Keywords: Mental health, boarding school, bullying, resilience, Nigeria.

Introduction – Boarding Schools and Mental Health – Nigeria.

Boarding Schools and Mental Health – Nigeria. What are the pros and cons of getting an education from a boarding school? Are there mental health effects of living in a boarding school? Can bullying in boarding schools be prevented? Should parents continue to send their children to boarding schools?

A boarding school is actually a school where students live and engage in their academics during the school academic year. The very first boarding school started in the United States of America between the 19th and 20th centuries. Their aim was to actually inculcate the English standard of education on Native American children. It was for the Native American children who were orphans, who had very busy parents or who live far from schools.  Boarding schools later spread to other countries including Africa.

What are the pros and the cons of boarding school?

1. The pros or advantages:

Just like in the 19th and 20th centuries, different parents sent their children to boarding schools for different reasons.

a. Freedom for parents –

Some children were sent off to boarding schools to enable their parents have enough time for other things, like work.

b. Distance –

Parents send their children off to boarding school because their schools of choice are situated far away.

c. Better education and independence –

These parents believe that boarding schools provide better study conditions. There are also possibilities of extracurricular activities. They also believe that children can learn to be independent.

d. Good care environment –

Some children from dysfunctional families, especially from abusive homes, are placed into boarding schools. Children whose parents are not together, due to divorce, separation and death or even incarceration, are placed in boarding schools. This is to enable them receive better care from wide range of social networks that can reduce psychological issues.

e. Disciplinary measures –

Parents also believe that boarding schools can better discipline unruly and stubborn children.

f. Religious and Pastoral –

Many believe that the Faith based boarding schools will provide religious activities and pastoral care. They believe that these schools will provide better moral care and teaching than when the children are day students.  

2. The cons or disadvantages:

Some parents do not like having their children into boarding schools for so many reasons.

a. Family life –

Such parents do not like that disconnect in family life that boarding schools bring about. They feel that they will miss having the children around in the house. And that no one else can provide the love the child needs. Adolescence is a time when children learn to make decisions and take responsibilities. This is better influenced by the parents.

b. Child upbringing –

Many prefer to train their children themselves. They do not trust that anyone else will do a perfect job. Some are afraid of the harsh disciplinary measure in boarding schools.

c. Academic pressure –

These parents believe that there is too much pressure academically in boarding schools.

d. Regimented life style –

Many believe that boarding schools make the children live straight jacketed life style. Time is allocated to practically everything that happens in school. There are specific times for food, play, study, sleep, etc.

e. Peer pressure –

These parents believe that children pick up a lot of bad habits from boarding schools. Some believe that due to peer pressure children learn to steal, join cults, become homosexuals or lesbians, etc. Even some learn to abuse substances. The senior students take the food and provisions of the junior students, and even make them clean toilets. These senior students may even use the junior students as their personal helps. Parents believe that their children are bullied and they may end up with physical and psychological health issues.

Boarding schools and mental health – Nigeria.

1. Adjustment issues:

The entry into boarding schools brings about adjustments and changes in the children. Because the parents are no more there to give the child both physical and psychological protection, so the child learn to be self dependent. They may develop survival tactics that may affect them and the society negatively in life.

Actually, within the first few days of entering into the boarding schools, most children feel a sense of loss. They may believe that their parents have abandoned or neglected them. So they feel quit lonely and forsaken.

2. Sexual abuse issues:

They also face sexual abuse from peers and staff from the schools. These may affect them negatively in life. The students, who have been sexually abused, can suffer from depression, anxiety, etc. They can also suffer from social issues such as poor relationship with the opposite gender. Some become lesbians or homosexuals. The females among them may become pregnant and drop out of school.

3. Delinquency and conduct issues:

And research has documented that students start to show dysfunctional behavior after schooling in boarding schools. Some will become wild, some will begin to disrespect the elderly and become dishonest. For some, their academic performance will drop.

We also know that bullying in boarding schools in Nigeria is quite high.  A research paper report gave a prevalence of 85% among boarding adolescents in Nigeria. Cultism is more possible in boarding schools, while some become criminals. And boarding schools provide a high level of bully perpetrators than other individuals.  The psychosocial effects of bullying can affect both the victims and the perpetrators.

4. Psychiatric and psychological issues:

Children who attend boarding schools are more likely to develop anxiety disorders, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), than other children. Several research papers have reported these. Some papers have also documented depressive disorders, feeling emotionally numb and having relationship issues later in life. And some of these children lose the ability to confide with their parents. Some are even more likely to abuse substances and to have suicidality.

Prevention of bullying.

Prevention of bullying is a multifaceted approach.

1. The home front:

a. Attachment-

The parents should ensure proper attachment between the mother and the baby.

b. Adverse Childhood Experiences-

No child should be allowed to experience any Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Every child deserves to be loved and cared for. Appropriate disciplinary measures should be used at all times. 

c. Parenting method-

Good parenting method is important. The authoritative parenting has been found to be a good parenting method.

d. Resilience issues-

Parents should teach their children problem solving skills. These skills help the child to know the source of the problem and how to solve it.

They should also help the child to have a good self esteem and confidence.

Actually, when the family environment shows love and warmth with effective communications, it enables the child to build resilience.

2. The school environment:

a. Population issues-

Boarding schools should not be over populated. Schools should have just enough number of pupils that it can adequately supervise.

b. Infrastructural issues-

The school dormitories should be situated close to each other and close to the staff quarters. If it is possible, a staff apartment should be an annex to each dormitory.

They should have adequate security which includes personnel and infrastructure.  The infrastructure includes adequate school fencing.

c. Personnel issues-

Teachers and authorities should be good role models.

Should children continue to be in boarding schools?

The answer to this question should be individually based. Not all children who go into boarding schools end up with negative mental health. A lot of children who pass through boarding schools have resilience. And they come out with good grades and good mental health, despite the odds.

Having resilience means the ability to wade through challenges or tough times and still emerge strong, physically and mentally. A lot of factors come into play before a child can build up resilience.

The present day Nigeria is saddled with a lot of challenges, ranging from insecurity to economic issues. These can lead to ACEs via parental unemployment, poverty, etc. And it is known that ACEs are high risk factors to being either bully perpetrators or victims. These come with mental health issues.

Boarding schools today have become targets for the kidnapping of children, which can also predispose children to mental health issues.

So parents should be able to decide what they want for their children. But it is important to know that boarding schools are alright for children who have resilience. For those who do not have resilience, they can easily break down with mental health issues and poor grades.

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