Natalie Hampton is a high school junior from Sherman Oaks, Calif. The once-bullied teen has created a new app called “Sit with Us,” a safe place for lonely kids to seek out lunchtime companionship. The free lunch-planning app allows students to find lunch tables if they don’t want to sit alone. Other high school students can sign up as ambassadors for a “Sit with Us” club and agree to post open lunches, so that anyone who has the app and has nowhere to go can find a table and possibly make some new friends.
Hampton recently discussed her innovation on the Knowledge@Wharton show on Wharton Business Radio on SiriusXM channel 111. (Listen to the podcast at the top of this page.)
An edited transcript of Hampton’s conversation with Wharton Business Radio host Dan Loney follows.
Knowledge@Wharton: The problems of bullying and inclusion are still concerns at schools across the United States. Add in the pressure of being in high school and you get some students who feel like they might be alone, maybe don’t have friends. A 16-year-old from Sherman Oaks, California, is trying to be heard in this discussion. She has come up with a unique way to handle it. It’s an app called Sit With Us. It’s designed to help high schoolers meet new people, maybe at lunch, and not eat alone. Her name is Natalie Hampton. And Natalie joins us on the phone right now. Natalie, welcome.
Natalie Hampton: Thank you so much for having me.
Knowledge@Wharton: Thank you. Great to have you. This is a phenomenal idea. And I’ll start with how the idea to look into this problem came about. How did you decide on an app being one of the best ways to go about it?
Hampton: At my old school [a private all-girls academy], I was severely bullied. I was ostracized by pretty much everyone. I ended up eating lunch alone for a big part of my high school career. And so, when I was very, very lucky to change schools, I saw people sitting alone, and I knew how that felt. I knew the feelings of embarrassment and rejection that went along with that. So I would always ask them to join our table. Some of these people have become some of my best friends. I know how much it really changes these people’s lives. And so I started doing some community service with underprivileged kids. But I realized that, as soon as they stepped out onto those school campuses, there was nothing I could do. So I thought that creating an app was the best way to help kids in their schools and their lunchrooms and help them meet new people.
K@W: Why the app?
Hampton: We decided to create an app because phones are pretty universal in all classrooms. And it’s very private. So there’s no rejection or no embarrassment of having to go up to someone and ask [him or her] to join the table. If you do it through the phone, you know that when you get to the table, you’re going somewhere safe, and there’s nothing to worry about.
Knowledge@Wharton: And you’ve already made that connection with something. The other interesting part about this is it does build leadership skills within the high school because you have people that are taking that lead role of saying, “Yeah listen, please join me, no problem.”
Hampton: Yeah. And I think that when you have students that– I mean lunch isn’t really a big deal to most people. So it’s not that big of a time commitment to get this app and start posting lunches. And I think it’s these small changes of kids helping kids and kids doing something good for their community that really makes strides in the way that students treat each other within their schools.
K@W: How long has the app been active? And do you know how many downloads you’ve gotten at this point?
Hampton: It’s been out for a little [more than] a week. And it’s gotten [more than] 10,000 downloads, the last time I checked, which is just mind blowing to me. Because this was my little pet project. I thought this was just going to be implemented at my school. But the fact that I’ve been able to reach kids internationally is amazing to me.
K@W: Where is the farthest that you’ve actually seen this app being used?
Hampton: We’ve heard from people in Morocco, the Philippines, Australia, England, France, just all over the place. We’ve been getting pictures from all over the United States, as well. So the fact that it’s reaching tons of kids just makes me so happy, because I really wanted to reach as many people as possible.
K@W: [The fact that] you’re hearing from people [from around the world] does also drive home the [point] that we talk about this issue here in the United States, but this is a problem in other parts of the world, as well. It’s not just exclusive to the U.S.
Hampton: Yes, definitely. It’s a universal problem. And it’s not unique to me. And that’s why I wanted to create something like this, because I’m not the only one who has felt alone in high school. And I know that I’m not the only one who still feels like this every day.
K@W: How has doing this app changed your view of high school? And also, maybe changed what you want to do going forward in college and as a career?
