Violence among the young:a growing problem in Czech society

The news that two twelve year old girls attempted to commit suicide late last year because of class bullying sent shockwaves across the country and once again highlighted a growing problem in Czech society: violence among the young. We look at the roots of the problem and what can be done about it.

Violence in and outside the classroom has become a major problem for most Czech schools. Eight thousand children are injured every year in school fights and the injuries are increasingly serious. What were once childish skirmishes now require medical treatment and headmasters often have to call in the police. There's no lack of evidence because the kids often record the violence on their mobile phones - and even put it on the Web. The situation in the north Bohemian town of Usti nad Labem is now so serious that the police are involved on a daily basis. Jan Novotny, deputy head of the Usti police says the situation has necessitated special measures.

"We have increased the number of police officers patrolling selected schools in order to prevent physical attacks and bullying."

The police are also putting up special letter-boxes in schools where children can anonymously report incidents of bullying and violence. A recent poll conducted among primary school children suggests that 48 percent of children have either been bullied or witnessed a bullying incident. Only one in two report it to the teacher. Jaroslava Melasova is a seventh grade teacher in Usti:

"Yes, we do have a problem with bullying. We had to merge two seventh grade classes recently and things got much worse because there is not one troublemaker in class - there are five of them."

So what's to be done about the problem? Parents blame schools for failing to control their children and teachers blame parents for not bringing them up properly. Very often you hear the opinion that today's generation is more aggressive and the growing violence is ascribed to the world we live in - something that we can't do anything about. Child therapist Dr. Vrtbovska says this is a big mistake. Today's children are no more aggressive than those born 100 years ago.

"Aggression is a natural part of our being. There are two basic forces inside of us - aggression, the ability to destroy, the ability to fight and the other is the ability to create, to give. These are basic powers that every being has got otherwise we wouldn't be able to survive. So we shouldn't be thinking "Godness, these children are aggressive, what's happened to them? They shouldn't be aggressive by nature." Aggression is normal but at the same time the aggression in us needs to be kept within boundaries, within limits so that it does not destroy us and does not destroy others - and that is a task for parents. So if children are aggressive towards each other or towards weak members of society - it simply shows that their aggression was not kept in check by their parents. They do not know what to do with it. You know puberty is a very chaotic time for children they have all these uncertainties and hormones and sexual drives and it can get very chaotic so they need to have quite strong guidance and a strong understanding of what is happening with them to be able to limit themselves and that is sometimes missing. And when there are no limits on behaviour things tend to get worse and worse. So if the child tries doing something aggressive at school and nothing happens then the next step will be something worse - first it is bullying, then fights, then torturing someone, then it is filming it - because they don't have any boundaries. They will go on and on and on. And some kids go so far because they are actually waiting for somebody to stop them. They can't stop themselves -so they need a wall. But the ultimate wall is the police and prison. "

Very many people -including some child psychologists feel that the growing violence among teenagers is fuelled by violence in movies and aggressive computer games. The fact that some problem youngsters admit they had been inspired by a movie or computer game appears to support this theory. Dr. Vrtbovska believes that such movies cannot harm a well-balanced child though they can lead problem-children into big trouble.

"I think that this influence is rather overestimated. Let us look at two different cases. First - a child who has good parenting -his or her needs are being well fulfilled so that the child feels secure, has got a lot of interaction with his or her parents, has got "limits" and support. The psycho-neurological structures in his or her brain will have developed in a genetically, organically, biologically, psychologically healthy way. Such a child is so well established here on Earth among people, that it perceives these games merely as a form of entertainment - or even a channel for aggression but this child would never mix up a real world with a fantasy world.

However if you have another child who is missing a lot, the parents might not be there, he or she is often alone, doesn't know how to deal with his or her own drives, sexual drives, aggression, thoughts and has no one with whom to talk about it then he or she will look elsewhere to get their needs fulfilled. That's certain. And then a film about soldiers from Mars might be very appealing because the child thinks "Well my parents don't like me, the kids in school don't like me. Where do I belong? It looks great on Mars and these strong soldiers - they would protect me" And that child starts getting his or her needs fulfilled by this fantasy world. And that's really serious."

So what's to be done if parents feel they may have gone wrong somewhere along the line? Dr. Vrtbovska again:

"I think that first of all they should sit down together - father and mother, mother and partner, father and partner - whoever is around the child - and spend some time thinking about the behaviour of these children. What happened? What happened before the child committed something really bad? So that it gives them a picture of how the child behaves and how much they know about what is going on with the child. If it is something really serious I would recommend that they see a specialist, who would be able to explain it and help them to change certain aspects of the way they are bringing up their child or children. And they will get support. You know sometimes grown-ups need support in order to be able to deal with their kids' problematic behaviour. That's perfectly normal."

Once a parent decides to seek help the chances of success are allegedly well over 90 percent. Dr. Vrtbovska says that a young mind is still pliant enough to be influenced and to accept the boundaries which the child has subconsciously sought. On the other hand ignoring the problem sends the child further down the path of self-destruction and it is almost certain that he or she will have problems being a good parent.