To be a child again

Leiden students affected by the Peter Pan syndrome

Photo by Taco van der EbSeventy teams, from all over the Netherlands, attended the fourth edition of The annual National Student Championships Looping Louie in Delft last March.

By Harmke Berghuis

Playing with Lego and twirling hula hoops: in their spare, students seem to want to relive their childhood. “Once you leave home, you lose the urgency to grow up as fast as possible.”

“My house even has a cat flap,” one girl claims proudly. She is crouched on the ground and on the rug in front of her, there is a collection of Lego and K’NEX. “Oh no”, she suddenly cries, agitated: “I’ve forgotten the windows!” Is this a pre-school infant? No, this girl is a member of Corduroy, one of the SSR fraternity’s student clubs. And she is not the only one: she is surrounded by other members of the club who are all hard at work. They are building one-metre tall K’NEX windmills, and there is even a Lego football field.

Another student is remodelling his Lego student apartment into a prison. “Who wants some raisins?” A girl hands round the tiny red cartons that have never changed. Someone calls “Anyone for beer?” from the other side of the room.
The Corduroy members are certainly not the only students reverting to their early years. The residents of the house Vliet 13 are proud of their Mario Kart talents, and they have Pokémon on the Wii too. Many student houses have subscriptions to Donald Duck. Fraternities organise Playback shows [a lip-synchronisation talent show of the eighties] and Disney-themed parties. And they all have cupboards brimming with toys and board games acquired during committee-installation parties and as a result, the stock of toys continues to grow each year as the latest Supersoakers and radio-controlled helicopters add to the pile.
Augustinus’ committee room has two fitted cupboards: one for booze and the other for games. The latter, called Ruys de Beerenbrouck Spellenhouck in honour of the fraternity’s first president, contains such games as Trivial Pursuit, Party & Co Girls, You’re Bluffing and Looping Louie. This last one is a game of dexterity with its own annual National Student Championships and seventy teams, from all over the Netherlands, attended its fourth edition in Delft last March.
Catena received two tricycles when the new committee was appointed, and the new committee were expected to race through building with them. But first, they had to plaster their new means of transport with stickers featuring cartoon hero SpongeBob Squarepants. Committee member and Political Science student Luuk van der Krogt (22) recalls: “It seemed like a good plan at the time.”
This phenomenon, i.e. adults behaving like teenagers, has been named the Peter Pan syndrome by American psychologist Dan Kiley who wrote a book with that title in 1983. Fear of commitment and the desire to be continue being mothered allegedly explains their nostalgia for their childhood. 

“It’s mindless fun”, third-year Astronomy student Annemieke Verbraeck (20) describes the Corduroy Lego and K’NEX evening. “And it’s much more social then watching a television series.” Pim Geurts (22), a student of World Religions, adds “Students are fascinated by all things nostalgic, like discos in the first year of secondary school. This evening is a very straightforward variation on that. Maybe it’s because we have just left home and we have lost the urgency to grow up as fast as possible. Now we can be kids again.”
Noora Lamers, an SSR committee member, has a much simpler explanation. “Students manage to pick up on opportunities for drinking games very quickly.” Her fraternity acquired many of its children’s games at committee installations too. All the boxes stacked up on the table state the prescribed ages, which vary from 4+ to 7+. The favourite is Guess Who? with the original pictures replaced by snaps of the fraternity’s members.

In common room of the block of flats on Klikspaanweg 12, Rebekka van der Kooi (23), Biopharmaceutical Sciences, shows me the games in the cupboard there. Someone has chalked noughts and crosses on the wall. Twister, The Game of Life, a Fishing Game, The Settlers of Catan, Labyrinth. A green box of Glass Deco, for making your own window stickers, features a waving Bert from Sesame Street. “The old board games are not really suitable for drinking games”, she says. “For that, we usually just play Kings or Mexico. But we used to play drinking games with The Game of Life: if you got married or had a baby, you had to empty your glass.”
Lamers has noticed nostalgic feelings for childhood in student club competitions too. “We had to try hula hoops once, and then you have to think for a moment: how did it go?” Other student clubs organise real Playback shows. Arzu Sahin, a fourth-year Law student and president of the Medusa company that is organising a playback show on 7 December, says: “While I was never in to it, some people are really practicing for their performance very seriously. They just love dressing up and giving it their all.”
Monique Franke, the branch manager of Bokstijn Feestartikelen, has students in the shop every day. “They buy stuff for their theme parties, such as elf wings and magic wands, or Mickey Mouse ears, and then they make the rest of the outfits themselves.”
Eveline Brouwers (23) is a member of the Disney guild at Prometheus, the cultural student fraternity. The guild was only founded recently and “meets a demand”, she declares. “Quite a lot of people have missed a certain part of growing-up and still like to watch Disney movies.” So, what will they be showing? “The classics, from the end of the eighties and the beginning of the nineties. Those are the films these students watched when they were young: The Lion King, Aladdin. But we will probably watch Finding Nemo too.”

At least she won’t need to go to the video shop. “I have about forty Disney movies in my bookcase, and I know quite a few people who have far more than that.” Her own passion was rekindled when she went to university and met “others like me”.
Brouwers continues: “I’m struck by the number of students who like them. It’s very relaxed. As well as doing my course, I’m on the committee of Prometheus and when I have a few moments to spare, it’s lovely to just watch them without having to think. When I’m really stressed out, I can’t read any new books either, so I reread Harry Potter, and so on, from when I was a kid. Then I don’t have to worry about the ending.”
At Klik 12, they have started watching Kindernet again on television, at lunch time.  Van der Kooi explains: “There’s nothing else on and we still enjoy Nils Holgersson and Alfred J. Kwak. Boes and Dommel are firm favourites, just like they always were. They’re nice because we grew up with them; their childhood memories, because I would get up at six o’clock to watch them.” Would you get up so early now to watch them? “No, that’s taking it too far.”

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