Hampton: Well, I definitely had a more pessimistic view of high school when I was being bullied every day. But now I realize that there [are] kids who are willing to help each other in every single school. [There are] upstanders all over the place. I really didn’t realize how many kind and caring people were in every single school community until I created this.
K@W: The other part to it is that, and I think it’s been the case as long as kids have gone to school, is that kids in school do kind of tend to be in groups. You’re building out a new group.
Hampton: Yes. I mean it’s really hard to go up to a clique of girls, for example, and ask to join their table when they already look like a complete friend group. But if those girls are actively going on the Internet and saying, “We have a spot at our lunch table, we’d love if you’d join us, and you’re not going to be rejected,” then there’s no embarrassment, there’s no isolation. It makes it so much easier. And those people can actually be some of your closest friends in the long run.
K@W: What kind of effect do you think this will have on the problem of bullying in schools?
Hampton: Generally, I think that social media in this day and age is used for a lot of bad. There’s a lot of cyber bullying. My hope with this app is to try to combat that with creating a social media network that’s for the positive, that’s for helping people.
K@W: How have your friends and family reacted to all of this?
Hampton: My friends and family at school have been overwhelmingly positive. We’ve already gotten a ton of downloads. And a lot of my family members are opening it at their kids’ schools, and a lot of my friends are opening it at their schools. It’s just so great that there hasn’t been any backlash, that people are seeing that the true reason for this is because I really want to help other people from going through what I went through.
K@W: What is your hope, then, with this app? I mean obviously, it’s to reach as many people as you possibly can. At this point, with it being a week old and 10,000 downloads, you have the potential, it sounds like, to have a Pokemon on your hands.
Hampton: My hope is that it really helps people. Because it doesn’t matter if everyone in the world downloads it and it doesn’t do anything. My hope is that, even if it changes the life of one person, that’ll make it all worth it for me. I just want to be able to change the lives of as many people as possible, because I know how awful [exclusion] is.
- BullyBust: Promoting a Community of Upstanders
- The Bully Project
- Together Against Bullying
- Tyler Clementi Foundation
- NPR: Teen Creates Sit with Us App
- Upstander Project
- Stop Bullying
- Trisha Prabhu Gets $100,000 Shark Tank Investment for Her Anti-bullying Tech
Would you use Natalie Hampton’s ‘Sit with Us’ app? Why or why not? Log in and comment on this interview. Is Natalie onto something? How might she improve her innovation?
Does bullying still happen in your school? Online? Offline? Discuss all the ways that bullying and exclusion are going on around you daily. In discussing it, what did you learn from your peers? Do people define bullying differently? How do you define it?
What is an upstander? Research this term in “Related Links” and talk about how it has become associated with the anti-bullying movement, and is a true leadership quality. Natalie Hampton felt she would be as guilty as her bullies if she didn’t find a way to help those who were being excluded. Do you agree that bystanders bear responsibility for bullying?
I believe that if I were having the same problems as this girl that I would in fact use this app. It is great for people who are going through things like this. Feeling like you are not wanted or do not have a place is an awful feeling. This girl really helps people going through this.
I feel that what Natalie Hampton has done by creating the app “Sit With Us” has acted as a very beneficial way for people to feel accepted. Not only has she assured a safe and effective way to find a lunch buddy, but the app is very helpful in meeting a variety of new people. Since she was previously bullied very severely herself, she knows how it feels to be excluded and harassed. I feel that her personal experience with bullying has given her an insider on what kids need and want in order to feel accepted and safe.
Hi Rebecca! Thanks for your thoughts on Natalie’s “Sit with Us” app. She is a compassionate and innovative young woman. We recently read about another teen from the Chicago area who just got a $100,000 investment on Shark Tank for her anti-bullying technology known as ReThink. It addresses cyber bullying. Check out Trisha Prabhu’s story in Related Links. Have a great day.
