Friday, October 22, 2010

Mobbing also exists in Swiss schools

Teenage girls are notoriously ruthless when bullying.
Image courtesy of Ambro/
"Mobbing" has been on my mind lately. What's "mobbing" you may ask? I, too, was confused by the word when I first heard it after moving to Switzerland. Until that point, I had only associated "mob" with a hostile crowd or with the mafia. Since then, I've learned that the word "mobbing" is used in Europe to describe all forms of bullying, including that done by individuals.

The following behaviors fit under the "mobbing" category:

  • ignoring someone, not talking with that person and shutting that person out of activities (psychological mobbing)

  •  calling someone names, making fun of or threatening someone (verbal mobbing)
  • to hurt someone, i.e. hitting, tripping, pinching, pressing against the wall (physical mobbing)
  • to hold someone against their will, i.e. to lock them up, to hold them underwater, etc.
  • to dirty, damage or destroy someone's property
  • to send harassing emails, text messages (SMS) or to bully someone on the internet (E-mobbing)
Everyone has experienced "mobbing" to a certain extent. I was mobbed in the fifth grade after our family's move from Monaco to Newport, RI. I could barely speak English, and when I did, I had a French accent. I wore dresses and patent leather sandals, while other kids wore jeans and running shoes. During the first half year, I walked around with a strange bent-over posture. The reason for my monkey-like stance was that I was afraid of ripping apart scars caused by multiple appendicitis and adhesion operations that had left my abdomen a battleground. Never mind that I had nearly died during a seven-week stay in a Swiss hospital. I was laughed at and ignored. And this was in private school.

A few years ago, my daughter also suffered under the effects of "mobbing." She lacked friends. No one picked her to be in their group during gym class. The children pulled her hair, called her names, tripped her, threw her snack in the garbage, stomped on her jacket with dirty shoes, etc. She was bullied, because she was 'different'.

Being the only half-foreigner in a Swiss alpine school, she couldn't speak either German or Swiss German properly. Unlike the others in her class, she didn't have to muck out cow stalls each evening, nor was she required to babysit her toddler-age siblings. Furthermore, she could speak English; pursued after-school activities, such as karate, ballet, ski club, piano, and horseback riding; and she had already traveled by airplane, flying to the USA to visit family every summer.

Things were made worse when she showed symptoms of Attention Deficiency Disorder (ADD). As a result of the bullying, she would cramp up, unable to think or speak properly, and look out the window, shutting herself into a private world. The line between reality and fantasy no longer existed. Looking back, I too as a child had developed a similar defense mechanism. She became depressed, had sleep problems, had stress headaches and stomach aches, increased allergic reactions, and she didn't want to go to school.

After years of therapy, a short stint on Ritalin, and chats with other parents, I am happy to report that things have improved dramatically. Now, my daughter has friends and is better able to concentrate in school. She has not only learned German and Swiss German, she is better able to concentrate and live "in the present."

It was largely thanks to my communications with other parents and the involvement of older, courageous, and enlightened students that things improved. Her teacher wasn't much help. She only reacted when it looked as though my daughter might fail her grade. She pushed for Ritalin use. This teacher didn't believe in my daughter nor in her intelligence, an opinion which she expressed to me more than once. She also didn't want to see what was going on in her classroom. Some older students, who happen to be distant cousins, told me how they had witnessed the teacher simply ignore the bullying; they also said they believed the teacher's constant open criticism of my daughter contributed to the mobbing. Luckily, my daughter now has a new teacher who is supportive and positive, and who believes in her.

Two evenings ago, an expert gave a talk on supporting and strengthening children in our community.  We were roughly 20 parents, and we concluded that mobbing does, in fact, exist in our little school. Many parents said they didn't think mobbing was a big problem. They said that mobbing had been around for ages, and that it was normal, creating a "pecking order" among students. They even said that victims were to blame for their treatment. These statements left me disappointed at the apparent intolerance and ignorance in our school.

