Effect of boarding school life on a child’s psyche

What effects does boarding school have on a child’s mental and emotional development, future relationships and life interactions? The Standard in Kenya asks Psychotherapist CHRIS HART to explain.

Bubbling insecurity

But being away from home also creates a layer of insecurity, especially in children who
start boarding school young. So a decision to send your children to boarding school
needs to be taken carefully.

Because once your child sets off to boarding school, their whole life will take a different

That’s because, however well boarding schools might look after their pupils, children sent away to school are being separated from the only people in the world who love them unconditionally – their parents. Children need that, and teachers, however good they may be, can’t replace a parent’s unconditional love.

To cope with living without love, boarding school children often construct a ‘strategic
survival personality,’ including for example, a ‘home self’ and a ‘boarding school self.’
Once formed, this survival personality is hard to put aside, and has permanent effects on the child’s future adult life.

On the outside, boarding school children appear competent and confident. Inside, they’re often inhibited and insecure. And for many, that insecurity lasts the rest of their lives.

The boarding school syndrome

So there’s a noticeable set of traits in adults, especially men, who went to boarding
school. Sometimes called ‘boarding school syndrome’.

It includes:

1. A reduced ability to form and sustain relationships

2. A tendency to hide vulnerabilities behind a confident appearance

3. Depression and anxiety

4. Problems with intimacy

5. Anger issues are also common

6. Substance abuse

7. A fear of abandonment.

8. Struggle to show emotion.

When you cry in boarding school, the people who come to your aid are essentially
strangers. And are much more likely to say ‘stop crying!’ than to offer help.

Children in boarding school feel the watching eye of their peers all the time, and realise
that displays of emotion will be disproved of. And that eventually leads to the person who says to their partner: ‘There’s nothing wrong with me – you’re just too emotional.’ Ex-boarders don’t behave in an appropriate manner when they’re upset.

They didn’t develop a good language for their emotions, and no longer express them –
and often haven’t since that first day at school.

Performance based acceptance Vs unconditional acceptance

Children need approval and acceptance to develop their sense of self-worth, and in a
boarding school, that’s performance based rather than the unconditional acceptance
children experience with their parents.

And no matter how loved they feel at home during the holidays, that’s only a temporary experience. Especially as peer pressures mean that boarding school comes to feel like ‘real life,’ while home is just time off.

Boarding children’s experience of performance based acceptance goes on into adulthood. Where for example, they tend to enter into relationships for the wrong reasons.

Seeking to be accepted and loved, rather than developing relationships based on mutual support. They also often grow up to be workaholics, looking for approval and acceptance for ‘doing well.’

‘Idealised’ home life

Many children in boarding schools feel a sense of abandonment. They’re nostalgic for an ‘idealised’ home life, and feel lonely and uncared for.

Many can’t escape the feeling that they’re boarding because their parents don’t want them. Young children especially don’t have the emotional maturity to deal with this sense of loss.

These feelings of abandonment often last a lifetime, and so ex-boarders often feel insecure in their relationships.

Constantly watching for signs that their partner is also going to abandon them. They often become controlling – trying to minimise their partners work and social lives – and watching obsessively for the slightest signs of infidelity.

Boarding school life can never be casual like home. It’s stressful, 24 hours a day, and lacks emotional support, personal attention and validation. Many sensitive children never entirely adjust to the rule driven environment and always feel out of place.

The bullying effect

Boarding children grow more distant from their parents, and often find it impossible to confide in them. Even when they’re suffering bullying or abuse.

Boarding schools simply cannot completely supervise every child, every minute of the day and night, and so physical, emotional and sexual abuse is a constant danger.

You know how parents are currently concerned about the internet allowing bullies to pursue their children home via social media sites?

Bullying is always 24/7 in a boarding school.

Children in boarding schools often feel they can’t do anything about abuse, whatever form it takes. And feel they must silently bear it as the only way to survive. And this can have effects that last the rest of their lives.


Children who go to boarding school – especially when they’re very young – always remember their first day as a traumatic event.

