December 9, 2023

Adolescence is the transition period from childhood to adulthood that includes some major changes. It refers to a complex biopsychosocial maturing process involving variables that operate independently from one another: these include biological variables (physiological changes as puberty occurs and the brain matures), psychological variables and social variables [1]. In other words, adolescence may be defined as the process by which individuals attain autonomy, responsibility and psychological and social adulthood [2]. Adolescents may face difficulties at the individual, social/community, school, peer group and family level as they mature [3, 4]. Adolescent risk behaviours are common and are associated with the experimentation inherent to this life stage, which is a highly complex period [5, 6]. Although the social alarm that is regularly aroused by these risk behaviours is often irrelevant as they disappear as quickly as they emerged [7], we believe it is important to explore the interaction between three behaviours that are becoming more and more prevalent: antisocial behaviour, bullying [8] and abuse of different kinds of technology [9,10,11,12].

More specifically, our interest lies in studying the relationship between abusive use of the internet [13] and social media and involvement in antisocial behaviour and bullying on the premise that the levels of violence observed in the online world reinforce aggressive, violent behaviour in the real world [14]. Scholars such as Andrews [15] show the existence of profiles based on social indicators that are directly linked to young people’s positioning in the online world, which is vital in understanding patterns of interaction and behaviour among young people.

Bullying at school and involvement in violent or antisocial behaviours are considered adolescent risk behaviours. Involvement in these behaviours may be caused by multiple risk factors associated with the adolescent themselves and the microsystems surrounding them [5]. In this article, we explore involvement in social media (internet) and video games, their effect on adolescents’ behaviour and the association between violent behaviour and (ab)use of the internet.

Problems associated with abusive internet use and prioritisation of the digital world by adolescents are on the rise, with many adopting a new lifestyle centred around the internet [13] as they find it increasingly difficult to separate the online and offline worlds [16]. It is important to study this emerging issue, which is made all the more complex by its association with other adolescent risk behaviours.

Research in this area should take an educational approach and include all stakeholders to ensure that a holistic, comprehensive response to the problem can be developed. We will now describe the behaviours that will be analysed in this study in greater detail.

Adolescent risk behaviours

Abusive use of technology

The use of new technology (ICT) has risen exponentially throughout the last decade in particular. Technologies designed for communication and obtaining information, such as the internet and mobile phones, have become especially popular [17, 18]. Due to their multiple benefits and advantages, these technologies have become an integral part of our everyday lives. These days, people use technology to communicate, socialise, look for a partner, express their feelings or buy products and services.

ICT helps to fulfil adolescents’ needs for autonomy, contributing to the search for new sensations and the establishment of affective bonds and relationships [19, 20]. Social media allows users to adopt an identity that would be unacceptable in the real world, so adolescents are able to create a character and be who they really want to be. In addition, the internet [13] offers adolescents a new way of meeting people, building their confidence and self-esteem as they become part of a group and obtain emotional support [21,22,23]. As a result, the internet has become a key site for socialisation and has heightened the need for constant interaction between adolescents and their peers [24, 25].

Several research studies, including Copeland et al. [26] agree that social media should be used as a beneficial resource but that their potential to become a source of risk should not be overlooked. Although the internet, social media and online games are not negative in themselves, they can become problematic when people use them to cope with everyday issues and stressors, such as loneliness and [27, 28] or when they are used to access inappropriate content, giving rise to physical, mental, psychological and social problems [29], as well as affecting socialisation, perceptions of sexual relationships, academic performance [30], etc. In this regard, Griffiths (cited in [31]), states that clinical criteria may be used to determine homogeneous alignment between chemical and behavioural addiction and presents the following parameters for measurement: prioritisation of an activity that dominates the individual’s thoughts, feelings and behaviours; mood changes; tolerance; withdrawal symptoms or discontent when levels of activity are reduced; intrapsychic conflict and potential for relapse.

These factors may be associated with involvement in other risk behaviours, especially violence. Studies have shown that involvement with computer or video games is related to aggressive behavior [32], and with reduce pro-social behavior [33]. In addition, the constant use of the Internet does influence the loss of control and therefore maintain an interference with the daily life of students [34] and it must be seen as a new risk factor in the research about school violence perpetration [35].

Antisocial behaviour and bullying

Antisocial behaviour is understood as a range of actions that cause harm to others, which frequently take the form of aggression, or that breach social norms and violate other people’s rights [36]. Specific behaviours are labelled as antisocial on the basis of a social judgement regarding the severity of the acts committed and their divergence from social norms in a particular society.

Classifications, typologies and definitions of bullying have been drawn up by a variety of scholars [37,38,39,40], who concur that aggression, intent to harm and recurrence are the main characteristics of bullying [41, 42], differentiating between physical bullying, verbal bullying and relational bullying [36, 37].

In 2015, the term ‘cyberbullying’ was added to thesauruses [39, 43], referring to the use of mobile devices and social media to bully a victim who is unable to defend themselves [44, 45] A number of studies have cast light on the consequences of cyberbullying, which often have a long-lasting effect on the victims [46], including antisocial behaviour [47] anxiety, sadness, helplessness, frustration, anger, stress, somatisation, isolation, substance abuse, internet addiction, absenteeism, poor academic performance, low self-esteem, sleep problems, depression, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and suicide [24, 48].

Participation in violent or criminal acts is linked to social status in secondary schools, as several studies such as Andrews et al. [49] have shown. Domínguez and Portela [50] shows that violence is becoming increasingly widespread among young people on social media, and differences by gender have been observed in many research studies [51]. Boys are more frequently involved in aggressive behaviour, while girls are more likely to engage in victimizing behaviour [52, 53]. Both types of behaviours are associated with domination, discrimination and abuse of power, as highlighted by Ortega-Barón et al. [54]. The fact that bullies often remain anonymous in this context also has a considerable impact on the victims. Meanwhile, Muñiz et al. [55] argue that violence on social media is linked to gender and types of use: while girls tend to use the internet and social media for utilitarian purposes, boys tend to use them more for entertainment.

According to Cowie [56], victims of cyberbullying suffer similar psychological issues as victims of traditional bullying, including depression, high levels of social anxiety and low self-esteem, with a direct impact on their academic performance. Schenk and Fremouw [57] add that cyberbullying victims are also affected by frustration, stress, anger, difficulties concentrating and sadness, with a small proportion also experiencing suicidal ideation.


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