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     Volume 8 Issue 62 | March 20, 2009 |

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Straight Talk

Teenage Angst
Take it More Seriously

Nadia Kabir Barb

I just saw a picture of Tim Kretschmer and from the photograph he looks like your average kid next door. However, this seventeen year old was flung into the media spot light when he went on a rampage at his former secondary school Albertville in Stuttgart Germany, and shot dead 15 people and then took his own life. I suppose it was foolish of me but no matter how hard I looked at the photograph of this boy I could not find anything in his face or his eyes to indicate the turmoil that must have been raging through him to carry out an act of such barbarity. Maybe it was because it was a picture taken a couple of years ago I told myself --- maybe it was because his eyes were hidden by his spectacles...Maybe I was just not looking properly.

Prior to the bloodbath, Tim also sent a message to a chat room friend describing his feelings and declaring his intentions, which at the time his friend thought to be a joke. Sadly, it was only when he heard about the massacre at the Albertville School that his friend notified his parents who in turn called the police."Bernd, I've had it, I'm sick of this life it's always the same old stuff. Everyone laughs at me, nobody recognises my potential. I'm serious Bernd - I have a weapon here. Early tomorrow morning, I will go to my former school and really toast them. Maybe I'll go too. Keep your ears open, Bernd, you will hear from me tomorrow, remember the name of a place called Winnenden. No reports to the police now, don't worry. I'm just baiting you". With hindsight it seems so obvious that the author of this message must have been very disturbed and in great distress.

To be honest, it is tragic that nobody even realised that Tim Kretschmer was suffering from such feelings of intense anger and rejection. It appears that the teenager may have been uncomfortable with women as some reports suggest that he had a phobia about women after being continually called a failure by a female teacher whom he ended up despising as she had allegedly told him that he would "end up as a dustman" if his performance at school did not improve. He was also said to have been rejected by a girl who he liked. According to the papers, eight out of Kretschmer's fifteen victims were teenage girls between the ages of 14-16. However, officials dealing with the shootings declined to confirm this theory suggesting instead the gender imbalance could have been due to positioning in the classroom.

Being the parent of two teenagers, this just makes me feel sick to the stomach. Little did these poor children know of the horrific fate awaiting them that day and I can hardly bring myself to think about the sense of anguish and pain the parents must be going through. It is just too close to the bone for me. In a world where parents have to deal with teenage drinking, drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, this type of school massacre which seems to be on the rise is yet another horror that we now need to be aware of. I wonder why it is that despite the fact that Tim was said to have suffered from fits of depression, be reclusive, have few friends and had also visited a psychiatric clinic at least five times to receive treatment, nothing had been done to try and resolve the issues that were causing his unhappiness.

Why is that these days so many teenagers find themselves disaffected and alienated? Who is to blame? Their families? Society and the conventions the youth of today find themselves having to conform to? The inability to integrate with their peers or is it because they find themselves the victims of ridicule and humiliation by others? Not being a psychologist, I have no answer to these questions but as a parent desperately want to find out.

I think what is important for us to remember here is that although Tim Kerscher's actions may be an extreme example of teenage angst, there are countless other adolescents and young people who suffer in silence. But this does not make it any less significant. We have seen how children can be unbelievably cruel to their contemporaries, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unaware of the impact their actions have on the person they are directed at. There seems to be such importance given to appearances these days whether it is the way you look or the way you dress, where someone who does not conform to the norms is regarded as “weird” or termed a “freak”.

In many cases the lack of self worth and a low self esteem can result in teenagers living an almost virtual existence where all their interactions take place over the internet or where they are immersed in countless computer games. They turn to the cyber world where they feel they are in control unlike the situations they find themselves in the real world. Other youngsters turn to drugs as a form of escapism. What worries me is that instead of trying to delve into the psyche of these children and recognising the underlying causes attributing to their anxiety, anger or misdemeanours, we are quick to judge and condemn.

We read about the Tim Kertschers of the world and shake our heads in disapproval and feel a pang of sympathy for the victims of the massacre and their families. But what is becoming more and more apparent is that these random acts of violence are not restricted to a certain country or a particular demographic. These days where we are constantly hearing of families becoming dysfunctional and parents being unable to relate to or communicate with their children, it is even more imperative that we take the time to understand them and see beyond their faults and shortcomings. What we cannot do is ignore telltale signs of alienation and unhappiness by writing them off as irrational teenage behaviour. Above all what we cannot do is give up on our children.

Copyright (R) thedailystar.net 2009