With the global proliferation of social media, bullying – both online and in real life – has reportedly become more rampant than ever. According to Do Something, a global NPO advocating for young people to become active in stimulating social change, over 3.2 million students are victims of bullying each year and approximately 160 000 miss school every day because of it. Because of these disturbing statistics, an American high school student decided to build an app to help kids make friends and to aid pupils in navigating the social challenges of their school environment.
Called ‘Sit With Us’, the app created by 16-year-old Natalie Hampton from Sherman Oaks, California, aims to make the task of figuring out where to sit at lunch easier. After a difficult first year of high school that saw her eating lunch alone every day, Hampton says she became a target for school bullies. While she later transferred to a new school where she’s now blossoming, she never forgot the vulnerability she felt as an outcast freshman. Unable to shake that feeling, she became determined to do something about it.
“I felt that if I was thriving in a new school but didn’t do anything about the people who feel like this every single day, then I’m just as bad as the people who watched me eat alone,” she explained in an interview with NPR’s Audie Cornish. “I felt like, with my story, it was my job to stand up and do something about all the kids who feel like this every day. And I wanted to create something that would address bullying, but in a positive way.”
Built specifically for use in school lunch rooms the app works by allowing users to designate themselves as ‘ambassadors’. As an ambassador, users can host an ‘Open Lunch’ event in a particular area or at a specific table and anyone is welcome to join. Users can also request to join via the app – sometimes a safer option for those who have already experienced public rejection and fear its reoccurrence.
It could be argued that in an increasingly disconnected age, a smartphone-based app may be counter productive as an attempt to aid in the development of real relationships. But it was Hampton’s own experience with bullies that led her to see the value of the privacy afforded by the technology. “I tried many times to reach out to someone,” she explains. “But I was rejected many times. You feel like you're labeling yourself as an outcast when you ask to join a table with someone you don't know. [With Sit With Us] it's very private. It's through the phone. No one else has to know. And you know that you're not going to be rejected once you get to the table.”
The app is curently available for free download in Apple's App Store and is available for use worldwide.