When a baby’s physical growth is stunted, it is considered a tragedy. The aim of parenting is not to prolong childhood, but to encourage maturity. Yet parents often make choices that stunt the growth of their children. We live with the accepted pattern of a twenty-seven year old “man-child” still living at home. The aim of parenting should be to promote the maturity and growing independence of a child. We need to celebrate adulthood, not immaturity and dependence. In this light, boarding schools are a significant educational option that parents need to consider.
Parents need to be champions of the kind of discipline and maturity evidenced among many of the young athletes at this year’s Olympic Games. They are not the products of coddling, but of wise choices and hard work. Gold-medal winning gymnast Gabby Douglas left her single mother to live with a family in another state to train. It was difficult at times, but the result is evident for all to see.
Ideally, boarding school pushes the child out of the family nest into a protected environment before the stakes are too high. It prepares the child for the often-squandered independence of the college years. A third of college freshmen drop out of college after a year, in part because they have not developed the self-discipline to live successfully on their own. They have been over-coddled. I am the fruit of boarding school beginning in the seventh grade, as are all my three children.
The real measure of a child’s character is witnessed outside the confines of the home. A child’s use of time, the friends he chooses, and the habits he forms are best seen outside the four walls of the family home. With the advent of omnipresent communication technology, parents are remaining in high hover mode long after the psychological umbilical cords should have been cut. When a child calls home from college to ask what she should have for lunch, one gets a sense of the extent of the problem. Such stories are legion.
Having a child leave home at an early age is not easy. It is fraught with anxiety for the parent and the child. But it is an important step in the process of maturity. In the past, a child at thirteen was expected to assume adult responsibilities. Children were regularly sent to Oxford and Cambridge at the age of fourteen and fifteen. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was approximately the same age at the time of Jesus’ conception. We have prolonged childhood and have culturally stunted maturity. I sent my twelve-year-old son to work on a sheep farm in Tain, Scotland for a summer. He had to negotiate managing the international flight, customs at Heathrow, living with a new family, digging potatoes, and learning his way around sheep. He succeeded in all, though he learned to hate sheep.
Not all boarding schools are equally helpful. Parents need to choose a school with teachers, dorm parents, and friends who share their values. One needs to place one’s child in a context where boundaries are maintained and maturity expected. It is in such places where children can come fully into their own and develop the independence and maturity that will serve them well in their college years.
In this regard, St. Andrew’s Academy’s boarding program is ideal. Boarding children live with families or in a small boarding house, and attend a school with a close-knit community that makes spiritual formation and educational excellence a daily routine. Childhood is filled with potential difficulties, and even more so in today’s media saturated youth culture.
Sometimes parents feel that a boarding education is an abdication of their parenting responsibilities, when in fact it is a fulfillment of them.
Originally published in August, 2012 issue of The Standard, the newsletter of St. Andrew’s Academy.