They’re aware they have to adapt quickly. And feel a split between what they’re told they’re supposed to experience and what they’re actually feeling.

Children are actually very unhappy to lose their family, home, friends and pets. Everything they’ve ever had for their whole life has suddenly gone. They’re told that it’s called homesickness and ‘you’ll get over it soon’. Actually, it’s a major bereavement.

The Standard (Kenya)

Rich families use ‘privilege to opt out’ of child services

Rich families are using “privilege” to disrupt or avoid child abuse investigations, a report has found.

Goldsmith’s University found wealthy households were effectively “opting out” of the child protection system.

Social workers had uncovered cases of sexual exploitation and emotional abuse, but found children’s services were biased towards poorer families.

Professor Claudia Bernard, who led the study, said neglect cases in affluent areas often went “under the radar“.

Prof Bernard told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “People have these deep-set beliefs that this is happening in poor, dysfunctional families.”

In one case parents of a young girl disclosing sexual abuse complained to the council about the investigation.

Social workers were then rebuffed by school nurses who said there was no way the child’s “great mum” would ignore such abuse.

Teenagers in private fee-paying and boarding schools, often isolated from their parents, had complex safeguarding needs, the report found.

Often the issues only came to authorities’ attention when parents were dealing with an acrimonious separation and needed a child welfare report, the study said.

The study called for social workers to be trained to deal with affluent families.

BBC News

Too little, too late: ‘We are deeply sorry’ – boarding schools apologise for child abuse

If the UK boarding school industry was really serious about apologising for child abuse, they would end boarding for the under 16s.

They are still too busy sweeping current sex abuse scandals under the carpet and have yet to address Boarding School Syndrome, etc.

It is not just about sexual abuse and it never has been. Apology not accepted. We want to see an end to boarding under 16. And from 16 where the potential boarder makes a fully informed decision to board.

Boarding schools must correct “the wrongs of the past” and create “obstructive obstacles” to deter potential abusers, headteachers will be told today.

Martin Reader, the chair of the Boarding Schools’ Association (BSA), is today set to apologise for the abuse suffered by former pupils, on behalf of his organisation’s members.

Addressing the BSA’s annual conference in Brighton today, he will say: “It is to our great shame that there have been those adults at our schools who have used their positions of power to abuse those they were supposed to be looking after, or have failed to use their positions of power to stand up against those abusers, putting school reputations before children.

We are deeply sorry to the victims and survivors of the abuse that happened in our schools and are thoroughly committed to making our schools as safe as possible.”

His comments follow recent media reports about the scale of abuse at UK boarding schools, including in recent years.

Ampleforth College, in North Yorkshire, is currently subject to three ongoing police investigations into historic allegations of sexual offences.”


Simon Williams recalls the terror of boarding school

Simon Williams: In my childhood bedroom I had a wallchart and every night I’d cross off another day of home life as my first term at boarding school approached. I had to be brave for the sake of the old poodle farting at the foot of my bed. She probably wouldn’t recognise me at Christmas, they were going to ‘make a man of me’ – I had only just got used to being a child.

Everything in early life seemed pre-ordained, from potty training to shaving and beyond, there was no opt-out clause, no court of appeal. I could only hope that boarding school was just another myth to be exploded like the tooth fairy. Home life had been too good to last.

The Telegraph

Stars shun boarding for young children

The ancient practice of sending seven-year-olds to live away from home is dying out, and not only because of the high fees

Children under 16 should not be sent to boarding school, according to the broadcaster and historian Bettany Hughes, whose own daughters are being educated at a day school.

She said that her husband, Adrian Evans, and his brothers had boarded from the age of seven, which she described as “too young”. Her husband had enjoyed it but his brothers had not.

Emphasising that she was speaking in a personal capacity Hughes, 50, a mother of two, said: “I would not do it. I did not go through that system. We have not sent our own children to boarding school.”

The Sunday Times (subscription)

Mum Divides Opinion As She Slams Parents Who Send Kids To Boarding School

Boarding schools have always been a contentious issue, now one mother has reignited the debate after slating parents who choose full-time boarding.

