Bullying Behaviour Following Students' Transition to a Secondary Boarding School Context

By Lester, Leanne; Mander, David J. et al. | International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health, April 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Bullying Behaviour Following Students' Transition to a Secondary Boarding School Context


Lester, Leanne, Mander, David J., Cross, Donna, International Journal of Child and Adolescent Health


Introduction

Adolescence is a developmental stage in life that is associated with major cognitive, emotional, physiological and social change. Adolescence coincides with the onset of puberty and is typically described by parents as a period in which they attune to their child's growing need for autonomy and greater desire to source social support from same aged peers. Many adolescents look forward to the transition to secondary school as it represents a period of possibilities; a time to master new academic, social, emotional and extracurricular activities (1). However, adapting to multiple formal and informal organizational and social relational structures that are inextricably linked with the high school environment can prove particularly daunting to transitioning students (2).

Transitioning from primary school to a secondary boarding school adds another layer of complexity to secondary school life, as students have to simultaneously adjust from a situation where home and school are separate, into a setting where a temporary new home and schooling are merged together. Although some boarding students have reported the transition to boarding school has given them a greater appreciation for family and home, other students have equally reported that the process of adapting to new boarding school duty of care rules and regulations can be difficult as they tend to reduce privacy and personal freedom. Moreover, it commands boarding students to almost instantly display high levels of self-reliance, life skills and independence (3)". Similarly, boarding school requires adjusting from a situation where contact with family members occurs on a daily face-to-face basis to a situation where for extended periods of time contact is limited to contact via telephone, Skype and other means of communication such as email and text messages. Others have also described this change as shifting from vertical relationships with parents to horizontal relationships with peers at school and within the boarding house (3).

Friendship and peer support are needed for the development of social, emotional and mental health and have been identified as important contributors to a successful school transition (4). Peers not only provide support, but information and guidance (5). However, a peak in bullying victimization occurs following the transition to secondary school (6) largely resulting from the pressure to attain high social status and the formalization of relationships and social roles in new social groups (7). The seriousness and negative impact of school bullying is well known contributing to significant physical, psychological and social wellbeing problems (8) which in turn effects academic performance (9).

In boarding schools, a significantly larger amount of time is spent with peers (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) compared to day students (6 hours a day, 5 days a week). Arguably, the residential boarding context provides greater opportunity for bullying to occur (10, 11).

Some have described bullying at boarding school as 'relentless' given that targets have fewer choices to minimize their exposure to bullying, with bullying often following the target from the day school setting into the residential setting (3). Evidence suggests bullying can become institutionalized into the culture of boarding schools that are not vigilant to its presence (11). Poynting and Donaldson (10) described peer-to-peer bullying in one Australian elite boys' only boarding school as endemic and entrenched, taking the form of ridicule and racial slurs, physical and sexualized assault, all contained within a culture of intimidation and non-disclosure. In these instances bullying has been justified through language that constructs it as a 'tradition' or 'initiation' and analogous with a normal a rite of passage (12).

The long term negative mental health and life trajectory implications for individuals that experience bullying and also perpetrate bullying while at school are increasing being acknowledged (13). …

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