When parents divorce, the effects it can have on the children involved are countless. This is largely due to the level of upheaval, stress and uncertainty caused by a divorce. One such potential result from a divorce is to have a child who becomes what is known as a Chameleon Kid. This is most common in shared custody cases and refers to children having different identities depending upon which parent they are with.
What Are Chameleon Kids?
Simply explained, Chameleon Kids are those whose personalities and identities are radically different when they are with one parent compared to when they are with the other. To know for certain, their parents would need to dig more deeply into how their personality and behavior differs when they are with one of them compared to the other. Chameleon Kids may tell each parent what they want to hear or profess to love only them. In more unpleasant divorce cases, children may claim to hate the other parent, but what makes them more unusual is that they tell both parents this, not just one.
What Are Some Warning Signs?
Divorcing parents who do not communicate are unlikely to notice this trend until it has become quite pronounced. Only someone who sees them with both parents is likely to notice the way a child changes from one situation to another. Grandparents, babysitters, and the parents’ of friends are often the ones who pick up on the differences. They can then pass their observations on to parents, who may or may not take them seriously.
Parents who are more amicable may compare notes on their shared children, catching the warning signs more quickly. These include agreeing with parents about the other parent’s failings, claiming to only want to live with them, and widely different interests, personalities, and behavior from one home to the next. Essentially, they have a dysfunctional desire to fit into their living situation that subsumes at least a portion of their genuine personality or identity.
Why Is This Dangerous?
Chameleon Kids often grow into teens and young adults who are especially vulnerable to peer pressure. This can lead to making bad decisions. Chameleon Kids are especially prone to early drug and alcohol use, but they may also be more easily influenced to engage in unprotected sex or to drive dangerously. It all depends on what their peers demand from them. They will have a poorer sense of self, which will make them more easily manipulated by others whose opinions they value.
Adaptability is important in society; however, parents must realize that what their children are experiencing goes beyond what is considered normal. Young people who are not Chameleon Kids tend to have interests that are more stable. Their core self changes only slightly over the course of growing up. Chameleon Kids do not have the advantage of the solid core. Instead, they are hard-pressed to identify a true self as they become teens and young adults.
What Can Parents Do About This Situation?
In an ideal situation, once one parent realizes that their child exhibits characteristics of a Chameleon Kid, they would open a dialog with their ex-spouse. They would then determine a course of action to give their child the ability to express their true personality without fear of rejection or disapproval. Counseling might also be a possible consideration. The parents should concentrate on their child’s well-being instead of placing blame on each other or the child.
In less ideal circumstances, it may be up to one parent to help their child work through the issues they have with the divorce and subsequent social over-adaptability and identity issues. It is important for them to stress that the child hasn’t done anything wrong. Again, counseling could be potentially helpful, especially if the parent and child are receiving no other support from family members. Over time, the parent should encourage the child to be him- or herself and help them to understand how to resist peer pressure.
Chameleon Kids are a phenomenon that has not been studied at length; however, it is still an effect of divorce and custody arrangements that parents need to be aware of because of how it can shape their children’s futures. For those who see this happening to their child, it is important to deal with the changes in their behavior and personality immediately, preferably with help from their child’s other parent.