Following is the full transcript of ReThink creator Trisha Prabhu’s TED Talk titled ‘Rethink Before You Type’ at TEDxTeen conference.
Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Rethink before you type by Trisha Prabhu at TEDxTeen
“Girl, kill yourself.”
“Why are you still alive?”
“You are so ugly.”
Rebecca Sedwick, an 11 year-old girl from Florida, received those mean, hurtful, tormenting and embarrassing messages on her social media. They would ultimately lead her to jump off of her town’s water tower to her death.
In the fall of 2013, I would come home from school to read that story. I was stunned, shocked, and I was heart-broken. How could a girl younger than myself be pushed to take her own life? That’s when I knew I had to do something to stop this from ever happening again. But the pain and the misery that Rebecca endured had already happened. The damage was done.
My name is Trisha Prabhu, I’m 14 years old, and I’m from the great city of Naperville, in Illinois, in the United States. I’m passionate to stop cyberbullying at the source, before the damage is done.
I’m a big dreamer, and I believe that everyone should have the right to dream, persist in their dream, and see that become a reality. So, when I read Rebecca’s story, I immediately wondered, “Were there any others like her out there, that were suffering as well?” I’d soon learn that she was one of a countless many.
Megan Meier died three weeks before her 14th birthday. She hung herself in her bedroom closet where her mother would find her when coming up to get her for dinner. She’d received messages like, “The world would be a better place without you”, on her MySpace account. The damage was done, and Megan suffered the consequences.
Tyler Clementi was an 18th year-old student at Rutgers University. He was just getting used to college life and his new gay identity. One day, his roommate and a friend decided to use a webcam and a laptop to stream some of Tyler’s most intimate moments with his boyfriend all over social media. The damage was done. Humiliated, Tyler took his life, jumping off of the George Washington bridge.
I wish more than anything that I could rewrite those stories. I wish I could make every perpetrator rethink what they did. But what if I could do that? What if I could stop the damage before it was done? Would Megan, Tyler and Rebecca still be alive today? Cyberbullying is a huge problem. 52% of adolescents in the United States alone have been cyberbullied. And 38% of them suffered suicidal tendencies.
Let’s look at it from a global perspective. A quarter of the world’s population are adolescents. We’re talking 1.8 billion teens. Imagine that in the social media revolution, how more and more of them are getting on social media, and more and more of them are being cyberbullied.
So, why do you get cyberbullied? Look, I might be biased, but I’m pretty sure that kids are not mean devils that run around with cruel intentions. I don’t know about you, but that’s what I think. And what about adults? Are they nice or mean on social media? Now, when it comes to adults, I wasn’t really sure. So, I had to do some research to figure that out. So, that year, for my science experiment at school, I decided to look at how age affected the willingness to post offensive messages on social media sites.
What did I find? This younger age group, ages 12 to 18, was 40% more willing to post an offensive message than an older age group. OK. The number didn’t surprise me. But why? Why was that younger age group so much more willing to post an offensive message? I started to do a lot of research, and, one day, I came across an article, and it had one sentence that would forever change my view on this problem. They said, “The adolescent brain is likened to a car with no breaks.” High speed. No pausing. No thinking. No considering. We just act.
So why is it like that? Our brains are kind of weird. They develop from the back to the front, which means that our front part of the brain is not fully developed until age 25. Why is that a problem? Well, prefrontal cortex controls decision-making skills, rash, impulsive decisions, spur-of-the-moment feelings. So, that’s why adolescents don’t think before they act. They just go ahead and do something, whether it’s downing fifteen Red Bulls on a dare, skipping an English final, doing something crazy. We don’t really think before we do it.
Well, then I was venting about this to a friend. I was like, “Gosh, you know, this is horrible.”
And she said, “You know, Trisha, I really admire your passion, but you’ve been talking about this for the last 15 minutes, as if you had just discovered it. It’s a huge problem, but social media sites are already doing stuff to stop this.”
And I went, “Oh, yeah. You’re right.” But I’d soon find that what social media sites are doing is really nothing. Their mechanism is a “stop, block, tell” method. You stop what you’re doing, through the victim, you block the cyberbully and you immediately go tell a parent or guardian. It sounds pretty reasonable.
But here’s what actually happens: adolescents, we’re kind of afraid to tell people that we’re being cyberbullied. Research shows that nine out of ten times victims don’t tell anyone that they’re being cyberbullied. What’s more, why are we putting the burden on the victim to block the cyberbully? Why aren’t we changing the behavior in the actual cyberbully? And it angered me. There wasn’t a single effective way to stop cyberbullying, and it was a silent pandemic that was affecting so many people around the world.
That’s when I had an idea. I know from my research that adolescents don’t think before they do things, right? So, what if they didn’t think before they type? What if I gave them a chance to think about what they were doing? If an adolescent tried to post an offensive message on social media, if I went, “Whoa! Hold on. You’re about to post an offensive message to someone. That can really hurt them. Are you sure you want to post this message?”, would they still be as willing to do it? I had no idea, but I was ready to find out.