Mobbing can go too far. Today, I learned that a 12-year-old boy, who has bullied my daughter on occasion, has also been the victim of mobbing at school. Recently, he threatened suicide telling his parents: "When I'm gone, you won't have to worry about me any more." When I first heard about his treatment, I had thoughts that were similar to those opinions expressed the other night. He deserves it after being so abusive to my child, I thought with a little Schadenfreude. That kid has brought it upon himself for by being so mean. My daughter was mobbed for being different, not for being mean. However, after a day of mulling over this problem, I think that mobbing shouldn't be tolerated for any reason.

Luckily, his parents are taking action and calling other parents, asking them to get their children to stop the bullying behavior. The other night, we learned that the only way to stop mobbing is to get large groups of children to mobilize against it.

Have you or your children experienced mobbing? And if so, where?


  1. Dear Diana,

    I stumbled over your post at 2:40am while I couldn’t sleep and browse to look for solutions and answers.
    My older son was bullied , because he is different, and he is too good, too smart. So they isolated him. Same difference that your daughter had been through.
    Now my little son is about to go to the same primary school, the problem passed on to him just because we live in the small community of notorious “Berner overland” that is not far away from your place.
    Reading your posts made me smile, I had the exact experience and thought about whether we should move away to the city, to New York, even back to Massachusetts. Then we will be runners and refugees of school bullying, it doesn’t sound right, right?
    But what troubles me most is not the children here, after all, children are just behaving of what they do or say at home. I am deeply saddened by the ignorance from communities including school and parents. Because when my Swiss husband showed up in front of bullies’ door steps, their mothers said: last die Kinder Kinder sein. Duh!

  2. Dear Kathy,
    I am so sorry you and your children have to go through this. The response from the bullies' mothers is typical. They don't want to admit to the damage that bullying can cause.

    What has worked for me is finding mothers who are willing to listen and to tell them about your son's pain. Describe how sad he is and how isolated he feels. Talk to the headmaster. Don't stay silent! See if you can get one or two mothers to understand your son's situation. See if you can get the teacher to start an anti-bullying campaign: "doing the right thing is going against the flow."

    Ironically, since I made the decision to transfer my daughter to the local international school this past winter, an apology letter from the biggest bully arrived and the kids have been so NICE to her. I suspect the neighborhood doesn't want to lose children in its little school, as it is on the verge of closing, and the Swiss kids will be forced to go to a larger school where there are more foreigners. They say there is more bullying there, but I suspect the local Swiss kids are the targets there.

  3. Hi, Diana

    Thank you so much for the response.
    Indeed, we did write letters to the headmaster and class teacher, they took the matter in control within the school yard, but what about in the neighborhood, after school activities? You probably also noticed, this is a closed society, neighbors are marrying into each other; parents are already kindergarten pals themselves. We , as adults , are outsiders, nevertheless our children. And they firmly want you to know that !What you wrote about mobbing in school actually reflexes the mentality in general here, including the political Champaign, what’s that a sort of “hate crime Champaign”? It is against law in another country! Little people are simply doing what big people are doing.

    I had the same initiative to move here: nature, knowing their roots, of course financial stability. But sometimes I wonder how much I have to pay for all that? Thank god, my husband is with me. Being a Swiss living abroad for a while, he is realizing we have to fight it, for us , for our boys. Chin up and cheer up!
    P.S. Love your writing and posts, wish I know your blogger earlier.
    Have a great week !

  4. You're right. When kindergarteners call other children "Sch*&ss Auslander," you know they are hearing that at home. Children don't make those words up.

    This year, my daughter was scared to go to school because an older (very disturbed) girl in her class threatened to hurt her after school. I was wondering why she was leaving school extra early and sprinting all the way home! She was terrified! I called her mother who was very defensive at first, but the call helped. She poke to her daughter and the threats ended.

    I think if you show strength and confront other parents, things will improve. And it's great you have a Swiss husband to support you. I think dual citizens have it harder because they can't be classified easily: they are not 100% Swiss and not 100% foreigners. So what are they? They are both, and that can lead to jealousy, especially if your kids speak English. Kids in my neighborhood resent having to take English classes.
    Thanks for your compliments! Have a great week too!