A Middle Schooler’s Answer to Cyberbullying
There are some switched on middle school students in the world, and one of them is Trish Prabhu, a 13-year-old from the American state of Illinois. She’s combining technology with the science of brain development to combat cyberbullying, and her clever research has landed her a place on the finalist list of the Google Science Fair 2014.
Blame It On the Brain
Basing her hypothesis on adolescent brain development, Trisha has set out to create a solution to cyberbullying, an issue that impacts fifty percent of young people with ten to twenty percent facing it daily. It’s a common problem that can have serious consequences, including low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicide.
Trisha interpreted cyberbullying as an impulsive behaviour, which is the result of the adolescent brain structure. The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain that fine-tunes self-control, reasoning and decision-making, but it isn’t fully developed until around age 25. During adolescence, this part of the brain undergoes a major overhaul, and this work-in-progress status can lead to some bad decisions and risky behaviours, online and in real life.
Trisha hypothesised that if teens had an enforced pause to reflect before posting a mean comment on social media, the incidence of cyberbullying could be curbed. She devised a system called Rethink that makes young people think through how an unkind comment would make someone feel.
In her trials over ninety percent of 533 Rethink participants decided to review or not to post an unkind comment after receiving a Rethink alert. These are promising results, but her work is not over.
Trisha hopes to continue work on developing filters for social media sites and apps that will build in a way for teens and tweens to Rethink before posting hurtful comments. “I am looking forward to the day when we have conquered cyberbullying,” she explained in her project description.
Trisha is one of 15 young finalists from around the world in Google’s annual global Science Fair. The grand prize includes a National Geographic expedition to the Galapagos Islands, a visit to Virgin’s Galactic Spaceport, and a scholarship worth US$50,000 dollars. Google will announce the winners in September.
Good luck to Trisha!
Creative Commons image by Nicola