When chameleons grow: TCKs and the Arts

07 Feb

Haikaa Yamamoto is a Japanese woman born in Brazil who also spent significant time in the US. She was interviewed by the examiner in relation to her upcoming music project “Work of Art” which features a song recorded in 19 languages. I found some of her comments about her TCK experience to be poignant and worth sharing/discussing.

During my teens and early adulthood, I really had no idea who I was or where I belonged. I developed a sort of Chameleon like personality that would adapt depending on the setting.

Those of us who work with TCKs have seen this “Chameleon like personality” on numerous occasions. It is a natural mechanism which many TCKs turn to in their search for identity and just trying to make life go more smoothly. Most of the TCKs I’ve met could fit in easily with adult company, many were expressive listeners who put others at ease, and were great at welcoming others with warmth.

This is often interpreted by adults as a sign of maturity and a well-rounded person secure in their own self-image. I disagree. I think that a TCKs ability to relate on a surface level has very little to do with their emotional maturity and the development of their personal sense of identity. TCKs learn to mimic behaviours in order to fit in. It’s a survival skill for those who bounce from place to place, or those who are required in interact in a variety of environments.

It was a tiring form of existance and after some time, I decided I wanted to know who I was regardless of where I was. I wanted to develop characteristics that I could take with me and that would serve me regardless of the environment that surrounded me. I realized that values such as generosity, fairness, honesty and emotions like love, happiness and courage were what really mattered to me.

I love watching TCKs undergoing journeys of self-discovery – what do I believe? who do I want to be? what matters to me? For many, the journey is precipitated by (yet another) move – especially those starting college, or those who move in late high school.

I believe that one role of TCK youth worker is to help spark this journey of self-discovery. I believe that one of the most beneficial things we can do for TCKs is encourage them to explore their unique identity – separate from where they live, what their parents do,  where they are “from”. This can be a difficult journey, with many deep questions arising. I think it helps for teens to explore this when they are in a “safe” place – with family and well-developed friendship and youth leaders (mentors) in place to walk through it with them.

For some, of course, the safe place happens after they leave home and strike out on their own. For others, home is comfortable enough that such a journey seems like a lot of unnecessary effort. In either case, maintaining mentoring relationships from a distance can help. I have spent a LOT of hours talking with TCKs via skype, IM, email and facebook as they process their identity in a new an unfamiliar place, far from the comforts of home and family. I feel so deeply for them as they struggle, and rejoice jubilantly as they begin to come into their own.

I think that being an artist had a lot to do with my search for who I am. During my  “Chameleon” era, I think I grew very numb because the only way I could change so much my personality was by hiding my feelings or by not feeling at all. And when you sing, you can´t not feel. You can learn all the vocal techniques in the world but you can´t be taught to feel. It was a very intense process of acknowledging, accepting and discovering who I really was. I think that being an artist has given me the perfect stage for growth and self-acceptance. It has taken me completely out of my comfort zone and I almost gave up several times but then it would chase me in my dreams and later become songs and lyrics etc.

I found this very interesting. A lot of TCKs I know are devoted and talented artists – painters, photographers, videographers, musicians, dancers and a host of other fields. I wonder if expression of the self through art aids them in the process of self-discovery and personal growth.

My own chosen artforms (music and painting/drawing) certainly helped me through a difficult period of adjustment upon re-entry to Australia at the start of grade 11 following two years abroad. I turn to artistic expression in periods of introspection and emotional growth – and it helps me.

I wonder if the arts should be deliberately encouraged (as a form of expression, not something to excel at) among TCKs both abroad and when returning?


Posted by on February 7, 2011 in Leading Youth, TCKs


Tags: , , , , ,

4 responses to “When chameleons grow: TCKs and the Arts

  1. Sheryl

    February 8, 2011 at 5:28 am

    Love this! I appreciate your insight that mature behaviour can mask a still developing maturity. Sometimes it is there, but often it’s just the projection of it. I think it’s all part of the uneven maturity attributed to many TCKs.

    When I taught in Africa one of the other teachers noticed how many of the “fringe” kids had an artistic bent without a means of developing it. She went back to school and got a degree in art so she could provide a program that would help. I was amazed at the calibre of art they produced and the way it helped them express their hearts.

    So . . . YES! TCKs need art development and expression!!!!

    • Tanya

      February 8, 2011 at 10:12 am

      I love the phrase “uneven maturity” – that’s exactly where most of my kids are. In some areas they are extremely mature; in others they are stunted. Most of them don’t see their own deficits; I think helping them become aware of what they’re missing is a vital role for TCK workers.

  2. Jeremy Lynch

    March 6, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Great post! Definitely agree with the “superficial / uneven” maturity. First time to hear it put that way though.

    Personally, musical creativity is often the link to introspection and reflection. While it is my first time to hear art linked to TCKs, I do think that when artistic expression is encouraged, for TCKs it is often the “easier” method of emotional release. For me at least this was the case.

    Then the “growing numb” by hiding feelings or by not feeling at all… Recently I’ve been thinking about this a lot, I attributed the ’emotionless-ness’ more to a greater understanding and experience of the bigger picture which may in many cases make every day emotions seem “trivial”. The suppression of feelings in order to change personality argument sounds a lot more solid. But I wonder, is their any retrieving of those feelings? and how does it come about?

    • Tanya

      March 7, 2011 at 11:27 am

      Since writing this a while back I’ve thought more about the TCK/Arts connection – I’d like to write more on the topic in future. The more I think about it, the more it makes sense – that artistic self-expression helps in the process of forming identity. That for TCKs, who lack many of the other things that help a person form identity, the arts become far more important in filling this role.

      You’re also getting me thinking about the emotional growth stuff. I’m not an expert – I’m still learning it myself! I struggle with the whole “retrieving feelings” thing. It’s something I’ve been growing in over the past 5 years. Still a long way to go, though! It’s a long process, and sometimes it just seems like too much effort for not enough reward (even if I know better). Again, might be worth writing more about in future – I’ll have to do some serious thinking!


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