On education in Europe and the USA

Clever Magazine
Parents United Kingdom Schools Kirill Delikatnyi

Parental Involvement in Full-boarding Upbringing

No matter how much we would like to think of ourselves as adults, the consequences of our children going away affect us just as much as they do them.
Moreover, the emotions children experience directly reflect in their parents. The older you are, the more resilient you are to stress and the more prone you are to weighing decisions on a cost/benefit ratio rather than relying on emotional judgement. Although we can suppress or justify short-term conflicts within ourselves around such decisions, we often overlook the longer-term emotional toll such moves will have on us. Either directly or as a result of our children’s attitudes toward us, we have to accept that the decision to send your children abroad on a full-boarding basis means that you will have significantly less involvement in their upbringing - the school will do most of it. This article will unpack exactly what that means for you and your child on shorter and longer-term scales.
At any school, each child will have their situation. Some will be day-boarder foreigners, full-border natives, and everything in between. Some will have highly involved parents, and some removed. At my school, I knew kids whose parents would get phone calls from the school about their behaviour and respond with, “I trusted my child in your care; you deal with it!” and others whose parents would fly halfway across the globe because their child had nits. This works both ways, as some children will exhibit a stronger connection to home, and others would rather be halfway across the globe from it. I am not here to deliver a lesson on parenting; rather, how schools will substitute your parenting. Boarding schools’ approaches to upbringing will vary depending on your children’s age, so that is how we will break it down.

Age 9 to 13

Before 13, students usually attend preparatory school, known as such because it prepares them for college. Preparatory school is exactly what the name suggests. Children are not there to make life-long relationships or decide on their career path - they are there to get a feel for the boarding school environment, where they will spend the most important years of their lives: their teens. For those who have not yet drawn out this idea from my previous blogs or first-time-readers, there are two things you must know are the soul of private school education in the UK: 1. Boarding schools foster independence; 2. schools are small representations of the real world but with a safety net.

This means children are encouraged to grow up early, which comes in two aspects. The first aspect is administrative - children are taught how to make their bed, address elders, eat appropriately, UK culture, manners, courage toward personal development, competitiveness, and more. These are skills that children are normally expected to develop in their early teens anyway, but the second aspect is what makes these come at children fast—the lack of parents.
For nine-year-olds who hardly comprehend the role of people in their lives, any authoritative character will be seen as their “parent” so long as they are shown love and attention.
Children only get one set of parents, and parents get only one set of children; however, teachers get hundreds of sets of children whom they must tend to. Such an arrangement makes it somewhat difficult for teachers to show love and care toward children who desire it.

Children only get one set of parents, and parents get only one set of children, and just as children desire parental care for as long as possible, so do parents desire their children to remain children for as long as possible. Having been confronted with the idea that they are not the centre of the world early, children at preparatory boarding schools live through some heartbreaking, yet character-building, moments. Reflectively, children who are distant from their parents and are acquiring autonomy at this age will exhibit the same attitudes towards their parents as they do toward teachers and may not seem like fragile children much longer. Whenever parents will try to lecture children in these situations about the realities of the world, they will usually be hit with criticism and disagreement from children who will believe that they have been hit with enough “reality” for their age.

Age 13 to 16

Transferring to full-boarding education before age 16 only poses a proportion of complications to your children. Balancing the options, it seems best for children to adapt early and learn the language before attending college. Private school education is an exclusive service, and the standards set for students are accordingly above board. Whereas at preparatory school, it is acceptable for children to be homesick, adjusting, anxious, etc., at college, children are immersed in a community of teens who are 13-18 years old, and this poses additional stereotypical challenges of discrimination between the “strong” and the “weak,” the “younger” (pre-puberty) and the “older” (horny), the “cool” and the “losers.”
Dress it as you like; this is how teens behave anywhere in the world, and it is not the fault of the boarding school that fosters this behaviour.
However, the aspect of the school being full-boarding determines the child’s commitment to their life there. Whereas at your normal day school, children have the free time outside of it to make friends or can switch schools in other scenarios, having your child attend a world-renowned college will hardly make you consider switching it. If your child is not adapted to the environment or is god-forbid, assigned to a discriminatory group, it will be hard for them to power through this without proper parental attention.

