Prendiamoci cura della Terra

Environmental components of bullying and cyberbullying

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Living beings are the result of genetic combinations on which the environment, of which they are a part, exerts selective exclusions. This relationship changes in our species which, thanks to the technologies developed over the millennia, has proved capable of overturning this paradigm, by adapting to its needs the environments it has colonized. The consequences of the changed relationship, not always carefully evaluated, have turned out to be sometimes not positive for our physical and / or psychic life and for the environments themselves (Bateson, 1976).

The human interior environment, however, remains the one that natural selection has assigned to us. Like all primates, Homo sapiens sapiens remains a cultural and social animal that needs to live in hierarchical communities (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1995). Also linked to the naturalness is the need for an intense relationship with the territory, be it original or “tame”. The strong interdependence between the individual and the environment, of which the former is a fundamental element, makes it essential for both of them to develop a harmonious relationship (Bateson, 1976). This deep harmony includes an active awareness of belonging to the territory, understood in its orographic, landscape, cultural and social components. The dialectical relationship with the environment is composed of many elements that influence the formation of the individual, making him suitable for living and managing the territory in which he lives (Lumsden and Wilson, 2005). Thus a circular relationship is created between the individual and the environment, the interruption of which generates serious discomfort both individually and socially. Current lifestyles tend to make some ties to the places we live seemingly unnecessary, thus creating dangerous situations of disorientation.

Our species, like all mammals, acquires during well-defined stages of life, both the cognitive abilities and the abilities that each one needs to be independent in carrying out the main activities necessary for life and social relationships (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1995) . If a child is not given the right spaces / stimuli at the time when a certain capacity / ability is to be developed, imbalances and shortcomings can occur which, continuing during a problematic adolescence, will weigh decisively on the life of the adult individual. (Piaget, 1967).

Social relationships and the inclusion of individuals in different contexts pass through precise modalities that change in each culture and which, if disregarded, can cause growing discomfort up to exclusion from social contexts. It is important in this case that the family, as the closest environmental element, has the capacity and the ability to correct such situations at risk. The importance of this relationship is all the greater if you think that all the animals learn from the environment/territory. Our species in particular, having also developed verbal language, which makes communication particularly effective and precise, has the possibility of transmitting to the younger generation a great deal of knowledge and behaviour through different educational modalities, implemented in large part by the school (formal education); from the family and from the nearest social contexts (informal education); from working groups or associations (non-formal education).

Bullying and cyberbullying

In a framework of biological determinism, fundamental for a sociobiological vision of the “bullying” phenomenon, according to the Dynamic Theory of Aggression by K. Lorenz (1976) we can define this phenomenon, referred above all to adolescents, as open aggression for the construction of networks of real or virtual predominance.

Aggression is a factor with its own reasons  and motivations, in which however environmental factors and experience play a fundamental role in shaping and reinforcing the instinctual elements (instinct in an ethological and not Freudian sense), each one carries in and behind. It is in this sense that environmental factors play a fundamental part in the development of the phenomenon of bullying and therefore of cyber bullying,, both active and passive ones. They are not only the cradle, but the bricks that build both the contexts in which the phenomenon has the possibility of manifesting itself and the motivations of the bully and its victims.

In this context I will highlight above all the environmental elements that influence the “birth” of bullying, cyberbullying being a phenomenon associated with it that differs only in the use of the means used.

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Environmental factors

The family

The family is the first social nucleus of the child. Here he/she acquires the first behavioural rules that will allow him/her to insert himself correctly in different social contexts. To facilitate socialization, it is necessary for the child to have the opportunity to cultivate different types of relationships and to make clear that each of them is hierarchically placed [1]. Currently in Italy the average family nucleus is made up of 2.4 people; few include more than one child. The “Parents in Play” survey [2] shows that 44% of the interviewed children declare to play alone when they are at home, preceded by a 47% who claim to play with brothers and sisters, 33% with friends and finally with father (17%) and mother (12%).

