Risk Factors of Cyberbullying Perpetration Among School-Aged Children Across 41 Countries: a Perspective of Routine Activity Theory | Stop Pesten NU


Risk Factors of Cyberbullying Perpetration Among School-Aged Children Across 41 Countries: a Perspective of Routine Activity Theory

Cyberbullying perpetration among school-aged children could have negative public health implications worldwide. The present study used a routine activity theory framework to conceptualize and investigate potential risk and protective factors for cyberbullying perpetration across countries and World Health Organization (WHO) regions. The study used a 2013–2014 cross-sectional sample of 214,808 school-aged children from 41 countries/WHO regions. The sample came from the Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey. Applying weighted least squares tegression, the study explored whether cyberbullying perpetration was associated with various routine activities across different cultures. Findings supported predictions suggested by the routine activity theory. Regression models found that family activities were a protective factor buffering the risk of cyberbullying perpetration among school-aged children. In addition, greater involvement with certain peer and solitary activities increased the likelihood of cyberbullying behaviors. The routine activity theory seems to be a viable theoretical framework for understanding risk and protective factors associated with cyberbullying perpetration among a large internationally representative sample. Across many countries, cyberbullying perpetration shares potential risk factors among school-aged children.


Cyberbullying involvement among school-aged children is a growing public health concern worldwide (Christian Elledge et al. 2013). The prevalence of cyberbullying behaviors is increasing dramatically as a consequence of the growing accessibility and utilization of electronic and mobile devices among school-aged children (Olweus 2012, 2013). According to a United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) cyberbullying report from 30 countries, 33% of school-aged children reported they have been bullied online, and almost 25% of school-aged children skipped school because of cyberbullying (UNICEF 2019). Cyberbullying behaviors among school-aged children included attempts to hurt, harass, insult, and attack to other children intentionally via social media platforms and technological devices in and outside of school. The present study aimed to (1) investigate risk factors associated with cyberbullying perpetration among school-aged children, and (2) examine whether the relationships between routine activities and cyberbullying perpetration are similar or different across cultures.

Literature Review

Routine Activity Theory

Routine activity theory (RAT) has been widely applied to investigate and explain deviant, delinquent, and criminal behaviors (Osgood et al. 1996; Vazsonyi et al. 2018; Vazsonyi et al. 2002). Emerging from human ecological theory, the RAT suggests that routine activities of daily life can influence delinquent of criminal opportunities and trends (Cohen and Felson 1979, 1980). The fundamental premise of the RAT is that daily routine activities have potential for increasing or decreasing deviant, delinquent, and/or criminal conduct (Choi et al. 2019a). The routine activity theory emphasizes the degree to which criminal behaviors are associated with activities that happen at home and at work, or in everyday experiences outside the home (Cohen and Felson 1979). Cohen and Felson (1979) contended that the changes in patterns of routine activities could affect crime rates because crime is influenced by opportunity. Moreover, these seminal authors clarify that any crime requires the combination of a motivated offender, a suitable target, and the absence of a capable guardian. Accordingly, the absence of any one factor may be sufficient to prevent the commission of a crime. That is, if one factor is removed, delinquent or criminal conduct could be mitigated (Cho et al. 2019). According to Cohen and Felson (1979), the absence of capable guardian is the most important factor among the aforementioned three factors, and it is the only factor associated with crime rates in a given area (Choi et al. 2019b). Although it has mostly been applied to understand crime, the RAT also has clear application to delinquent acts, including cyberbullying.

Correlates with Cyberbullying Perpetration

To date, a number of factors have been found to be associated with the perpetration of cyberbullying. Gender and age differences have been extensively explored as potential cyberbullying risk factors. Several studies have indicated that girls are more likely than boys to engage in cyberbullying (Cassidy et al. 2013; Kowalski and Limber 2013; Modecki et al. 2013; Rice et al. 2015; Surander et al. 2010; Vazsonyi et al. 2012). The association between age and cyberbullying behaviors is less clear. Aboujaoude et al. (2015) found that age was not associated with cyberbullying behaviors (Aboujaoude et al. 2015). Patchin and Hinduja (2011), however, found that older school-aged children had greater involvement in cyberbullying than did younger school-aged children (Patchin and Hinduja 2011). Having been bullied by others has been found to be a risk factor for cyberbullying perpetration among children (Twyman et al. 2010; Vazsonyi et al. 2012). Twyman et al. (2010) investigated the potential role of family and peer activities as protective factors and online activities as risk factors. Among US children age 11–17, they found that those who had been bullied by others were more likely to later perpetrate cyberbullying. Vazsonyi et al. (2012) investigated cyberbullying perpetration and victimization and low self-control among 25,142 children across 25 European countries. This study found a positive association between cyberbullying and offline bullying in both perpetration and victimization (Vazsonyi et al. 2012).

