When Garrison Forest launched its first Digital Kindness Week in 2014, the program was designed as a week full of activities for middle school girls to help combat cyberbullying and other online issues by driving home the message of good digital citizenship. In the mere three years since its beginning, digital usage amongst children has changed. From 2012 to 2016, the average age of a child's first cell phone dropped from age 12 to age 10, 64% of children had access to the internet via their own smartphone or tablet (up from 42% in 2016) and 50% of children had their first social media account by age 11 (Influence Central).
With online usage trending younger and younger, and conversations among both children and adults becoming more divisive each day, Digital Kindness Week organizers Lisa Fleck, Director of Counseling, and Lindsay Kelland, Director of Educational Tech & Libraries, expanded this year's program, which wrapped up on Monday, December 11, to include students in Kindergarten through 12th Grade. By starting the conversation about being mindful of online activities earlier than ever before, GFS gives girls the tools to create a positive digital footprint, and avoid the often life-changing consequences of acting inappropriately online. Throughout the week, students in each division took part in developmentally appropriate, grade-level discussions on the impact of social media on young women's lives and the issues of privacy, online safety, inclusiveness and cyberbullying.
• A visit from Adam Lippe, Chief of the Economic Cyber Crimes Unit and Animal Abuse Unit for the Baltimore County State's Attorney's Office, to discuss the impact of online activities with girls in grades kindergarten through 12th.
• Digital Citizenship Scratch projects by 5th Grade students
• "Cell Phone Free" week in the student dining areas
• Kindness scavenger hunts in each division
• Coffee with parents to discuss fostering positive online activities among students
As the program has grown each year, Lindsay and Lisa are encouraged by the impact the week has on the students.
"We are so fortunate to have a community open to learning and listening to each other regarding digital citizenship," says Lisa. "Each year we grow our program, including a K-12 perspective, understanding the ever increasing impact of digital use and social media communication. It's powerful listening to our students take ownership of their digital footprint."
"My favorite part of this week is hearing from the students directly about how social media is impacting their lives and having them share with or ask questions to each other," says Lindsay. "It opens an honest dialogue about good digital habits and also being kind in general, not just online. If throughout the year, each student takes pause before posting something they shouldn't, stands up for a friend or 'unfollows' someone they don't really know, I consider Digital Kindness Week to have been successful!"