Young Entrepreneur: Helping Teens Rethink Cyberbullying

While browsing through your social media feed, chances are you’ve seen people lose their tempers and make hurtful or threatening posts online. For teenagers, such behavior can be particularly harmful: teen cyberbullies—and those they target—are more likely than other teens to face academic and emotional struggles, according to the advocacy organization Cyberbullying Research Center.

Trisha Prabhu, 22, first learned how devastating cyberbullying can be when she was 13. As a teen growing up in Naperville, Illinois, she read an article about a girl one year younger than she who committed suicide after being harassed online. “Cyberbullying was doing really serious damage to young people, and in ways that I didn’t think were getting enough attention,” she says. “That lit the fire. I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do or how to solve this problem, but I had to do something.”

After doing some research on the issue, Prabhu suspected that poor impulse control played a role in its proliferation. If teens paused to think before typing, she believed they might be less likely to engage in cyberbullying behavior.

That led her to create ReThink, a technology that identifies offensive language online and urges Internet users to take a minute to stop and think before replying. With a background in coding, Prabhu implemented the idea as part of an eighth-grade science fair experiment.

The idea took off, and ReThink has now been unrolled in school districts across the country. In the state of Michigan alone, more than 1.3 million students have access to the technology. Parents and law enforcement authorities have also downloaded the ReThink app and recommended the technology. According to Prabhu, research shows that the percentage of students who wanted to post an offensive message online dropped from 71 percent to 4 percent after those students interacted with ReThink.

Now in her final year at Harvard, Prabhu does speaking engagements about the dangers of cyberbullying, and her new book, ReThink the Internet, offers students lessons on being good digital citizens.

As she says, “Expressing your voice on the Internet isn’t a liberty to say any mean thing to any person you want.”

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