Chameleons & Children

Ep 128: Chameleons & Children

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Pets form the pillars of many of our growing up years. Both intellectually and emotionally. I am sure most of you listening have a great swelling of warmth when you think of pets in your life. I found it interesting how controversial the research is as to whether pets make for a better childhood. It seems it is very hard to prove this, but we all know it. And I read with amusement that the researchers who did a study that showed no benefit were essentially challenging it themselves.

Usually, a typically aloof pet like a chameleon does not fare well with a typical child. But, in this episode I bring two stories of how a chameleon was the perfect tool to unlock a child’s enthusiasm. Each situation is different. Hopefully, thi episode provides the food for thought as you consider whether a chameleon is an appropriate new member for your family.

Transcript (More or Less)

The joy and fascination  my pets brought me as a child and still in my adult life is so basic and real that I will immediately discount any study that suggests otherwise.  If you cannot prove it with science then, fine, I am a firm believer in the supernatural. You just put those numbers back in your pocket and I will happily retire my Spock ears.  My heart grows three times whenever my shiba inu dogs greet me at the door and share the stick they discovered that afternoon. I get lost in wonder just watching my chameleon move – or not move. A tear forms in my eye every time I remember my beloved cat who would snuggle in the crook of my arm each night to go to sleep. And I could go on and on as I pull each precious memory back out to feel for a moment once more.

If you have had similar experiences and memories it certainly is understandable that you would want your children to have such a life changing experiences themselves. Our culture, at least in the US where I am based, is well immersed in what it means to have a dog or cat. So parents seem to intrinsically know the answer as to whether they should bring a cat or dog into the home. It is actually quite simple. You, as the parent say no everytime your kid asks and you prepare for the inevitable day that a puppy or kitten somehow arrives home with your child. Or your dad. We never got a cat. It was always a mutual arrangement. My dad would never buy a cat or go to the pound. We always got what I call pre-pound cats. These were strays with no home and my father would present them with cat food. They were then free to stay or go as they pleased.  The more antisocial and wild the better. My Dad was not a cuddler and his life calling was to be friends with cats that agreed. He sometimes spent months building trust with a stray. And his victory was the day they let him scratch behind their ears. And that is all he would take from the relationship. And what this illustrates is that we all have different things that pets provide to us. So the answer to whether a chameleon would be good for your child is an honest analysis of what your child needs from an interaction with a pet. In this episode I am going to share with you what kind of pet a chameleon makes and will bring on parents from two families where a chameleon was the exact right pet. In hearing them talk you can get a feel for whether you are in the same situation.

Before we jump into chameleon specifics, I just want to establish a foundational axiom. Children cannot be relied upon to take care of a pet – any pet. Yes, they can help. And the more mature they are the more they can help, but the end responsibility to make sure this living being receives the food, water, and clean living conditions it requires always must be embrace by the parent. Any animal you bring into your home is your pet. Do NOT give a chameleon, or any animal, to your child for them to take full responsibility. I’d would much rather you instill in them a deep respect and value for life rather than use that life to teach your child the consequences of being distracted by the rigors of growing up. Before we take a step closer to this being a good idea we will change the wording from getting a chameleon for your child to bringing a chameleon into the home for your child to help you care for.

Generally, the quick and simple answer to the question of kids and chameleons is no. The typical kid who is full of energy, bouncing around with limitless dog chasing energy, and the attention span of a minute or two is going to get bored of a chameleon very quickly. Chameleons spend their lives moving as little as possible and most of them view us humans with trepidation. We look suspiciously like something that might eat them. So, chameleons are not good for any child, or adult, that wants to watch things move around. When you go to the zoo and walk through the reptile section are you or your kid the ones that are tapping on the glass wanting the lizard to move? This shows an incompatibility between expectation and what a chameleon is.

A chameleon is a low energy pet. You make your chameleon happy by giving them a leafy hiding place and pretending you don’t see them. How do you feel about that? How do you think your child will feel about that? Now, it isn’t that bad. Once a chameleon gets comfortable with you, and he will recognize you and whomever cares for him, then he won’t spend his time hiding during the day and chameleons like a Panther or Veiled Chameleon will eventually get to the point where he is excited that his food bringer is approaching. But that transition to accepting you needs to be on his schedule and his schedule is almost always much slower than your schedule. Remember that story of my father and his stray cats? Someone who would happily spend months slowly building trust is the perfect type of patience in a person that would do great with chameleons. Requiring nothing from them and accepting only that which is given whenever it may or may not be given.

And this is a segue into the types of children that are perfect for having a chameleon in their home. There are children that value interactions that are much less frenzied than what a dog might bring. There are children that have tapped into fascination for the world and feel that incredible wonder. And I mean more than a passing “wow, that is neat”, but a deep tug to learn more about these modern day dragons.