AKA "perpetual childhood". An old (and in live-action, discredited) trope which was implicit in many early sitcoms that focused on the standard American Nuclear Family of father, mother, and either two or three children — the situation necessary for the comedy to exist was so rigidly defined that the children could not be allowed to grow up, lest the program dynamic change unrecognizably. After the tragedy of Anissa Jones of Family Affair, who was straitjacketed by this trope to very unhealthy effect, most live-action sitcoms now just accept that their kid characters will grow up and take advantage of the story opportunities with teenage and young adult characters should the series last long enough.
This later became a staple of animated shows. Since animation does not require on-screen acting, it is much easier to control the physical aspects of the characters, and therefore keep them the same age year after year without major psychological harm to the person doing their voice. Among the most famous examples of this situation are Bart, Lisa and Maggie Simpson, who have been intentionally kept the same age since their debut in The Simpsons Shorts in The Tracey Ullman Show in 1987note .
Things tend to be worse for female child actors than for male child actors when it comes to this trope in live-action media; girls usually hit puberty at a slightly younger age than boys, and concealing the secondary sexual characteristics can be very difficult, sometimes even impossible. Film studios used to object to child actors growing up; it was not until The '70s that they finally figured out how to manage a smooth transition from adorable child star to Teen Idol.
The opposite of the trope is Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome.
Comic-Book Time, also known as a floating timeline, applies this concept to an entire setting. This trope can lead to Contractual Purity, which is when celebrities grow up and move on to adult roles and behavior, but are still expected to be children.
Not to Be Confused with Never Grew Up, which is when child-like characters are literally not able to age for in-universe reasons. See Not Allowed to Grow Old for when adult characters do not age the way they should.
Of course, this trope overlaps with Perma-Shave for male children.
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- Western Animation
- Happy Heroes takes place on a planet where Ridiculously Human Robots capable of aging are very easy to come across, among them the main team of heroes, the Supermen; there are also plenty of Human Aliens such as the Supermen's non-biologihal father, Doctor H. The show has been on the air for almost a decade and none of the main or major characters, mechanical or organic, have displayed any signs of aging.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: After over a decade of adventures, the goats are still school-aged.
- Upin & Ipin: The characters celebrates Ramadhan and Eid al-Fitr Once a Season, and some of the Ramadhan episodes are explicitly set a year after the one from the previous season, yet after over ten seasons the kids are still in kindergarten.
- Alpha and Omega: Kate and Humphrey's pups are introduced in the second film and never age through the next several films. This is despite the Halloween special being released after the Christmas special.
- This is the case for the three girls in the main trilogy of Despicable Me films and even lampshaded in the 3rd movie.
- The Land Before Time: It's pretty clear that over the course of the 14 movies and the 1-season tv-series that make up the franchise, several years pass in-universe. Yet, none of the young dinosaurs ever seem to get any older, or grow any bigger.
- The Proud Family Movie takes place two years after the series. Penny is now sixteen, but Bebe and Cece are still babies. They are aged up in the revival The Proud Family: Louder and Prouder, yet Penny is back to being fourteen.
- A similar thing to The Land Before Time example occurs between The Rescuers and The Rescuers Down Under. Both movies seem to take place around the time they were released (1977 and 1990, respectively), yet not only are Bianca and Bernard still alive in the second movie (real mice only live about two years), they don't seem to have aged at all.
- The managers of the Puerto Rican Boy Band Menudo kept the group young by use of a simple method: every member would be obligatorily replaced when he reached his 16th birthday, his voice changed, grew facial hair, or got too tall.
- Similar restrictions apply to the Vienna Boys' Choir, though the boys graduate when they turn 15. This, however, is for more realistic reasons. The Vienna Boys' Choir is an all-treble choir, so once a boy's voice drops, he no longer has a part. If his voice drops while his choir is touring, he is allowed to finish the tour, and the boys continue attending the same school, they simply do not sing in the famous choir.
- In drum and bugle corps affiliated with Drum Corps International, the maximum age of a marching member is 21.
- Connie Kendall in Adventures in Odyssey was an example for many years. She first appeared as a 16-year-old and stayed that way for so long that several of the kid characters surpassed her age. This was later retconned so that she just ages very slowly: Connie is now in college, has been engaged, and runs a wedding business called Dreams by Constance, so she's allowed to age after all.
- Used in-story in Gypsy, where vaudeville child stars June and Louise have their real ages kept secret by their mother. Louise can't be sure how old she really is, having had parties celebrating her tenth birthday for several years in a row. (Given that Gypsy is a biography, and Mama Rose allegedly was that bad, this may also be a case of Truth in Television.)
- Used very often in Annie, where the shuffling of orphans was usually done due to the onset of puberty (though some younger girls would move up to older girl roles). Thus, literally hundreds of girls played roles in the musical through its original Broadway run and four national tours. The documentary Life After Tomorrow interviews quite a few of the women who appeared in the original run, many of whom cited their last show as the worst day of their lives.
