Teen Develops App to Help Others Make Friends at Lunch

A photo of a young boy looking down at the ground as his fellow classmates point and laugh at him.

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Bullying is a serious issue as it can have repercussions throughout a child’s life. Study after study has shown that it’s a problem that we have to tackle, and there have been numerous suggestions on just how to do that. We know, for example, that when the “cool kids” take a stand against bullying, it tends to catch on and reduce student conflict overall. We also know that kids can be bullied for almost anything, so finding ways to prevent them from becoming targets in the first place can have a strong impact on a student’s life.

High school junior Natalie Hampton knows that all too well. She spent her entire 7th grade year sitting alone at lunch. She was the target of a lot of bullying and her self-esteem suffered tremendously. Bullies tend to pick on kids who are perceived as weaker than themselves, and the implied rejection of always sitting alone signals weakness.

That’s why Hampton has developed a mobile app called Sit With Us, which allows kids to find table with open chairs that they can feel welcome at. Users can sign up as ambassadors, who are willing to open up their table to new faces, or they can look for tables that have ambassadors. She launched the app early in the school year and is already getting positive feedback on it.

Hampton is an example of a student who’s thinking about the bigger picture and who managed to take her personal experiences of bullying and funnel it into a constructive project. While she’s set an excellent example for other kids, she’s also set an excellent example for educators. Educators have a different perspective on bullying and they usually have a better understanding of the psychology behind it as well. Educators should use their own knowledge to the best of their advantage to help students feel included.


Students Themselves Might Be Best at Reducing Bullying

Boy sitting with other children pointing at him

If schools want to put a stop to bullying, they’d do well to turn to the students themselves.
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According to researchers at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Rutgers University, and Yale University, the best way to handle bullying and school conflict among students isn’t by setting rules from on high, but encouraging students to influence each other in positive ways.

A one year study in 56 New Jersey middle schools showed that influential students, referred to as social referents or social influencers, have a greater impact on the issue than adults do.

These influencers are not necessarily the most popular kids in school, but those who are most connected with their peers. By making it well known that they are against bullying and conflict, they can influence their peers to reduce instances of these kinds of interactions. The schools in the study saw a 30% decrease in reported conflicts, which is a pretty solid reduction.

The trick lies in leaving the definition of such conflicts to the students, instead of defining bullying or social conflict by adult standards. Reducing such conflict is important to teachers, administrators, and parents, but issuing orders about what is and is not considered appropriate seems to meet with little improvement. Worse, it’s possible, and likely, that forms of bullying can fly under the radar, if administrators are convinced that they know what bullying looks like. And of course, it can only be enforced if these incidents are witnessed by staff are reported to them.

Students are more likely to speak about these issues with their peers, and those peers are more likely to be able to influence the issue, guiding students away from conflict. The study only saw a 30% drop in such incidents, but those were only reported incidents–and only during one school year. Such a program would need to be implemented anew each year as new students enter a school in order to keep up momentum.