor and hurt”— Consider the case of one Michael Rotondo, the 31-year-old whose parents had to take him to court to force him to finally move out of the house.

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry—or perhaps a little bit of both. “It’s really unfair to me and really outrageous,” said Rotondo, an unmarried father of one, after the decision. “I really don’t want to stay there. I’ve been trying to leave there for a long time. They stopped feeding me, they cut me off the family phone plan.”

While Rotondo is an extreme case—at least, let’s hope so!—he’s far from alone in today’s “failure to launch” America. According to Pew Research, in 2016, men aged 18 to 36 were more likely to still be sharing a roof with their parents than living alone or with a roommate or partner. More and more can’t find a job, or aren’t looking. Nearly 40 years ago, only 6.3 percent of prime-age men did not work at all over the course of a year. In 2016, it was nearly double that.

In other words, a record number of young people today are getting stuck in the transition between childhood and adulthood. “Peter Pan Syndrome,” in which no boy ever has to grow up and be a man, is a growing phenomenon of 21st-century America.

Writing in the New York Post, Karol Markowicz is not amused, calling it a tragic twist on the 2006 romantic comedy, “Failure to Launch.” She writes, “A generation of damaged boys are turning into impaired men and, as seen by the mocking coverage of this case, we’re treating this development like a joke, encouraged to ridicule and condemn them for it.”

And here’s the crux of her argument: “The Rotondo family story is a warning to modern families with no Hollywood love story at the end. While the media lambast Michael as an ‘entitled millennial,’ that only tells part of the story. [This] is an all-out failure in how we are raising boys.”

She quotes a 2010 study that found that boys have “higher rates of suicide, conduct disorders, emotional disturbance, premature death and juvenile delinquency than their female peers, as well as lower grades, test scores and college attendance rates.”

It’s no wonder, Markowicz says, that the outspoken clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson has become a “father figure” to a growing group of “lost boys.” Peterson, she says, is taking the place of parents who have failed to instruct their sons and is telling them to put their lives in order — even to “clean up their room.”

This “failure to launch” is one of many issues my BreakPoint colleague John Stonestreet, along with Brett Kunkle, tackle in their outstanding book, “A Practical Guide to Culture.” They show how America’s relatively new adolescent culture has stolen boys’ innocence but failed to give them the tools they need to grow up. Combined with today’s emphasis on delayed marriage and on defining virtue down, our young menincreasingly are anything but. And as John and Brett write, “Kids who wallow in adolescence … won’t shape the culture toward the true, the good, and the beautiful.”

We’d do well to remember what C. S. Lewis wrote in “The Abolition of Man,” of those who “remove the organ and demand the function,” who “make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise,” who “castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”

Which is why John and Brett argue that virtue is the antidote to perpetual adolescence—developing the daily habits and disciplines that not only to prepare them to live a good life in service of others, but to develop a God-honoring, Christ-like character. And “A Practical Guide to Culture” is an excellent resource to help parents help their young people do just that.

So come to to find out how to get your copy.


BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at where you can read and search answers to common questions.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

Publication date: July 6, 2018

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