An international research project led by Professor Sheryl Hemphill of Australian Catholic University (ACU) has found that the factors leading to incidents of cyber-bullying are different to those which result in traditional bullying.


Of the 927 students surveyed in Victoria, approximately 15 per cent had been engaged in cyber-bulling and 21 per cent in traditional bullying. Seven per cent had been involved in both.


Professor Hemphill found that academic failure, family conflict and past bullying behaviour were the main factors leading to episodes of traditional bullying.


Of these, only past behaviour, in the form of relational aggression, was a factor leading to incidents of cyber-bullying.


Relational aggression refers to covert forms of bullying such as exclusion and spreading rumours.

“Advances in technology can provide young people with positive ways to communicate but can also bring about new risks,” Professor Hemphill said.


Drawing on data from the International Youth Development Study – a longitudinal study of students in Australia and the United States which began in 2002 – the research examined individual, peer, family and school risk factors for both cyber and traditional bullying in adolescents.


“At this stage, the best advice we can give to schools is for them to use evidence-based bullying prevention programs and ensure that they target cyber-bullying within these. Further research on influential factors may suggest other approaches in the future.”


“For traditional bullying, addressing difficulties at home and providing academic support also helps improve the behaviour of perpetrators.


Cyber-bullying is still a relatively new concept, with very few longitudinal studies to fall back on. Professor Hemphill said much further research is needed before we can fully understand the influential factors as well as its impacts.


“Cyber-space is a relatively new environment. We need to take a similar approach to anywhere young people go – teach them the skills they need to keep themselves safe in that environment and know how to find assistance if they need it. We need to develop clear strategies young people can use in cyber-space so that they experience the benefits but avoid the risks of the cyber environment.”


“Further research into and knowledge of the factors which lead to cyber-bulling will help inform anti-bullying strategies and educational policies which will, in turn, reduce bullying incidents in schools.”