If my school were to use Natalie Hampton’s ‘Sit with Us’ app I would also download it because I believe, with all of the shootings and tragedies in the world right now, that we need to all be more united as a world and end the hatefull thinking and actions that go along with bullying and cyberbullying and I believe thia app will habe a change on many middle and high schoolers who feel alone. Natalie is onto something because once this article was released, the app was a couple of weeks old and already was used in many diffrent countries and with more than 10,000 downloads. Some ways she can improve her innovation is for her to invest in good marketing experts so that her app is more widley known.
Yes, bullying still happens in my school but I am confident that the bullying in this school is minimal because we have a caring faculty, a caring principal and clubs like Hope club that create a place were students can go and seek help and they make this school more unified. But bullying is a problem in schools that don’t have such programs and faculty and even in those who do and drastic measures need to be taken, like the creation of this app to battle bullying. People don’t define bullying differently, in my opinion bullying has only one definition and that is a lack of love for yourself and others.
An upstander is a person who knows that something is wrong and needs to be changed, therefore she/he takes action to stop the problem, like the anti-bullying movement were students take actions and express leadership to end bullying.I do believe that we as bystanders have the responsability to speak up and make a change.
Sit With Us is a revolutionary app that promotes inclusivity on school grounds. As an introvert, I would have appreciated something that helped me make friends without allowing space for judgment or embarrassment during my first few days of high school. Now almost five years since its release, this app has garnered so much praise; this app is, with no doubt, a success.
Many students who yearn for a feeling of belonging may be discouraged at the sight of their peers being so comfortable around each other. I myself have experienced this. I never dared to go up to a group of people and ask to sit with them because I was afraid of the two-letter-word “no”. They all look fine in their own friend groups; how could I intrude? With the creation of this app, Natalie tackles this universal issue of bullying and isolation. This app allows those who are more open and extroverted to show those who are more introverted that arms are always open. It provides a space for people on the shyer side to comfortably look for people to sit with. I downloaded and explored the app to see how it works first-hand. What stood out to me was that this app gave no space for embarrassment. People using this app wouldn’t have to fear rejection, as the invitations extended on this app are open to any user in the area.
Another thing I really respect about this app is the intent. Natalie utilized her horrible experience with ostracism at her former school to build community within other schools. She didn’t forget the hatred she had endured and told herself that by doing nothing, she was turning her back on all of those people who were going through the same thing she did. In 2018 (the most recent report), just two years after the release, she reported 100,000 users in 8 different countries. And although this statistic itself is amazing, I would like to spotlight Natalie’s statement that she doesn’t care for the number. She wouldn’t have minded if only one school used it; what matters to her is that the schools that do use her app are changing positively and including students. This illustrates true entrepreneurial spirit: the success of an innovation is measured by social impact rather than numerical impact.
There is one question I have for Natalie and her team. How is this app including Android users? From what I have researched so far, this app can be used on Apple phones only, undermining the message of inclusivity.
Nevertheless, Sit With Us has an incredible future. I believe that years from now, more schools will be able to credit this app for the increase in inclusivity in their community. The fact that Natalie has turned her experience with exclusion into an app that can help students feel accepted in a community is inspiring and a start to more positivity in schools.
Your response really stood out to me and I can downright relate to your comment on Natalie Hampton’s app. Just as you are, I, too, am grateful that an app like this was developed; and from someone who has had first-hand experience on isolation and loneliness, know just how much this app would have helped me. I was once the introvert who was always hiding in the corner of the room; the kid who was always too afraid of holding her head high; it took me nearly a decade to grow out of that bubble. It was through the people who saw how much I needed a friend, to come approach me, and introduce me to their group of friends. Their inviting sense of kindness was what gave me a sense of belonging; and through these people whom are now my closest friends, I was able to grow out of my shell; to leave the bubble that separated me from the rest of society. Looking back, those last ten years in which I spent alone were some of the worst and if I had not been fortunate enough to meet the friends I have met, I don’t know what I would do. Yet, there are so many others not as fortunate as I am, and with an app like this, their lives could be revolutionized in so many positive aspects. As you have said, it really is no doubt that this app is a success and I feel the same way as you do; holding high regard on Natalie’s intent in creating this app. She was an upstander who didn’t forget what she has previously dealt with, and worked to address an issue with the initiative of helping others escape their loneliness by promoting inclusion.