Bullying takes on epidemic proportions in German schools
By Ernest Gill Jul 7, 2005, 5:57 GMT
Hamburg - Bullying has taken on epidemic proportions in public schools across Germany, according to an alarming new survey that is backed up with first-hand accounts.
A representative survey of 1,200 secondary school students showed 41 per cent claim they have been the targets of bullying in the past semester. Verbal taunts and intimidation are most common, of course. But there are worrying reports of increasing violence of a sort unheard of only a few years ago.
In staid East Germany, school discipline was strict. And in West Germany, the "gymnasium" as the pre-college secondary school is called, was an elite place where dignity reigned, though some say that image was overstated.
Whether those clichés were entirely true or not, shaky video camera footage of kids being kicked and beaten have shocked post- unification Germany.
The advent of video cell phones has made the issue more current than ever. Bullies proudly post the video evidence of their attacks on the Internet, humiliating their victims even further.
RTL Television recently devoted a news special report to the "crisis on our campuses" that included graphic images and interviews with victims.
One 16-year-old girl tearfully related how verbal taunts escalated over the course of a semester to physical assaults, culminating with a harrowing episode involving her being suspended from an upper-story window.
"They grabbed me by the legs and lowered me out the window and just laughed while they jiggled me there by my ankles as I cried and screamed," she told RTL. "I thought I was going to die."
That was all because "they said I was a fat, stupid cow and deserved it", she sobbed.
Like a growing number of bullying victims, she required psychiatric counselling.
"In some cases we are having to admit pupils for in-house psychiatric care, not just out-patient counselling," according to Dr. Leonhard Thun-Hohenstein, head of child psychiatry at the Christian Doppler Hospital on the border between Germany and Austria.
"We handle up to a dozen young people a year on an in-patient basis, which is extraordinary in itself," he added in an interview with Salzburger Fenster newspaper.
"These are children and young adults suffering from acute depression and in some cases suicidal tendencies," he said. "They just can't face going back to school."
So widespread is the phenomenon that the German language has borrowed the English "mobbing" to describe this new epidemic of bullying - there having been no adequate word for school bullying in the German language.
"Mobbing truly has taken on epidemic proportions in just the past decade or so," said Thun-Hohenstein.
"It ranges from persistent teasing and taunting about a kid's appearance all the way to actual physical attacks involving gangs of bullies waiting for a pupil on the way home from school and then ambushing him or her," he said.
"This kind of thing was unheard of only a few years ago and was only ever seen in American movies," he went on. "But now the threshold of violence has dropped so much that actual physical violence is quite common here in German schoolyards as well."
The phenomenon has baffled educators.
"We're not talking about kids rough-housing between classes. That sort of behaviour is a normal part of growing up," notes Ewald Moser, a school psychiatrist."
"But this new style of mobbing involves isolating one pupil in the class and subjecting that pupil to constant harassment up to and including physical abuse," Moser said.© dpa - Deutsche Presse-Agentur