From an outside perspective, Boarding Schools seem a little alarming. Parents pay thousands a year to send off their child miles and miles away to spend their days sharing a dingy bedroom, shower and their food with a number of other kids, whilst they slave away working extra-long days and face all the problems a teenager would face with minimal parental contact. From an insider’s perspective, it’s still pretty alarming.
However, I feel that I’ve just made a tasteless joke as the effect of being sent away to Boarding School is known as ‘Boarding School Syndrome’. It’s a psychological problem that causes people to become emotionally distant and have difficulty forming relationships later in life. It is also a result of the conditioning of bottling up emotions that Boarding Schools implement. Therefore it wouldn’t be stupid to be suggest that boarding school can be intimidating. So I find myself asking whether Boarding Schools can be psychologically unhealthy.
That’s not to suggest Boarding Schools don’t have benefits; they do. It helps a child mentally prepare for the transition to adulthood, as they learn to stop relying on parents and start to take initiative in organisation. Living in a boarding house helps prepare them for living in University and College accommodations, in the sense of sharing their locale with people their own age. It helps teach them how to share and look out for each other, and can lead to some very close friendships.
Furthermore, it is a different sense of community, because they will find themselves representing their Boarding House in competitions in their time at school. It can also be a great experience culturally, as it enables them to meet teenagers from all over the world, teaching them about different ways of life. But most of all, the quality of education is outstanding.
However, one aspect that can be problematic is if you’re overseen by the wrong Houseparents. They are supposed to give a child advice and look after their well-being. They are essentially surrogate parents. If a temporary parent were too strict or pushy with an introverted child, or too distant to a more emotional child, it could make them feel very detached.
Another factor is your housemates. As a boarder, you have to live with people for around up to 5 years. It’s crucial that a child is put in the right group. Moreover bullying can happen within Houses. Vulnerable children do sometimes become the target for abuse and it can be hugely demoralising. Bullying is also heightened because kids are prone to pleasing the ‘popular kids.’
Despite being a day boy, I myself sometimes lose sense of the real world. Boarding School is a closed environment and its conditions are very different from the outside world. The real world is more liberal, far less pressurised and restrictive, because you have the freedom of deciding how to spend your time. Consequently, even small trips away from school can prove to be slightly alien for some boarders.
Additionally it is incredibly intense. It is very easy for a child to become caught up in the workload, sports commitments and extra-circular activities that it becomes so draining for a child, especially for older students. It can potentially damage a person’s psychological health and cause them to over-prioritise less important aspects of school life over things such as keeping a relationship with parents strong or trying to start a career path.
Boarding School can be an intellectually enriching but simultaneously an emotionally destructive period of life for a child. I would ask Boarding Schools to aim to be less overbearing, because its intensity for people of such a young age can have disastrous consequences.