I consider myself lucky to have met some truly phenomenal people who have taken on challenges and created change in the world. I am so inspired by those who are all about finding solutions to the problems before them. Trisha Prabhu, one of these people. In 2013, Trisha was 13 years old and she set out to use her coding skills to be part of the solution for cyberbullying. She recently launched ReThink and it is already making a difference. She is a world-changer, a word-changer, a mind-changer and a game-changer. Please meet Trisha Prabhu.
I know the story of ReThink. But maybe some of the readers might not. Can you tell me a little bit about your story and how ReThink got started?
In the fall of 2013, when I was 13, I came home from school to read a news story about an 11-year old girl that committed suicide because she was repeatedly cyberbullied. I was shocked, heart-broken and angry. How could a girl younger than myself be pushed to take her own life? This was unacceptable! I knew I had to do something to stop this from ever happening again.
This issue also had a personal connection to me: I have been cyberbullied too, when I was younger. I’d received offensive messages about my wardrobe choices. I’m what you’d call thick-skinned, so I just brushed it off and moved on. But after reading about this story, I realized that many adolescents were really affected by these messages, especially if the cyberbullying was repeated and targeted.
Passionate to stop this from ever happening again, I set out to find a meaningful, effective solution to stop cyberbullying. My research showed that over one quarter of the world’s population is adolescents. More than 50% of adolescents online are either cyberbullied or have witnessed cyberbullying a least once. Victims suffer from depression, low self-esteem, anxiety and are afraid to go back to school and drop out. Cyberbullying is a silent pandemic, with research showing that 9 out of 10 times victims do not tell anyone, as they suffer in silence.
During my research, I came across an interesting article. If I was to summarize, it said “Adolescent brain is likened to a car with no brakes”. No pausing! No Thinking! Just acting! Its all too well known that adolescents make impulsive, rash decisions. I further researched on this topic to identify why adolescents make impulsive decisions. There is a part of the brain called pre-frontal cortex. It is the part that controls decision-making and is not fully developed until age 25.
That is when I wondered, could this relate to adolescents behavior on social media too? What if I gave adolescents a second chance to reconsider their decision before posting a hurtful message? Would they change their minds? I did not know, but I was ready to find out. I created “ReThink” software prototype and tested 1500 adolescents. The results were astonishing. Over 93% of the time, adolescents changed their minds and decided not to post an offensive or hurtful message. My product ReThink was born.
What was your reaction when you saw ReThink getting more and more attention?
When I received appreciation and words of encouragement from parents and teachers around the world, it helped validate the importance of my solution. ReThink was selected as the Google Global finalist and was invited to the White House Science Fair. I was awarded “Global Anti-bullying hero (Student)” award recently and was named Anti-bullying champion by Princess Diana Awards in the UK. I am honored and grateful for these accolades and laurels. My goal is to roll ReThink out to every adolescent in every part of the world at absolutely no cost to them. I am glad that we are getting the attention we deserve to this very important issue of cyberbullying that is affecting so many every day.
How long is your list of “trigger words”?
ReThink is a patented software, it just does not act on trigger words. There is a difference when someone says “I hate this weather” Vs “I hate you”. While both contain the word “hate”, one could be hurtful and another not really. ReThink’s sophisticated algorithm recognizes hurtful words intelligently and acts upon it.
Bullying is an issue that you are very passionate about. I am too. What motivates you?
My motivation comes from several parents and teachers that I hear from. Parents struggle from just watching their kids suffer from being cyberbullied, they try to help their child by reporting to authorities. The damage has already been done though. Their child has already been affected. Teachers often find themselves addressing cyberbullying issues after they have occurred. ReThink is a positivity-enforcing, behavior changing solution that helps kids make good decisions on and off the internet proactively, before the damage is done.
The most memorable is a hand-written letter that I received from a senior citizen and a retired teacher. She wrote in that letter about her story where she was cyberbullied by her adopted adult daughter. She said “Trisha, please know that ReThink would not only help kids, but would help adults too!” That story validated my efforts and confirmed that ReThink would make a positive difference in the lives of young and old, alike.
You’re a “girl who codes”. How did you get started with coding? Have you created other codes that create change?
I have been coding since I was 10 years old. I believe in science that goes beyond research. Coding and technology skills help solve real world issues effectively. When I was 10 years old, I lost my beloved aunt to a road accident involving distracting driving. Passionate to find a solution, I worked on a scientific research involving Cognitive distractions and how it affected reaction times of motorists. I used my coding skills to simulate motorist’s reaction times with and without distractions. I love everyday science that helps shine light on important issues that affect many.
Do you have any advice for young people who want to learn to code?
You don’t have to wear a labcoat or have Albert Einstein’s hair to solve complex problems that plague our society. If you have the passion, interest, and skills, you may look around yourself and find a problem that you care deeply about and do something to solve it.
How do you think we can use technology and coding for good?
Science allows for inquiry based research. Technology and coding skills allows for taking those a step further to actually create solutions. We often find ourselves “using” technology, we should do more to “create” technology. I help as a mentor for “one hour of code” session for students in Naperville. I am also a volunteer and student ambassador for “Girls Who Code”. I would like to inspire many students to start coding and realize the power of using technology for good.
Who is your hero? Your biggest inspirations?
My heroes are the young people who have been cyberbullied, seen their friends cyberbullied, and still remain strong and spread our message to stop cyberbullying before it happens. I receive emails from these incredible teens every day, and their persistence, determination, and passion helps fuel my drive to make ReThink a reality for every adolescent around the globe. Some of my biggest inspirations are the scientists Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur. Darwin proposed a radical idea, away from the social norm, and broke the status quo of the way we look at ourselves. I also love cold milk, and Louis made that possible and many more breakthroughs in science happen. As a scientist, social entrepreneur, and activist, I hope to continue changing the world in many ways, as they both did.
Check out Trisha’s TEDxTeen talk!
The really cool thing about ReThink is that it not only helps the victim, it also helps the bully change their behavior and help them develop key decision making skills on and off the internet. ReThink allows teens to become responsible digital-citizens. ReThink can be downloaded on Android devices for FREE here. ReThink for iOS and destop computers will be released soon!