Expertise a real godsend in guiding teens’ minds

ADOLESCENCE is a terrifying minefield for some parents but at boarding schools, managing growing pains is all in a day’s work.

Decades of experience and access to experts on all the dicey topics equip boarding schools to help children become young adults, says Brisbane Grammar’s director of boarding Simon Hill.

‘We know boys inside-out and can take a consistent, up-to-date, research-based approach,” he says.

“Things like handling social media, alcohol and drugs are a minefield for parents. There’s a level of embarrassment for boys to discuss sensitive issue with their parents, while we can deal with them in a professional, empathetic way.”

According to Hill the key is allowing adolescents to have the essential trial-and-error experiences of growing up, but in a controlled manner.” Adolescents will always make mistakes but we let them do it in a safe, supported and prepared environment,” he says. “We’ve seen it all before so we can nip any problems in the bud and deal with them.”

With several studies linking boredom to adolescent risk-taking, the busy schedule of boarding life is another benefit.

“We strongly believe in keeping our girls busy and active as an antidote to spending too much time on technology,” says Merran O’Connor, director of student wellbeing at St Catherine’s School in Toorak, Melbourne.

“A busy house is a happy house,” Hill adds. At Brisbane Grammar, activities range from social events with girls’ schools to volunteer work with local charities.

A recent Australian study published in the American Educational Research Journal found widespread parity in the educational and personal wellbeing between day and boarding students.

Researcher Andrew Martin, Professor of Educational Psychology at the University of NSW, says this shows a turnaround from the “dark ages stereotype” that boarding is damaging. “It’s now a more positive experience,” Prof Martin says.

Based on a survey of more than 5000 boarding and day students, any differences found in the study were mostly in the boarders’ favour, including more positive relationships with parents.

Prof Martin attributes this to the removal of the daily battles about homework and technology from the family dynamic, as well as the classic adage of absence making the heart grow fonder.

Boarders in the study also reported a higher sense of meaning, satisfaction and purpose in life. Certain personalities – extroverts, open and agreeable students -were found to particularly thrive in boarding schools, but Prof Martin says schools are doing a better job of supporting all types of students.

Hill says: ‘We’re turning away from that whole ‘here’s what we’re all going to do’ approach and trying to cater more to introverts.

“Our mindfulness time on Sunday afternoons allows boys to have some quiet time out”

At St Catherine’s, meditation sessions and quiet areas balance out the intensity of communal living.

“Communal living, by its very nature, requires co-operation, communication and adaptability,” O’Connor says. “The boarding house environment fosters independence, resilience and self-reliance.”

According to Hill, promoting these skills in a supported environment creates well-adjusted individuals. “The coping techniques boarders learn are perfect preparation for living in halls of residence at Uni,” he says.

“In the workforce, they’re more mature in interviews, presentations or dealing with customers than colleagues who have always been at home, with their parents doing all negotiations.”

Despite its benefits, Prof Martin says parents shouldn’t expect boarding to circumvent all the challenges of growing up.

“For a male, it’s not until they’re 25 or 26 that their brain has fully matured, so there’s only so much we can do to speed things up,” he says.

“Boarding school is not a cure-all magic wand, but it is a positive educational alternative to consider.”

Laura Cencigh-Albulario

The Weekend Australian Boarding Schools Feature

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