It’s tough to take a traumatic experience and turn it into something positive. To channel your pain, misery, and fear into something that can help other people going through the same thing. It takes a lot of strength and emotional maturity that few adults I know possess.
It’s ever-more extraordinary when a teenager has the empathy, social conscience and brains to make it happen.
During her middle school years, Natalie Hampton was ostracized by her classmates and subjected to relentless bullying. But the worst, she says, was how vulnerable it felt to sit alone for lunch each day (and have everyone see her sitting alone).
Now 16 years-old and thriving at a new school, she’s created an app so others don’t have to go through what she did: Sit With Us does for teen cafeteria life what Tinder does for dating— it removes the potential for rejection. You can log on to the app and find Open Lunches being hosted by friendly students. At lunch you know which table to approach without risking the embarrassment of being turned away. “It’s very private. It’s through the phone. No one else has to know,” she explained to Audie Cornish on NPR’s All Things Considered.
For me, this brings up all kinds of feelings. I had my own version of Plastics in elementary school— Mean Girls who enjoyed torturing me on random days and refusing to let me sit at their lunch table. It was devastating and disorienting not to know who would turn on you when, or where you’d be accepted to do something as simple as eat lunch.
I know many a Silicon Valley app developer who would be impressed by the apps elegant design and simple concept. Anyone at any school can sign on to host an Open Lunch, or you can just use the app to communicate with friends about where and when you’ll meet to have a bite together. As the word spreads about this app, I have no doubt it will catch on like wildfire— I know so many kids who would jump at the chance to show their support to kids who feel like they don’t have friends to sit with at friends.
I’m thrilled to be spreading the word about Natalie’s app, which could be a literal lifeline for so many teens— bullying leads so many teens to depression and worse, and parents often can’t be a salve for the indignities that happen at school. I shudder to think of what Natalie and her parents went through, and love to think of her turning it around and carrying all that positive energy on her cafeteria tray every day.
Is Natalie’s Sit With Us app stirring up any childhood memories for you? Are your kids going through bullying at their school? Let me know in the comments.
Photo borrwed from Schoolhouse Electric