Photo by Marjan Grabowski on Unsplash

Cyberbullying is a prevalent issue facing Charleston area students who consistently use smartphones and computers at home and in school. 

“Cyberbullying is very different from traditional bullying because there’s no break from it,” said Jordan Rasmussen, a licensed mental health counselor with Thriveworks downtown. “When kids are at school, they have their device in their hand. They go home, their devices are there. They [end up] isolating, worrying about what’s potentially being posted or said or happening online.”

Rasmussen said lately she’s seeing most cyberbullying cases with kids and teens have to do with social media, particularly TikTok, and creating fake accounts to harass.  

In her more than six years of counseling, she’s seen cyberbullied kids and teens show signs of anxiety and depression, such as the desire to isolate or stay home from school as well as trouble focusing in class. 

For her, preventing cyberbullying is a matter of engaging kids in offline activities to balance online activities. If a child has already been bullied online, getting outside help from a licensed therapist or school counselor is essential so parents don’t have to handle the situation alone, she said. 

Statistics from Cyberbullying Research Center show a nationwide increase in cyberbullying between 2007 to 2021 among 30,000 students surveyed, with an average of 29.3% reporting experiences with cyberbullying.  

“With traditional bullying, it’s usually taking place at school during the school day,” said Emily Mulder, program director for Family Online Safety Institute. “Whereas now, because many kids are connected on all the same social media platforms — cyberbullying has turned into something that can follow them home.” 

Mulder defined cyberbullying as kids targeting other kids using technology specifically for the purpose of excluding and humiliating. Cyberbullying can take the form of messages, images, spreading rumors and creating invite-only social media groups that purposely single out kids. 

In the past, there wasn’t a really clear understanding of how pervasive cyberbullying can feel, she said, because technically it’s not happening visibly on school campuses like physical or verbal bullying. 

“There’s no differentiation between digital life and real life for kids of this generation,” Mulder told City Paper

Parents can start addressing cyberbullying by having an open line of communication with kids about tech use at home, Mulder said. It can feel overwhelming for parents to keep track of every app their kids use, but preventing cyberbullying doesn’t require in-depth monitoring. 

“You need to make sure that you’ve instilled the value in them that, ‘If something is upsetting you, you bring it to me and we will work it out together,’ and eliminate a reactive approach to hearing about it,” Mulder said. 

“I think a lot of parents get this knee jerk reaction to say, ‘If technology is hurting my child, I’m going to take the phone away.’ It needs to be a little bit more of a listening exercise,” she said. “At the end of the day, it’s about wanting them to bring you problems and not have the problem go underground, because that’s when it tends to escalate without supervision.”

Resetting kids’ relationship with technology after they experience cyberbullying is an important step, Mulder said. Parents can set time limits on apps or websites and write a family online safety agreement. Teachers can empower students to stand up for each other by implementing an anonymous way to report cyberbullying. 

Heather Anderson, a counselor at Camp Road Middle School on James Island, teaches social emotional wellness to students to promote self-awareness and emotional regulation and inform them of different types of bullying, including online harassment. 

“We run a school-wide social and emotional wellness curriculum,” Anderson said, “and a unit that we [began] teaching in September [is about] recognizing bullying, cyberbullying and harassment.

“Open communication — reminding our kids that there is always room to talk about what is happening online, whether it’s a private conversation with a trusted adult in the home or a counselor or a teacher or administrator — that’s a big part of combating cyberbullying.” 

For more information, visit fosi.org/parenting, cyberbullying.org and stopbullying.gov


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Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.