Growing up on Malory Towers (by Enid Blyton) a teenage girl in the 90’s would be in awe of the adventures a boarding school entails. Today’s literature-deprived generation would easily be able to identify with Harry Potter movies, which added glamour and excitement to a place where an adolescent could escape insufferable relatives. However, in India every child belonging to this generation would be able to recreate the drama that ensued a boarding school threat. A caring and nurturing family environment is considered best for a child’s well-being by psychologists and sociologists. Adding fuel to the fire the media leaves no stone unturned in drilling into our minds that only the unwanted and misbehaved children are packed off to boarding schools. Chances are that as parents (no matter how nice your children are) you have at least once in your life considered sending your child to a school away from home in order to discipline him and knock into him some appreciation about home and all you do for him. True! raising children is a monumental task, infuriating to say the least, yet other things need to be considered.
A qualitative study undertaken by two psychologists from Kinnaird College for Women, Lahore, Pakistan in 2015 published in the International Journal of Emergency Mental Health and Human Resilience revealed that hostels have great importance in the educational journey of students. Desirable personality characteristics such as confidence, punctuality, social skills, realistic attitude, responsibility, and sharpness in many domains of life were attributed at least in part to hostel life. The researchers also found that in hostels students learn to live with different types of individuals, which increases their level of patience. It prepares students to accept challenges in practical life. Although these findings were based on college students, these can be generalised to others in boarding schools as well. However, this may not be the whole truth. These findings have not been consistently seen. Academic and career success as well as personality is determined more by individual factors than by attendance in boarding schools.
There is no thumb rule that will help parents decide a boarding school for their children. Parents need to decide based on a multitude of factors including the child’s age, temperament, health, academic competence and hardiness. Along with these, external factors like home environment, values of the school in question and the general level of satisfaction amongst boarders must also be taken into account.
Contraindications for sending a child to a boarding school
- Remember that a boarding school is not a dumping ground for problems you cannot handle. An unruly child needs love and attention along with therapeutic intervention, not a strict warden who believes in punishment as the only means to an end.
- One cannot run away from the responsibility of looking after the children on the pretext of a busy personal/social life. A child brought into this world by your consent has to be your priority.
- Academic dullness or learning difficulties cannot be resolved by exacting educational standards. Children with learning difficulties need professional help with oodles of patience thrown in.
- A child who is physically not at par with others his age may be dealt a rough hand for something that is not in his control. Similarly an emotionally distraught child needs the stability and security of loved ones around for a speedy recovery. These emotional disadvantages include mental and emotional disorders.
- In a society engulfed by pressure from social media, packing off children to ‘fancy’ boarding schools for the sake of status should not be allowed.
Checklist of things to do before sending your child to boarding school
- Check the credentials of the school right from Google search results to getting in touch with the alumni to the former teachers. You are sending your child away from home and in today’s scenario you cannot take a chance.
- Make sure you are able to fulfill financial commitments throughout the term you intend your child to be there and include travel expenses, food and clothing expenses and also technology requirements.
- Have a complete physical and mental health check-up for your child before you make the final decision.
- Many of us believe that independent living skills could be fostered through boarding schools and hostels; however, we fail to realize that as a culture we don’t train and prepare our children for this independence. Sewing on a button, cooking simple meals, washing clothes and ironing them, tying shoelaces, packing are some of the skills they must master. Add first aid knowledge to their repertoire.
- Teach your child how to say NO. It’s a word all Indian parents discourage but remember the skill of saying no may prevent your child from becoming an addict or gang member (common consequences of being in a boarding school).
- Our children know their minds well, yet they are not able to weight the consequences of their actions because we never let them face the music. Teach them how to balance the pros and cons and choose the most beneficial solution.
- If you haven’t spoken to them yet about ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch’, now is the time to do it. In sex-driven culture, it is only fair to warn our children about the imminent dangers and how to recognize them along with lessons in self-defense is essential. Parents of adolescents need to discuss reproductive and sexual health with their teenagers. Remember, prevention is better than cure. If you feel shy about such matters consult a professional to impart correct information.
- Be prepared for the emotional vacuum their going away would cause and develop a plan to cope with it.
- Make sure your child has all required materials:
- Course material
- Appropriate and adequate clothing
- Comfortable footwear
- Comfort food
- Sufficient money to meet daily expenses
- Bedding: most hostels expect one to carry a mattress, pillow, bedsheet, pillow covers and blankets.
- Family mementoes and keepsakes from friends
- Contact details of all family members
- Technological assistance required by the school
- Medicine kit
- Toiletries like toothbrush, toothpaste, soaps, shower gels, shampoo etc.
- General items like calculator, data dongle, mosquito repellant, reading lamp, flashlight etc.
- Hobby or interest related things—books, guitar etc.
- The first emotional reaction of a child to the news of going to a boarding school may be fear, excitement or an oscillation between them. It is imperative that your child understands your reasons behind this decision well.
- Prepare your child much before you intend to send them away. Don’t drop the bomb in a crisis situation. Explain your reasons well and have the courage and patience to listen to their concerns as well.
- Assure children that it’s alright to feel lonely and homesick for a while and that these feelings will only increase their self-dependence.
- Teach your child how to control stress levels and anxiety so that he can manage even when you are not around.
- Kindness in tone and love in gestures will help them understand that you love them unconditionally and will be there for them even if they are far away.
- Remain calm yourself.
The author is a clinical psychologist and school counsellor.