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Lonely? Scared? Hungry? There’s an app for that

| April 10, 2018 | 0 Comments

Lauded scientists may be busy trying to save the planet, but good-hearted teens everywhere are also doing their technological bit.

American teen Natalie Hampton, in Grade 11 at Sherman Oaks High School in California, US, often sat alone in the cafeteria, because no one wanted to eat lunch with her. She recalls: “You feel extremely alone and extremely isolated, and your stomach drops. And you are searching for a place to eat, but you know that if you sit by yourself, there’ll be so much embarrassment that comes with it.”

A move to a new school found Hampton some friends, but she still felt bad for the loners she saw in the lunch room. So she created the SitWithUs app, explaining it thus: “It’s a free lunch-planning app, where kids can find lunch tables if they feel like they have nowhere to go. Pretty much, kids can sign up as ambassadors for a SitWithUs club and agree to post open lunches, so that anyone who has the app and has nowhere to go can find a table and, hopefully, make some new friends.”

Hampton’s been asked before why she doesn’t just champion a movement that encourages teens to sit down at a table and make personal contact. She says: “Because the way it was at my old school, I tried many times to reach out to someone, but I was rejected many times. And you feel like you’re labelling yourself as an outcast when you ask to join a table with someone you don’t know. This way, 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.”

Students are really taking to the app, reports Hampton. “People are posting open lunches at my school. So I’m very excited that things are already kicking off with a great start.” Over in the UK, new research points to the increasing vulnerability of young women who face serious threats to their safety and well-being. In addition, reports that the vast majority (96%) of 16- to 24-year-olds in the UK now own a smartphone.

There are obvious dangers to using such a device when you’re a teen and keen to explore a digital world. But thankfully, there are also several apps that can offer young people ways to take care.

Circle of 6, for example, was originally developed to prevent sexual violence on college campuses, but it is suitable to use anywhere. Users can request an “interruption” from a friend if they feel uncomfortable on a date. They can also use the app to get home safely.

For teens who feel uneasy walking alone, there’s Watch Over Me, which allows a friend to monitor you. If you don’t respond within a given time, your chosen contacts are sent your location and any photos, videos or notes you have uploaded. If your phone is shaken, it activates an alarm, switches on video recording and sends an alert to emergency contacts.

Elefriends and Stay Alive are apps for teens who feel dangerously lonely.

University students can also call on apps designed for them. Northumbria University provides free access to SafeZone – an app that allows students to request emergency assistance or first aid from university security around the clock. The University of the West of England offers students the app KoothStudent for online counselling. The Callisto app lets students report sexual harassment anonymously – and alerts users if someone has previously named the same perpetrator.


Category: Autumn 2018

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