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Ask Dr. Meg: Boarding Schools – Good or Bad for Teenagers?

Dr. Meg Meeker

Dr. Meg Meeker

Hi Meg,

I follow you on Twitter, read your books and you’ve spoken at our school in Ohio. Our daughter is transitioning to high school next year.  A few families have chosen to send their daughters to far off $60k/yr boarding schools.  Struggling to rationalize these decisions to send 14 year old girls off (albeit bright straight A students) thousands of miles away when there are plenty of good schools around.  Just looking to get the “Meg perspective” on whether I’m too old fashioned or whether I should loosen up.  Thanks so much for your reply!

God bless!

– Boarding Schools- Good or Bad for Teenagers?

Dear Good or Bad –

I attended a college prep school outside of Boston as a day student and I loved it. Many of my classmates boarded at the school, so I have a pretty good understanding of what goes on there. Also, I have watched thousands of children grow up over my 30 years in medical practice and here’s my take on them.

Parents send their teenagers to boarding schools for two primary reasons. They choose them to give their children a better academic (or athletic) education or because they want their kids to learn to live independently. Occasionally, parents will send their kids off because they have specific learning issues that only a boarding school can address. And other parents send their children away because they can’t handle them.

While some students may study harder, receive better instruction or be exposed to a greater breadth of academic studies, parents sacrifice enormous opportunities for their children’s psychological, spiritual and intellectual growth when they live separately. Teenagers have emotional and developmental needs that can only be met by parents and when they see their parents a few weekends a month, some of these needs simply aren’t met. This can set them up for trouble in the future.

The teen years are a critical time when a child learns how to: handle responsibility and independence, navigate relationships on a deeper level, and make decisions that impact their futures, to name a few things. These are all junctures that are best guided by parents, not advisors or teachers.

With advances in technology, most teens can access any academic materials  they need in order to excel and succeed in college. Yes, they need good teachers but the truth is, there are many great teachers in private day schools, public schools and parochial schools.

All this to say, I would not send my own children to boarding schools during their teen years. My belief as a parent and physician is that teenagers need more time with their parents than they do with peers and other teachers. Parents hold all the power when it comes to sound identity formation and a healthy sense of self in a child. This isn’t to say that children can’t grow into healthy adults if they attend boarding schools- of course they can. But many of those teens will tell you that they felt lonely and that they missed out by not being with their families.

Choosing the right school for a child is a uniquely personal decision that parents make. Most parents who choose boarding schools before college genuinely believe that sending their children away is doing them a service but I wholeheartedly disagree. Yes, those children may get a better academic education but what they miss from their parents’ influence isn’t worth the sacrifice.

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