You may think that your upbringing should reflect on children well and that they will be well-mannered, “cool,” or rich, but that is not true. If you send your children abroad at this age, your involvement in their upbringing will be minimal. Teens do not reflect on their lives retrospectively or consider the years ahead of them - teens perceive their age as an imminent, life-determining moment, and the slightest hiccup may be their heartbreaking moment. Also, teens are savages, so heartbreaking moments are very probable. Here is a real-life case for you: I attended preparatory school with a very popular, kind and funny boy in the year above. He also happened to attend the same college as I did. There, he seemed a little less happy and a little more closed in. I encountered him several times, but he never shared what seemed to trouble him. I brought up my concerns with my housemistress and tutor, who are very thoughtful of helping in these situations. Just after his graduation from college, he had killed himself.

No matter how much care teachers tried to offer him or how much his friends reassured him, he still felt lonely. No teacher can replace a parent. I have described the reasons for this earlier, and teens are savages for hormonal reasons. This, of course, is a personal case, with multitudes of factors being taken into account; the factor that parents must consider is that before making life-changing decisions for their children, they must actually consult their children first.

Age 16 to 18

16 is the most popular age at which students relocate to boarding schools. It is the golden age for such a move. Psychologically, it is usually up to 14 that children require parental attention; by 16, they have probably had more than enough of it.
At 16, children develop a maturity toward the real world and their parents. You will say that children are most rebellious at 16 and hardly ever respect their parents; I say this is due to their still living together. Granting children at this age a certain independence, especially from the mutual living arrangement, will drive them to respect their parents as adults do. This will, nevertheless, drive your children to grow up early; however, as stated previously, this is one of the key aspects of UK private school education.
There are setbacks to consider, which are easier to overcome if your children relocate earlier. These are cultural, linguistic, and autonomy barriers. As students prepare for university, 16 is a critical age in the UK education system.
At this age, students are encouraged to choose subjects that will determine the degrees they will acquire at university and, consequently, their careers in adulthood. Although your children may be more prepared to take up independence at this age, they will face additional complications of trying to orient themselves around the culture, acquire new friends, break old strengthened friendships, and overcome the language barrier - all whilst trying to prepare for their life-determining examinations.

Whereas you consider this age the most comfortable for your children to relocate, the conversation around this decision must happen a significant time prior for a couple of reasons. Firstly, children must be aware of the complications they will face, evaluate these, and determine whether they are willing to take them up. Furthermore, at this age, they will be able to evaluate their chances more reasonably, consult with you on their arguments appropriately, and be conscious of their choice. Secondly, college waiting lists are a bitch, and some advise that applications are made up to five years before the year of attendance.

Closing thoughts

The reasons I outline these particular age frames are determined by examinations that children must sit for entry into their subsequent educational establishment. All ages carry their benefits and their downsides. I relocated at nine and wish I had moved later; my friends who transferred at 16 wish they had relocated earlier. I hope that from this account, you draw these three main conclusions:

  1. The age of your child’s relocation will depend on their personality: whether they are ready to face the challenges of independence; whether they feel a strong connection with their home or want to try themselves in a new culture; whether they are resilient or sensitive.
  2. The conversation around your child’s relocation must happen a significant time prior to the actual move. This will prepare your child for the possibility of this transfer and show them that their opinion is considered in this decision. A complication to this is that children are hardly conscious of such big decisions at younger ages, and the only solution I see to this is that if you wish to send your children to study abroad, you must relocate with them.
  3. Your children should be central to making this decision and not simply executing your wishes for them.

No matter your perceptions of your family’s goal in life, humans need parents on a biological level. Whether you evaluate that the benefits of opportunities offered to your children, if they relocate early, outweigh the costs of insufficient parental care, you may be overlooking the longer-term effects of these costs. The education system has not yet come up with a good enough substitution for parents, and whether you consider yourself a highly resilient individual emotionally, it is not your life you are making decisions for - it is your children’s.