From the survey “Aspects of daily life” [3], it emerged that, in the case of children aged 3 to 6, 72.8% play every day with their mother and 46.1% with their father. Half of the dads play with them on average half an hour a day, while about 25% do for an hour; 31% of mothers spend one or two hours with their children and only 5% of them spend more than 3 hours a day with their children. Considering that through the game there is a profound communication between adults and children (Piaget, 1967), we can easily understand the importance of the quantity and quality of the game in the growth of each person.

The game is the simulation of life and represents an irreplaceable opportunity to make significant experiences for growth, because it promotes learning and the ability to relate with others, stimulating, at the same time, imagination and creativity. The fundamental experience of the game teaches the child to trust their own abilities, allows them to know themselves, to discover themselves through the relationship with the human and physical environment, to develop their personality in a complete way (Piaget, 1967). It is therefore important to ask how children and young people how they use their free time outside school commitments. From the 2011 Telefono Azzurro and Eurispes Report, it emerges that 42% of the children spend in front of the TV from 1 to 2 hours a day; 24.5% from 2 to 4 hours and 18.3% over 4 hours. The computer is never used by 4.8% of the children; 23.6% use the PC for 2 to 4 hours and 12% for more than 4 hours. The cell phone is used from 2 to 4 hours a day by 41.4% of teenagers and longer by 27.4%. Hours not spent on ICT (Information and communications technology) are generally used in programmed extracurricular activities (sports, music lessons, language, …).

Spontaneous play is an activity of growth and development of the individual and cannot be replaced by other activities chosen by parents or by computer games, where the child suffers immutable rules established by others. In spontaneous play children themselves establish the rules that they will respect: at that moment they constitute a small social context in which each one controls that the established rules are respected and for this reason also accepts the control that others exercise over him (Eibl-Eibesfeldt , 1995). In this collective system there is also everyone’s responsibility to assume the roles that the game imposes. Each variation represents not only a new exercise in creativity, but also a way to discuss all together the new opportunity (Piaget, 1967). Anyone who remembers their  childhood games with peers knows that very often it took more time to establish places and rules of the game than to “play”. In short, for children, play is an indispensable activity for the development of sociality and their capacity for citizenship.

If in the game parents and children have an equal relationship, this cannot happen in life. Being a child’s friend rather than a parent means denying children basic points of reference. The verification carried out moment by moment by the children, and then by the teenagers, on how much they can afford and how much they are allowed to do has no character, no merit and much less demerit: it is only a struggle without respite for the formation of one’s personality. The absence of a limit or the confusion of roles compromises the introjection of hierarchical positions and causes a sense of disorientation and therefore the absence of a correct positioning in the social fabric.

Also to induce the distrust of the stranger, whoever they are, does not protect children but generates in their mind an uncritical refusal towards those who are not part of a small circle of known people. This “forma mentis” denies the possibility of widening one’s cultural horizons and generates, in a child who is always dealing with mediated relationships, fear of the world and of life. The inability to calmly explore the other and to organize their own responses towards them in a reasoned manner, predisposes them to become the victim of abuse.


School for bullies and cyber bullies is the place of choice for their “expression”, but it can also be the cradle of their formation. The elements that favour these forms of distorted sociality can be identified in the three main types of relationships present within the school walls: teachers – pupils; pupils – pupils; family – teachers.

The increasing number of students per class and the inadequate preparation of the average teachers for modern didactics and multimedia communication (sad signs of the lack of social attention towards the school) encourage the belief of the uselessness of the scholastic institution on the part of many pupils. and, consequently, of education. This leads to a non-harmonious relationship, in which the roles are not respected and where the teachers are sometimes forced to substitute the diminished authoritativeness with authoritarianism, while the pupils build autonomous hierarchical networks in place of the institutional ones, which they fail to perceive.

To the reasons already exposed, in recent years a sort of “conflict of educational competences” between school and family should be added, which in many cases sees parents engaged in an uncritical defence of their children and their behaviour, whatever they may be. The attitude, which effectively denies young people important cultural, social and hierarchical points of reference, is currently in a moment of “awareness” on the part of local and school administrations, who are looking for new operational modalities in their set-up of the teaching organization. As a matter of fact, many schools are involved in pilot projects that envisage a closer educational co-responsibility between school and family, also thanks to the Guidelines on “Parental participation and educational co-responsibility” that the MIUR has recently published [4].