- One of the Angry Kid shorts from Aardman Animations, "Boyhood", double-subverts the trope. The setup is that Angry Kid has supposedly photographed himself every day for ten years, and a rapid series of Polaroids show that he has remained unchanged, despite the "changing every day" lyrics in the background. In the middle of it, he remarks while strumming a ukulele, "I don't look any different, do I?" It seems to hang a lampshade on the fact that the series itself vanished for ten years then reappeared with an identical character — despite a significant change in animation techniques. But then the photos continue, and Angry Kid gradually starts growing facial hair. It may take a second or two to notice that it's actually drawn on his face in pen. In the end, we return to the ukulele shot, where the Kid now sports a full handlebar moustache, and he argues with an unseen spectator that no, it is not scribbled on. It totally is.
- When Hellsing Massive Multiplayer Crossover fancomic And Shine Heaven Now incorporated Little Orphan Annie into its canon (yes, really), this trope is semi-lampshaded by Annie (by now in her thirties in 1998) claiming that she ages at the quarter of a rate of a normal human, due to being born on February 29th.
- Lampshaded in this Achewood strip. When the one-sentence capsule of a character is "Phillipe is five", then that's all there is to it. He recently celebrated his fifth birthday again.
- Lampshaded even more cruelly in the "Philippe's Journey Home" arc, where Philippe makes a killing selling useless junk to rich people a la The Sharper Image and goes back to his mother's house, only to find out that his mother (apparently never completely stable at the best of times) has turned into an apathetic and somewhat spacey lady who lunches.
- The protagonists of Sluggy Freelance should be approaching their forties, and Bun-Bun and Kiki are both a lot sprier than an animal of their age has any business being. At the least, Kiki could be handwaved due to being experimented on when she was a lab animal and Bun-Bun is actually the Egyptian god Sluggy.
- Snuggleninja: The guy shown here here and here has remained the same age through the whole series.
- Ozy and Millie had been running for a good 10+ years, yet they only aged once by two years, and it wasn't a big deal (or even known about until they made an offhand comment about their ages). The creator has hinted of a spin-off with the characters as teens. But nothing has been heard of that for a while. Especially now that much of her time has been dedicated to her other comic Phoebe and Her Unicorn.
- in Unreality, the author had originally planned for the characters to realistically age, but that was eventually dropped in favor of keeping the pace and tone of the comic consistent.
- El Goonish Shive could easily be mistaken for this. It debuted 15 years ago and the main characters are still high school students. However, due to the production schedule and serialized nature, only roughly 18-20 months have passed since the beginning. It's quite normal for a single evening to be covered in months worth of comics. For example, Ashley was deciding on her outfit for her date with Elliot in March 2015. The evening finally ended in May 2016.
- Least I Could Do started out this way. Then the characters were gathered together to receive a memo from the cartoonist announcing that thenceforward they would age normally (Urchin was declared immune). Rayne did not take it well. Later plots included Rayne acclimating to his young niece Ashley growing up, as well as his own progress from youthful Manchild to middle-aged Manchild.
- June Havoc got this treatment from her mother, as seen in Gypsy.
- Shirley Temple was treated like a very young child actor well into her adolescence, in that she was allowed to appear in adult roles only after her marriage at the age of seventeen. Shirley failed to gain any cinematic success as an adult and discontinued acting completely after her divorce. She then spent the remainder of her adulthood working political appointments in the U.S. Foreign Service, officially representing America in Ghana, Czechoslovakia, and the UN.
- When Annette Funicello from the original Mickey Mouse Club entered puberty, the directors and the producers behind the show pulled many stunts to cover her developing chest. One method was positioning shorter Mousketeers in front of her, while another involved body doubles and yet another used tight close-ups on her face. They probably would have removed Funicello from the show altogether if it wasn't for her popularity among viewers.
- The Spanish Ur-Example is actress/singer Marisol (real name Josefa Flores), poster child of the heavily censored, family-oriented cinema of the Francoist years. Discovered at 11, in 1959, she also had her breasts bound and was forced to act younger than she was when she hit puberty, although by the end of her decade-long career she'd been allowed to play a teenage ingenue. Then Franco died in The '70s and the tight censorship laws were repealed, allowing the publication of adult magazines - one of which had a whole front page nude by Flores. Much polemic was had, despite the fact that Flores was already 28.
- Mara Wilson has been subjected to this, both by studios (she wore a binder while filming Thomas and the Magic Railroad to hide her growing breastsnote ) and by fans, which Wilson herself has lampshaded.
Yes, you just got advice on sexy books from a former child actor. I feed off your ruined childhoods.
- In addition to bullying, this is one of the reasons why the real Christopher Robin ended up hating Winnie the Pooh and with it his father. He grew up, but the world still wanted him to be that cute little boy that they were reading about.
- Tara Strong has discussed this trope in interviews that ask why animated young boys are often voiced by grown women; if a show goes on for several years, a boy can maintain the voice for only a limited amount of time before his vocal chords change drastically, whereas a woman can ensure that a young male character consistently sounds prepubescent to early pubescent.
- Melissa Joan Hart got famous as a teenage star for Clarissa Explains It All. She was legally an adult when the show ended, but played a teenager in her next sitcom Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Even when Sabrina became an adult, the subtitle 'Teenage Witch' was still retained. She's talked about how difficult it was to get seen for roles after it as, despite being in her mid-twenties, they saw her as a teenager. She finally rebounded with Melissa & Joey.