Daily usage of Internet-mediated communication tools (IMCT), social networking, and computers contribute to the occurrence of cyberbullying (Cho et al. 2019; Park et al., 2014; Ybarra and Mitchell 2004). Multiple recent studies have shown that school-aged children who frequently used IMCT were more likely to engage in cyberbullying perpetration than their counterparts (Álvarez-García et al. 2018; Kırcaburun et al. 2019; Lee and Shin 2017). A study of school-aged children in South Korea found that frequent users of the Internet and social networking sites (SNS) were more likely to engage in cyberbullying perpetration (Park et al., 2014). Cho et al. 2019 conducted an investigation of cyberbullying among a large nationally representative sample of African-American children in the USA. The study found a greater risk for peer conflicts among those who spent more time using social media, which could lead to cyberbullying perpetration (Cho et al. 2019). In the last 5 years, a growing body of literature has focused on the relationship between social media usage and cyberbullying perpetration among children (Brody and Vangelisti 2017; Kowalski et al. 2019; Park et al., 2014; Whittaker and Kowalski 2015).

A range of studies have addressed the influence of family members and peers on cyberbullying perpetration. Cho et al. (2019) found that paternal monitoring and peer unstructured activities were negatively associated with cyberbullying perpetration among African-American children (Cho et al. 2019). Zurcher et al. (2018) found that a warm and supportive parenting style reduced cyberbullying behaviors among 12- to 19-year-old adolescents (Zurcher et al. 2018). A review concluded that problematic parent-child relationships, family dynamics, and parenting styles predicted cyberbullying involvement, and that strong supportive parent-child relationships were a protective factor against cyberbullying perpetration among children (Cross et al. 2015). Peer attachment has been found to be negatively associated with online aggressive behaviors among children (Twyman et al. 2010), but peer approval has been identified as a risk factor (Sasson and Mesch 2014). However, very few studies have investigated how family and peer activities could influence cyberbullying perpetration among children.

Although cyberbullying has received substantial research attention in recent decades, most studies have focused on cyberbullying victimization rather than perpetration (e.g., Choi 2008; Choi and Lee 2017; Merrill and Hanson 2016; Näsi et al. 2017). Furthermore, the current research on cyberbullying perpetration among school-aged children lacks a focus on relevant theoretical frameworks (Xiao et al. 2016).

Routine Activities and Cyberbullying Perpetration Across Cultures

The routine activity theory has been used to investigate a wide range of aggressive, deviant, delinquent, and criminal behaviors on the Internet, such as cyber-dating abuse (Van Ouytsel et al. 2018), online identity theft (Williams 2016), cyber-interpersonal violence (Choi and Lee 2017), cybercrime (Kigerl 2012; Leukfeldt and Yar 2016), online sex crimes (Navarro and Jasinski 2015), and cyberbullying perpetration among college students (Xiao et al. 2016). A few studies have investigated the growing concern of cyberbullying perpetration in different cultures in the context of the routine activity theory. One previous study (Xiao et al. 2016) investigated the association between the routine activity theory and cyberbullying perpetration among 50 college students in Hong Kong. Findings revealed that aggressive disposition, attitudes toward the victim, and online disinhibition were associated with cyberbullying perpetration. Another previous study (Navarro and Jasinski 2015) used the routine activity theory to investigate cyberbullying with a nationally representative sample of US teenagers. The study found that routine activities that were categorized as suitability and availability, such as use of social networking and instant messaging, had the strongest associations with cyberbullying. Given the current state of knowledge, the present study is timely and fills a gap by investigating cyberbullying perpetration among school-aged children across cultures by applying the routine activity theory framework.

The Present Study

The purpose of the present study is to examine cyberbullying perpetration among school-aged children and to identify potential risk factors associated with cyberbullying perpetration across 41 countries/WHO regions in Europe and North America. The present study aims to extend understanding on cyberbullying perpetration by:

(1) Assessing the association between cyberbullying perpetration and routine activities with a large internationally representative sample of children;

(2) Examining potential risk and protective factors associated with cyberbullying perpetration in this sample; and

(3) Exploring how sociodemographic characteristics and a traditional bullying history relate to cyberbullying behaviors in this sample.



Cyberbullying perpetration is a common phenomenon and shares characteristics with aggressive behaviors among school-aged children across different countries and cultures. The present study applied a large-scale, internationally representative sample with representation from various cultural backgrounds and countries. The routine activity theory was demonstrated to be a sensible theoretical framework for conceptualizing the risk for cyberbullying perpetration among a large internationally representative sample. The present findings inform future research on cyberbullying perpetration. First, family activities, such as family dinner, had a buffering effect on cyberbullying perpetration. Second, social networking usage, daily computer usage, and video game playing might be harmful activities in the online environment. Third, female school-aged children were more likely to bully others online than their male counterparts. Fourth, school-aged children with a traditional bullying history were more likely to engage cyberbullying perpetration.

The findings also point to potential risk factors associated with cyberbullying perpetration, and thereby inform anti-bullying interventions targeting school-aged children. Reducing cyberbullying perpetration will require a multi-systemic process of collaborating with parents, schools, communities, and the entire society, and needs global cooperation. As the utilization of the Internet is an essential part of everyday life, it is crucial for future studies to understand and further investigate cyberbullying perpetration and its consequences among school-aged children.

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Source International Journal of Bullying Prevention (2020)


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