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School children in a lecture hall at Potsdam University
School children visit Potsdam UniversityImage: dpa Zentralbild

German Childhood

DW staff (jp)
October 1, 2007

Children in Germany say life is all work and no play, according to the "Children's Barometer" -- one of the country's most comprehensive studies into childhood.


Stress, performance anxiety and frequent headaches -- problems all too familiar to high-achieving executives but not generally associated with the under-14s.

But the latest survey among 9-14 year olds in Germany sponsored by the LBS building society reveals that childhood in Germany is fraught with the same fear of failure and psychosomatic illness that probably keeps the likes of Donald Trump awake at night.

Comprehensive survey

The report questioned over 6000 children in seven States on how they felt about family, school, politics and current affairs, asking them about their self-image, hopes and fears, pocket money, Internet use, TV consumption and eating habits.

Preying most on kids' minds is school. One third of those questioned said they were scared not just of bad grades, but also of being laughed at by their peers and their teachers. Over 50 percent admitted they felt stressed at school, saying they had been insulted, harassed or publicly humiliated in the week the survey was carried out, with one in five revealing the aggressor was a teacher.

Academically, children felt particularly under pressure in Bavaria and Saxony, two States which regularly top the polls in national student assessment ratings.

Tired and emotional

Two children sit in front of a television
Too much TV doesn't make for happy kidsImage: dpa

As a result, many children internalize their worries. One third of those polled said they suffered from frequent headaches and stomach aches.

"These are classic symptoms of stress and pressure," said German Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen, who presented the report in Berlin Wednesday.

Adding to physical ill-health is bad diet. One in three children admitted they didn't always eat breakfast, with the same number admitting to eating candy on a regular basis. One in five confessed they never or rarely eat vegetables, while one third wouldn't touch wholemeal bread. One on five children feels overweight, one in ten too thin. One in five children also said they seldom ate with their parents, while further results showed that these kids were more likely to feel ill often.

The children of unemployed parents are more likely to eat fast food, and these kids are correspondingly more inclined to suffer from illness and stress. And although two thirds of 9-14s belong to sports' clubs, the majority exercises just once a week.

"When we've reached a point where TV and fast food have replaced shared mealtimes and exercise, then we need to act," said von der Leyen. "Exercise once a week is not enough" she added.

Respecting boundaries

A woman cooking at a stove
Family meals help kids stay healthyImage: picture-alliance/ ZB

But it might prove difficult getting kids to sit down and eat dinner with their parents when most of those questioned said they want more privacy.

Von der Leyen said mothers should avoid snooping in their kids' diaries, and fathers should make a point of knocking on the bedroom door before entering.

She also pointed out that children said they wanted more freedom of opinion and more leisure time, with 20 percent of those asked saying they hankered for more relaxation and play.

"We adults frequently make the mistake of underestimating our children," she said. "They can do more than we think, they're more aware than we realize and they're interested in more issues than we can imagine."

"Children need to be allowed to slow down and be given space to develop," said von der Leyen.

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