Deans of Boarding

Deans of Boarding

This week marks the Australian Boarding Schools Association’s (ABSA) National Boarding Week, providing the fitting opportunity for our distinct community to recognise and celebrate the incredible opportunities that are afforded by being a boarder at Loreto Normanhurst. It has been a time to celebrate the extraordinary efforts and commitment of boarders and boarding staff alike, and to acknowledge the unique and special connections that are created within this community,

Boarders at Loreto Normanhurst enjoy a wonderful opportunity to live and learn in a diverse and inclusive space, developing their independence and resilience and forming lifelong friendships. They quickly refine their ability to compromise, take initiative, exhibit responsibility and hone their self-management skills. However it is the encouragement, care and camaraderie often witnessed among the boarders that is truly inspiring.

When external acquaintances discover the nature of our work with more than 165 teenage girls, in the boarding context, they often express admiration and trepidation on our behalf for taking on such a seemingly challenging role!

Teenage (girls) often manage their feelings by dumping the uncomfortable ones…the arrival of adolescence comes with a surge in complaining.

Untangled, Lisa Damour, 2016

Our young people may ‘dump’ their complaints on the adults in their lives, and in particular, their parents. Many of their challenges are universally well known: stress over their workload, friendship problems, physical changes, poor health, academic difficulties, boredom, missing home or lack of a true sense of self. For parents, it may be infinitely difficult to interpret the messages from a distance but they should not feel compelled to solve the problems presented.

Adolescence is well-recognised as a time characterised by change. Scientists now know that the brain undergoes rewiring until approximately 25 years of age. This brain re-modelling and changing levels of dopamine (a neurotransmitter) may result in mood swings and difficulties in regulating emotional responses. It can be challenging, as adults, to understand the lack of logical and appropriate decisions in our young people.

If you find yourself compelled into radical action after a…painful encounter with your daughter, I’ve got two words for you: do nothing. Though a teenager will experience her fight with a friend as a full-blown crisis, it’s our job as adults to remember that it’s not.

Untangled, Lisa Damour, 2016

We should be reminded that teenagers broadcast their interpretation of reality, which might not match the adult version of events. In Boarding, we endeavour to work with the girls to develop personal competencies that build capacity in each individual. We rely on evidence based research to inform this practice and facilitate opportunities for this personal growth. We acknowledge that this journey is one that is taken in partnership with our boarders and their families.

It is suggested that if we really want to help our girls build distress tolerance, we are encouraged to help them differentiate between complaining and venting. Most of what our teens are distressed about cannot actually be fixed. If we as the adults in their lives can encourage a little less complaining and a little more venting we can build in our young women the capacity to move away from the “childlike idea that the world should bend to her wishes to the adult idea that life comes with many unavoidable bumps.” (Damour, 2016).

As parents, during an evening phone call you may feel inundated by tales of your daughter’s bad day. If it becomes apparent that this negative interchange will continue indefinitely, research encourages us to acknowledge and validate the adolescent’s feelings and then articulate a desire to change the nature of the conversation and the manner in which it is occurring.

If you are interested in engaging further with the research that we have referenced, this article is an excellent starting point.


Ms Beth Nairn and Mrs Joanne Hallinan

Deans of Boarding


Image credit: Ben Barrett-Forrest/The Globe and Mail