Let go: Diver Bronte Russell with her mother, Cath Davies. Photo: Mick TsikasThe secret to improving your relationship with your teenager might be what was once considered a punishment – sending them to boarding school.
A longitudinal study of more than 5000 boarding and day students at 13 Australian boarding schools found boarders have better relationships with their parents.
Researcher Professor Andrew Martin, of the University of Sydney, said it was likely ”a bit of the old absence makes the heart grow fonder”.
”Also, some of those daily battles parents have with their kids over homework and so on have been shifted onto someone else.
”And interactions between boarders and parents tend to be more of an enjoyable experience, in the sense that parents might take them out for a meal because they won’t see them for a few more weeks.”
As a self-described ”helicopter parent”, Cath Davies said sending her teenage daughter off to boarding school was traumatic: ”I cried for three months before she went, just at the thought of losing her.”
Her daughter, Bronte Russell, was a talented diver and moved from Newcastle to PLC Sydney in year 9 on sporting and indigenous scholarships.
”Mum called me like four times a day, which was so annoying,” the 17-year-old said. ”It got to the point that I actually had to intentionally miss her calls.”
Over time, Cath Davies said, she gradually ”let go”.
”Whenever I came home, I used to appreciate the time so much and I saw it from a different perspective,” Bronte said. ”Mum and I used to argue so much. It was ridiculous. Now we hardly argue.”
Her mother adds: ”It’s because you are constantly nagging them at home. But you’re not the nagger at boarding school. Someone else is.”
Australian Boarding Schools Association executive director Richard Stokes doubts the study would have found the same results had it been done a few decades ago.
Boarding school was ”a pretty average place” and limited contact with parents meant students often felt neglected and resentful. ”You used to get a slip for the pay phone for three minutes once a week,” he said. ”Parents actually have a relationship with their kids now and don’t feel like they’re getting rid of them. In many ways, the ugly parts of teenage life are covered by the boarding school and the parents get the nice parts.”
Brian Sullivan is the head of boarding at Knox Grammar and said his boys were regularly ”Skyping, emailing and texting” their parents. He said parents often couldn’t believe how much their relationships with their sons improved.
”When they actually see their parents, they have really good quality time,” he said. ”Because of that distance, the boys often have a lot more respect and appreciation towards their parents for the sacrifices they’ve made.”
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