It is also important to remember that the increasingly dilapidated school structures and the absence of an adequate number of ATA personnel (Auxiliary, Technical and Administrative), favour the opportunities to have free zones inside the school where risky situations can arise.


As already mentioned, the substantial absence of spontaneous play, combined with a hyper-protective attitude towards children, an example of which is the denial of body experience, are the cause of the growth of an “ignorant body”, which often reaches adolescence without having experienced physical pain as a result of acts caused or suffered. I want to clarify that it is not violent acts I am referring to, but those attitudes and gestures like a push that causes a slight fall or a shriek, which intimidates the other, that in the game of early childhood are absolutely normal. It is these acts, which a child directs towards a peer, to be immediately condemned by the group, which tends to expel the insolent because it warns him as a source of disturbance of the game. This is the moment in which the inhibitory brakes of violent acts begin to emerge. The desire to be welcomed back into the group in order to continue playing is one of the first “exercises” that favour the modulation of aggression and the control of the proxemics. It is in early childhood that protective attitudes appear enacted by “stronger” individuals, which are nothing but compensatory rituals for “tamed” aggression (Lorenz 1976). Thus, from the most tender age, respect for other people’s physicality and thoughts can be born.

The media, to which the new generations are massively exposed, propose, for market reasons, on the one hand unattainable social and physical models, on the other hand behavioural models for which “visibility”, no matter what, is fundamental. The web, with its ability to produce misleading narrations, favours the construction of false personalities, making children live a double life, in which real life becomes the lesser important reality.  Commenting on a research done by the Girl Scout Research Institute (2013), which showed that teenager girls between 14 and 17 “cheat” more than boys both on their own image and on their character, psychologist Kimberlee Salmond stated that “The web is not in short, the place where the girls manage to bring out their authentic personality “.

The territory

The emotional and sensorial relationship of the young generations with natural places and wild species is, at best, sporadic. Its absence opposes the full maturation of sensoriality and hampers the acquisition of a sense of belonging to one’s own cultural landscape (Bateson, 1976). The habit of leading children and young people to water parks and zoo safaris gives young people a distorted view of nature and the relationships they should have with it. The result is that if children are led into a forest, they think that “there is nobody” because they ignore the effort and patience that must be experienced by those who want to really get in touch with another species. Thus the image of a “prêt-à-porter” nature is realized in the mind of the future citizen, objectified and deprived of the respect it requires. It is on the basis of this concept that there originates the idea that it is possible to realize any work without dealing with rivers, mountains and hills. Idea that is bringing our beloved Planet, and us along with it, towards disaster.

From the habit of adults to go to the gym by car and, once there, to ride on a stationary bike, derives the other habit of bringing children to school by car, even if walking would be quicker. This custom is not only harmful in terms of increased CO2 in the atmosphere, but above all because it compromises the development of the sense of orientation and independence in the child and the boy, hinders the acquisition of spatial skills and also worsens learning abilities. and self-esteem (Rissotto and Tonucci, 2002). The possibility of travelling from home to school alone, without adults, gives children and young people a further boost to independence and observation skills. Many collaborations between schools and municipalities are producing projects that go in this direction: from Pedibus projects that provide safe routes for students, to those like CO2nnect-CO2 on the way to school, which promotes the formation of European networks of schools that communicate through a website [5]. The project, starting from the home-school path, addresses the issues of education to peace and sustainability. Among the objectives, the relationship established between young people of different ages so that the “older” can help the youngsters along the way.

The weather

The continuous presence of the media with their continuous media storm and the uninterrupted use of the web even when one is in the company of other people or during meals, pushes towards a reality of today in which yesterday has passed away, because it drowned in the flow of new inform- actions, and tomorrow is not programmable because we do not have the time to. The reality lived in a synchronic and non-diachronic way makes us  incapable of “historicizing” the actions performed and life itself, generating serious difficulties in planning the future (Lacci et al., 2001). The speed with which the newly formulated thought is “put on the net” diminishes the capacity for reflection and while it is easy to correct the written words with a click the same  is not true for the damage caused.

The detachment from the time factor that the younger generations are unconsciously living through can be, for the social and cultural balance of all, far more dangerous than one might believe.


