3.4.1 What puts someone at risk and what protects them?

When we talk about at-risk groups for any problems that children and youth face, we like to think in terms of risk factors and protective factors: what puts someone at risk of unwanted things happening to them? What protects them from the problem or at least from suffering serious consequences? We understand many risk factors and protective factors that influence the physical and mental wellbeing of children and youth, their educational success, their relationships, their self-esteem, their future happiness, job prospects and their resilience to difficult events or other challenges.

For example, we know that children and young people, who face higher risks of becoming involved in ‘traditional’ bullying, often feel lonely, perceive their parents as distant and have problematic relationships with other adults in their lives like their teachers. They might have personal experience with violence in the family, peer group or other immediate environment. Many also have low self-esteem, poor social skills and communication skills. Traditional bullies are more likely to be male than female and more likely to be older adolescents than preadolescents. Targets of ‘traditional’ bullying, on the other hand, are likely to have low self-esteem, distinct physical features are also very common (for example short and weak, glasses, obesity, disability), they are also often less popular among their peers. A very strong protective factor for someone that is a target of traditional bullying, for example, is having a trusted adult that they can talk to about what is happening, or growing up in an environment where information and support are available.

This short sampling of risk factors and protective factors probably seems so self-evident that we do not even need to mention them! However, it is worth mentioning them because something interesting happens when we take a closer look at cyberbullying.