What Causes Teens to Become Cyber Bullies?

The teen years can be cruel. Nearly everyone has been a part of some form of bullying during his or her lifetime, be it on the giving or receiving end. Today, cyber bullying—electronic aggression committed through emails, text messaging, and social media—has become the newest form of adolescent hostility. Although it is not as prevalent as physical bullying, cyber bullying can be just as devastating. But what causes a teen to become a cyber bully? That was the question Sabina Low of Arizona State University’s School of Social and Family Dynamics sought to answer in a recent study.

Low explored how race, gender, and family environment influenced bullying behavior in a group of 1,023 young teens over the course of one year. The teens were assessed at three separate six-month intervals. Low evaluated factors including family conflict, drug and alcohol use, depression, parental supervision, hostility, and bullying behaviors.

The results revealed that the teens with the least amount of parental supervision engaged in the most cyber bullying. One factor that increased the bullying behavior for white females was drug and alcohol use, although this did not increase the risk for other groups. Family conflict also increased the likelihood of bullying perpetration among the participants. Bullying behavior was higher among white male teens with high levels of hostility and African-American males with depression. When Low looked at all the data, she found that overall, cyber bullying was higher among African-Americans than among white teens. Low believes that African-American teens may have fewer protective factors, such as family cohesion and parental supervision, and more risk factors, such as drug and alcohol use and family conflict, that could put them at increased risk for bullying behaviors.

Low hopes that future research will more closely examine the unique roles of hostility and depression as risk factors for aggressive behavior. Also, future work should focus on smaller sample sizes so that additional protective and risk factors can be analyzed. With regard to clinical implications, these results suggest that interventions and programs look more closely at unique relationships between emotional processing and behavior. “More specifically, gender and race/ethnicity should be directly discussed as being influential in the ways in which students respond to their own emotions and how they manage bullying experiences,” Low said.

Low, S., Espelage, D. (2012). Differentiating cyber bullying perpetration from non-physical bullying: Commonalities across race, individual, and family predictors. Psychology of Violence. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0030308

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  • Dr. Susannah

    Dr. Susannah

    October 25th, 2012 at 11:05 PM

    “Lack of parental supervision” is a common factor in a number of child/adolescent psychosocial and behavioural issues. Today’s families appear to be much less connected interpersonally but much more connected digitally (as individuals) than in previous generations. The trend toward children “raising themselves” in a virtual world seems to be engendering measurably higher levels of chronic anxiety, and producing relational behaviours consistent with poor attachment along with astounding degrees of emotional immaturity/instability.
    I’ll be interested to read more of Low’s study results.

  • Sandra


    October 26th, 2012 at 3:55 AM

    The availability of resources to engage in cyber bullying has really pushed these numbers up over the past few years. Kids have available to them computers and phones and internet and this gives them the chance to bully kids from afar when once they may not have had the courage to do this to their faces. Today’s world makes access to this so easy. I think that many times it is not that the kids actually want to do this, but it seems harmless to them because it feels as if it is not real because of the fact that online accessibility doesnot make it feel real to them.

  • Elisa


    October 26th, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    I am yet to see even one decent person who bullies someone.Most often it is the ones who have other issues and try and act important or powerful by making others victims of their bullying.It is only a form of coping with their own problems and failures IMO.

  • ally


    October 26th, 2012 at 11:14 AM

    Have you see the things that our children are exposed to that lead to this abhorrent behavior? Everywhere you turn there is sex and violence, and all of it being done with little regard for how this affects our kids or how it causes them to become so uncaring and numb to the pain that it could cause another person. This is the reason why our kids are acting out, because they are always shown the bad side of human nature and encouraged to use and exploit that, rarely the good.

  • Stanley


    October 26th, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    society. . . family. . . peers. . . schools. . . teachers. . . friends. . . the possibilities are endless

  • raphael


    October 26th, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    those that feel powerless try and bully in order to feel powerful.these are the people that have nothing going right and the only pleasure for them is to cause pain or harm to others.bullies could even become crazy people who can go on to physically harm other people and they really need to be made aware of what they are doing and measures taken to prevent more people from turning into these unseen monsters online.

  • Crystal


    October 27th, 2012 at 6:47 AM

    I have to say that I am surprised that the numbers of cyber bullies are higher among African Americans than whites.

    All of the stories that you ever see publicized are white kids, so I guess I naturally presumed that this was something that was happening far more often with this group of kids.

  • Martin


    October 27th, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    Teens have enough issues of their own growing up.If parental involvement is absent at such a stage the former can fall into harmful coping tactics like bullying.

    They do not intent to become a bully but the factors around them make them one.So if those can be prevented or reversed I don’t see why these bullies can turn into something completely different.

  • ashlyn w

    ashlyn w

    October 27th, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    ever known someone in real life that has bullied others online?I do.and from my observances what I can tell you is that the person is someone who is a frustrated individual first of all.he kind of enjoys arguments but is also afraid to provoke people because he could be hurt.

    the online world has given him an outlet I guess.he can stay away from the person even if they know his identity unless they come looking,or he can remain anonymous and enjoy his bullying others!its sick I know but he enjoys it.

  • Isabelle kelly

    Isabelle kelly

    October 28th, 2012 at 5:04 AM

    from my point of view it really does not matter whether you are buyyling online or face to face.\
    no matter which medium you use to torment another individual it is wrong, plain and simple/
    someone is getting hurt and someone is experiencing power and control in a way that is harming another/
    why is that any worse or less so just because of the way that you choose to inflict that damage?

