Cyberbullying

Girls School Promotes Digital Kindness Week

Girls between the ages of 10 and 18 are more like than boys to have been bullied online and to have bullied others that way, according to research by the Cyberbullying Research Center. That's one of the reasons why a private all-girls' K-12 school in Maryland is inoculating its students against cyber-bullying by hosting its first ever "Digital Kindness Week." Garrison Forest School in Owings Mills is hosting a number of events to help its students — especially its middle scholars — understand the impact of unkind behaviors and falsehoods online.

The week was the idea of two middle school educators, Lisa Fleck, a counselor, and Lindsay Kelland, a digital learning specialist, following their research on adolescent girls' use of social media and other digital tools.

"Girls are using social media so frequently and it's happening at a much younger age than ever before. We always get feedback from parents that the girls always seem to be one step ahead of them," said Fleck. "We want to make a statement about how they use it in a positive way and focus the conversation around how they can be kind and use digital citizenship."

"Our students discuss social media and the digital world in their classes each year; however, this year we felt that a collaborative effort that brought the entire middle school together would help to strengthen the effort. By varying group discussions between small advisories, grade level and all-school groups, the girls have different audiences to share their experiences," added Kelland.

Among the activities planned for the week are:

  • Grade-level discussions and research on the impact social media has had on young women's lives when they've been bullied online;
  • Daily group discussions and activities, led by teachers, on topics including privacy, online safety, inclusiveness and cyberbullying;
  • A scavenger hunt online where the girls will tag "GFS" on the school's Instagram account, @garrison_forest;
  • A school-wide sharing of messages of kindness through social media;
  • A student-written "digital citizenship pledge" that every student will sign by the end of the week;
  • A survey of middle school students on their social media usage; and
  • A Twitter chat on October 23 from 8:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. with school parents on the subject, led by middle school administrators and faculty.

The impact is already being felt. "The girls are becoming much more self-aware," said Fleck. "They have already shared multiple situations of how they're using what they've learned, and they're understanding the conversations they have with their parents around privacy. It's awesome how everyone has been learning from each other."

In November, the school will host an event for parents to discuss the week and to share results of the survey.

"Learning how to live, learn and work online is a life skill; it's not something we can or should ignore," said Renee Hawkins, the school's director of libraries and instructional technology. "We must equip students with the right tools and experiences so they can navigate their online lives."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal and Campus Technology. She can be reached at dian@dischaffhauser.com or on Twitter @schaffhauser.

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