Routine Activities theory proposes that crime occurs when a motivated offender encounters a suitable target in absence of a capable guardian. This theory applies to cyberbullying by identifying how uncontrolled online access provides opportunities for youthful offenders to access vulnerable young Internet users. Cybersecurity measures in the form of parental controls and others access protections can prevent youth from accessing risky sites that make them vulnerable to online bullies. Therefore, we propose that parental controls and other protective measures for young Internet users are needed as “capable guardians” to prevent cyberbullying. The Internet is a “new space of activity for youth,” increasing opportunities for social interaction, but also elevating their exposure to social situations at high risk for victimization, says Mesch (2009). A similar argument is made by Marcum, Higgins, and Ricketts (2010, citing Cohen and Felson, 1979), who state that Routine Activities Theory is excellent for study of predatory and exploitive crimes, including cyberbullying. The more time youth spend in this new social space, the greater their risk, as Marcum et al. (2010), explain:
The more time that youth spend on the Internet, especially using social network sites, may increase their likelihood of being exposed to a motivated offender. The type of information that youth provide while using social network sites and their means of communication (i.e., chat rooms, instant messaging, or e-mail) may make them suitable targets for online victimization. The physical location, those in the location where the Internet is being used, and the knowledge level that parents have of the youths Internet use may be an indication of capable guardianship (Marcum, Higgins, and Ricketts, 2010:386)
Another criminological concept that has been explored in cyberbullying research is the victim/offender overlap, the idea that individuals who prey on others are likely to be victims of crime themselves, say Marcum, Higgins, Freiburger, and Ricketts (2014). They found that students in their survey research were more likely to bully others on Facebook, a social networking site, if they had been bullied on Facebook themselves (Marcum et al. (2014). The researchers (2014) assert that cyberbullying victims, like victims of face-to-face bullying, are likely to want to retaliate against someone else. “While being bullied can be hurtful, bullying someone else can cause the same individual to feel powerful and vindicated. (Marcum et al., 2014).”
In conclusion, Routine Activities Theory suggests parental monitoring and parental controls could strengthen “capable guardianship,” and give parents tools to reduce their children’s risks of becoming “suitable targets” to the “motivated offenders” who would bully others online. Parents armed with better information could also address the victim/offender overlap to educate and guide their children’s online behavior and to intervene appropriately and in a timely manner when cyberbullying behavior occurs.