  • vernon


    October 28th, 2012 at 5:30 AM

    some people are just sadist,they derive pleasure from hurting others and know not how it feels to be at the receiving end.having encountered such people in the past I can tell you its not always about family or background or any other problems that make them like this.

    although there are such cases,many of them just want to be bullies,to be tormentors,to stomp upon other people.and just like any evil mind that uses something good to cause destruction they have taken their bullying onto a medium that has been so beneficial-the internet.the online bullies will continue the legacy that was started by their offline peers.and you know what?it isnt going to stop,mainly because we view all of them as victims themselves when they want to increase their own ‘victim count’.

  • EP


    October 28th, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    Being a bully is not a crime because most of the bullies do not intend to cause harm to others.They just become the way they are.Scientific studies have found that bullies need to be treated as victims of issues and not tormentors that they are often made out to be.They have a problem and this is their way of coping.I’m not saying its the right way but the right approach has far greater chances of getting them back on track rather than sidelining them and possibly creating people filled with hate.

  • Simon


    October 28th, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    I have to admit I was a bit of a bully myself.I didn’t do too much but was popular in school and did a little but if bullying.nothing brutal though.

    And the reason I did that was because friends would usually cheer for you and would consider you important if you did.It was merely a way to climb up the popularity charts quickly. Bullying was and still is seen as being cool when in fact it isnt. If and when this realization does occur then bullying will recede from schools automatically.

  • Lacey t

    Lacey t

    October 29th, 2012 at 4:16 AM

    Have to figure out the root cause because just looking at the bully doesn’t solve the underlying issues that he carries.

    The bully gets the courage to act out this kind of behvior from someone. That’s what we have to figure out. But it’s a lot to try to change this behavior in an adult who has been acting out this way for years.

  • Michelle


    October 29th, 2012 at 7:40 AM

    One quick clarification. You state that cyberbullying is not as prevalent as physical bullying, but the statistics say that only 20% of students report being physically bullied, while over 50% of students report being cyber bullied. FYI.

  • gareth


    October 29th, 2012 at 1:56 PM

    people who trample upon others for their own popularity points give some people have long term psychological effects and some kids even start being afraid of going to school.

  • Abdel


    October 29th, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    It’s society, man, plain and simple.
    Look at the access to violence and corruption that kids see on a day to day basis.
    This is what they come to see as the norm, and they get involved with it in a way that they know that they can.
    Most of the time this is acted out when they act out against one another, and for many this means becoming bullies and exerting some kind of perceived poweer over others.

  • Carl


    October 29th, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    I don’t think cyber bullying should be consider or measured on the same yardstick as regular bullying.This is because in real world bullying the factors mentioned are true.But for cyber bullying the factors may or may not be present.The individual could just be a sadist,someone who is jealous,or someone who gains a sense of being powerful by tormenting people from behind the protection and anonymity that the Internet provides.

  • penelope


    October 30th, 2012 at 4:40 AM

    get out and make some friends.when you know what it is to share happiness and sadness alike then you will not be left with the intent to hurt or harm anybody.if you have been through a difficult time you wouldn’t think of doing the same to another.put yourself in the shoes of the person you are troubling and realize how it feels.bullying is not cool and it just says how much of a sadist you are.

  • Liam


    October 30th, 2012 at 3:28 PM

    I really sadly think that bullying and the whole topic has kind of seen its day in the sun. I think that pretty soon people will grow tired of talking about it and there will be this backlash against the children who are having to face this. That makes me kind of sad but at the same time it is one of those national concersations that will continue to wane because I think that deep inside many of us still feel like this is a rite of passgage that every young person has had to endure at one time or another and that there is nothing that can really stop it. Kids are all going to be bullies and try to hold something over others. I just don’t see that there is really any way to curb that kind of instinctual behavior that many of them exhibit.

  • Mark Miller

    Mark Miller

    November 1st, 2012 at 11:49 PM

    Those are nice observations. I believe that monitoring everything kids do on the web is the key. That is the only way to know if your child is a bully or a victim himself. I watch who my son is talking to on Facebook using an app called Qustodio that allows me to view the profile pictures of accounts that he engages with. Just Google for Qustodio for more info.

  • Moe Lester

    Moe Lester

    May 23rd, 2013 at 12:11 PM

    dis iz not gud 4 d society mah peeps, erybody gudda step up and do sumtin bout dis, kno what im sayin here eryone?

  • Gladwin


    November 21st, 2013 at 10:52 PM

    why bullies bully? What kind of attitude a bully posses?

  • Hello


    February 12th, 2014 at 4:25 PM

    Cyber bullying doesn’t rlly matter. It’s part of growing up. They have to deal with it.



    May 14th, 2014 at 4:30 AM

    because white people have it as a norm to oppress, dehumanize, and slander, defamate others characters live on injustices and are crooks governing non white lands. truth is white people are the only race which exploit and bring racism to all other races. whites invented classism,colonialism,fascism,imperialism,sexism and also jim crows law ira kkk and have the highest divorce rates of infidelity non monogamy and alimony golddigging. white people re the problem and will always be in denial and also quit misappropriating other races cultures and marketing off it that is sheer mockery.

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