Some of the world’s brightest minds have attended boarding schools, from Prime Ministers to members of the royal family and even actors such as Eddie Redmayne.

However, the idea of sending your kids off to live at a school miles from home has always been a point of contention.

Now one Mumsnet user has reignited the long-running debate after asking parents to explain their decision to “send them away” to be raised by other adults.

The post read: “I’m going to get flamed probably by the people who send their child to boarding school full time.

But how could you?

Read more and vote at Heart.

Pre-teens don’t belong in boarding schools

There is no good reason why we should continue condemning innocent children to the insular world of boarding schools. And, for the record, I am not writing this from an ivory tower. Of the 16 years in the 8.4.4 system, I’ve been a boarder for the first 12.

I was barely seven years when I saw my dad walk out of the school gate, leaving me amongst strangers at a time when I was a stranger even to myself. The feeling of abandonment has stuck with me ever since. In this, I know I’m not alone.

Are boarding schools worth it? The separation from parents, the money paid and exclusion from society? Are boarding schools overrated?

Four things are worth remarking about boarding schools. One, a majority (if not all) offer an environment fraught with emotional, academic and social pressure. Expecting children under 13 to know how to respond to pressure is expecting something greater than a miracle.

At this vulnerable age, what children need most is an emotionally meaningful relationship, not pressure. And only parents can offer that. Teachers, however dedicated, cannot provide emotional satisfaction to every kid in the class.

If kids are to grow into healthy adults, they have to be brought up in a family, which is the microcosm of the society. Remember it takes a village, not a boarding school, to raise a child.

Is this from the UK? No, it’s Kenya…


First state-funded primary boarding school in the east of England

Sad news, that with all the evidence of harm from early boarding, the Sapientia Education Trust (SET) (of which Wymondham College is the founding school) has decided to open an early state boarding facility.

In April this year, SET was granted permission (by the Department for Education) to open the Sapientia Primary Prep School as part of a wave of 111 free schools around the country.

The school, for five to 11-year-olds, will create 450 places, 30 of which will be boarding, making it the first state-funded primary boarding school in the east of England.

Eastern Daily Press

CPS makes commitment to male victims of sexual abuse

Boarding Concern welcome the announcement today that the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are “to issue guidance on handling cases of abuse against men.”

“The CPS has published its first ever public statement recognising the needs and experiences of male victims of offences including rape, […] and child sexual abuse.

Many male victims of these crimes never come forward to report them to the police. This can be for a variety of reasons, including fear that their masculinity may appear to be diminished if they report […] abuse or that homophobic assumptions will be made around their sexuality if they are raped by a man.

The CPS has always been committed to securing justice for all victims, both male and female, and applies policies fairly and equally. It has worked with groups which represent the interests of male victims to explore the issues they face in relation to these offences.”

While welcoming this progress, Boarding Concern want to see the CPS commit to securing justice for those who suffered abandonment, neglect, bullying, assaults and other trauma by being sent away to boarding school.

That these forms of child abuse continue to happen in the UK in the 21st century is a disgrace.

We can’t prevent Boarding School Syndrome so we will just take away their smartphones

Just when children and early teens need more private contact with their parents, one school plans to give them less…

Surrey boarding school BANS mobile phones

A Surrey boarding school has banned the use of mobile phones for year 9 and 10 pupils.

Cranleigh School is said to be the first in the UK to prohibit the use of the device for  its first two year groups.

The co-educational school in Surrey, educates pupils from age 13 to 18.

Staff claims that the move has proved popular with parents and pupils alike.

Deputy Head (Pastoral) Dr Andrea Saxel says: “We were already on the stricter end of smartphone use but this academic year we have decided to limit use in those two-year groups completely.

“Pupils have plenty of opportunity to contact home via private landlines and e-mail. [Not the same as being able to call or message their parents in private on their own phones without boarding schools monitoring their telephone calls and email messages.]

“There is extremely compelling evidence to show that constant access to social media sites is damaging to children’s self-esteem and mental health. [There is also compelling evidence of damage to children’s self-esteem and mental health from Boarding School Syndrome and other abuse at boarding school.]

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