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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