The environmental elements on which I have suggested some sociobiological and cultural reflections have been chosen because they are decisive in the development of distortions in interpersonal relationships. I want to underline how they all lead, in some way, to a detachment of the individual from the real environment and, although there is a continuous, apparent relationship with others through the media and pre-packaged social channels, the person tends to segregate their way of to be inside themselves, risking to lose the sensorial and experiential contact with all that physically surrounds them, denying their own nature. Recognizing the right of experience to the body of children and young people can mean tracing the mind back to more organic forms of psychic development, which can make relations between individuals within the social fabric more harmonious.


[1] The hierarchy, for all social animals, represents a form of organization useful to avoid forms of aggression within the social group and in the defense against aggression outside the group (Eibl-Eibesfeldt, 1995). In our case, despite having lost the rigidity that lasts in other species of higher primates, those structures that serve to organize the work and make clearer some social relationships that we often prefer to define as forms of “respect for” the teacher, the grandfather, father, expert, mayor, president, etc. The evolution towards forms of social democracy suggests defining “responsibility” instead of “power” many important positions, to highlight how those who cover them must in turn “be respectful” to those who have placed him in that position.

The absence of clarity about their position in any social context is always the cause of physical and / or psychic conflicts, which can also become very serious. A clear example is the killing of women by their partners or former partners who, losing or presuming to have lost, their status come to extreme actions to try to win it back.

[2] The survey was carried out in 2009 by the “Bottega educare” of the non-profit organization Pepita (a social cooperative that deals with educational projects throughout Italy) in collaboration with CREMIT (Center for Research on Media Education, ‘Information and Technology) of the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart of Milan, conducted on a sample of 2000 boys between 8 and 17 years.

[3] Data taken from the multi-purpose survey “Aspects of everyday life” carried out by the National Institute of Statistics in 2010 in agreement with the Ministries of Labor, Health and Social Policies.

[4] In January 2012, the MIUR Department of Education (Ministry of Education, University and Research), in response to the rampant phenomenon of bullying, drafted Guidelines on “Parental participation and co-responsibility” educational “. The document starts from the articles of the Constitution that concern education and reorganizes the various measures that have allowed, over the years, the participation of parents in school bodies and therefore in the educational choices that the school makes. The document, “based on the indications and suggestions provided by the FoNAGS (National Forum of School Parents’ Associations) represents the recognition of the role that families exercise (…) to contribute significantly and actively to the definition of teaching autonomy and cultural school (…) to offer children the highest opportunity for harmonious and peaceful development “(From the accompanying letter of the document sent to the competent school bodies).

[5] “CO2nnect-CO2 on the way to school” is a sustainability education project developed by partners and members of the “SUPPORT: partnership and participation for a sustainable tomorrow” project of the EU Comenius Lifelong Learning Program. Funded by the Ministry of the Environment of Norway, the educational path allows communication between schools through the website of which I personally edited the Italian edition.


Gregory Bateson. Towards an ecology of the mind. Adelphi Editions, Milan. 1976.

Irenäus Eibl-Eibesfeldt. The foundations of ethology. Adelphi Editions, Milan. 1995.

Anna Lacci et al. Environment, Use of Resources, Sustainable Development. Curricular paths for a possible integration of the Secondary School in the Territorial System. Territorial Laboratory of the Province of Lucca. 2001.

Martin Lindauer. Message without words. How animals communicate. Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, Milan. 1992.

Charles J. Lumsden, Edward O. Wilson Genes, Mind, and Culture: The Coevolutionary Process. World Scientific Publishing Company. 2005.

Konrad Lorenz. The aggressiveness. Il Saggiatore, Milan. 1976.

Jean Piaget. Psychology and mental development of the child. Giulio Einaudi Editore, Milan. 1967

Antonella Rissotto, Francesco Tonucci. Autonomy of movement and environmental knowledge in elementary school children. Journal of Environmental Psychology 22, pp. 65-77. 2002.


Author: Anna Lacci is a scientific popularizer and expert in environmental education and sustainability and in territory teaching. She is the author of documentaries and naturalistic books, notebooks and interdisciplinary teaching aids and multimedia information materials.

Translation by Maria Antonietta Sessa