How one teen went from bullied middle schooler to app inventor to world-renowned activist.

Natalie Hampton's experience in middle school left her with painful memories she won't soon forget.

In seventh and eighth grade, she was bullied relentlessly. Often, she came home with multiple bruises and scars from the encounters.

"The worst incident was when a girl held scissors pointed at my throat saying that she felt a desperate urge to slit my throat," writes Natalie in an email. "I don’t know if my memories of that incident will ever fade."


But the bullying didn't stop when she went home at the end of the day. Thanks to social media, she was at the mercy of her attackers 24/7.

"I felt so vulnerable, voiceless, and worthless," she recalls.

As a result, she ate lunch alone everyday, and the lack of a friend base made everything she experienced so much worse.

My mom took this photo of me when I was being severely bullied at my previous school. My parents went in numerous times...

Posted by Sit With Us on Sunday, September 18, 2016

By ninth grade, Natalie was finally able to switch schools, which helped significantly. However, every time she saw a kid bullied or exiled, it hit her at her core.

So she started inviting these kids to sit with her at lunch.

"I would always invite anyone who was sitting alone to join my lunch table because I knew how awful they felt," Natalie explains. "I became so close to these kids and saw firsthand that this simple act of kindness made a huge difference in their lives."

In fact, one girl confided in Natalie telling her that, after joining Natalie at the lunch table, she overcame suicidal thoughts.

That's when Natalie realized how life-changing small friendship offerings like this could be. It inspired her to take action on a much larger scale.

Natalie turned to social media — the same place she was initially the target of cyberbullying — to help give kids a clearer path to a seat with friends a lunch table.  

Natalie Hampton and her campaign. All photos via Natalie Hampton, used with permission.

With the help of a freelance coder, she started developing an app she ended up naming Sit With Us.

It has a super simple functionality: The app allows students to act as ambassadors and let kids know they're welcome to sit with them at lunch. On the other side, kids looking for a friendly table can find the list of "open lunches" in the app, which means anyone can join them.

By becoming a Sit With Us ambassador, a student pledges to welcome anyone and everyone who wants to join their table. It calls upon them to not only be more mindful of the bullying taking place in their school, but also to take action rather than just watch it happen.

"If people are more kind to each other at lunch, then they will be more kind inside the classroom and beyond," Natalie writes. "One small step like this can change the overall dynamic of a school community over time so that everyone feels welcome and included."

Since its inception, the Sit With Us app has garnered over 100,000 users across eight countries and won the 2017 Appy Award for best nonprofit app.

According to Natalie, even adults are using it to coordinate lunches and find people to sit with at church.

Meanwhile, Natalie has become a major anti-bullying advocate, speaking at renowned conferences like TEDxTeen London, Girls Can Do, and Say No to Bullying. Natalie's also been honored with a number of accolades including the Outstanding Youth Delegate Award and the Copper Black Award, and she was recently named one of People Magazine's 25 Women Changing the World.

Natalie at TEDxTeen London.

And she also regularly speaks at schools around the world about the importance of kindness and inclusion.

She knows how bullying can affect students and wants to provide resources for how to cope. Now she's focusing on spreading the word and empowering more students to be leaders like her in the anti-bullying fight.

"I believe that every school has students like me who want to take a leadership role in making their schools more inclusive."

Natalie says when she goes to college, she plans to continue spreading her message any way she can. She hopes that one day, no kid will have to sit alone at lunch.

"I will visit schools in the area near my college," Natalie writes. "I want my project to continue to grow and help as many people as possible."

However, Natalie believes the key to solving the bullying epidemic lies with the students themselves. Studies have shown that student-led initiatives are far more successful at curtailing bullying than those started by adults. Imagine if all the "cool kids" at every school in America became Sit With Us ambassadors. They could likely eliminate the behavior in no time.

But even without the app, if kids realize they have the power to stop bullying simply by inviting those who're being left out to sit at their proverbial table, it could change everything.  

When everyone's on board to make a change, kindness trumps intolerance, every day of the week.

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Women around the world are constantly bombarded by traditional and outdated societal expectations when it comes to how they live their lives: meet a man, get married, buy a home, have kids.

Many of these pressures often come from within their own families and friend circles, which can be a source of tension and disconnect in their lives.

Global skincare brand SK-II created a new campaign exploring these expectations from the perspective of four women in four different countries whose timelines vary dramatically from what their mothers, grandmothers, or close friends envision for them.

SK-II had Katie Couric meet with these women and their loved ones to discuss the evolving and controversial topic of marriage pressure and societal expectations.

SK-II

"What happens when dreams clash with expectations? We're all supposed to hit certain milestones: a degree, marriage, a family," Couric said before diving into conversation with the "young women who are defining their own lives while navigating the expectations of the ones who love them most."

Maluca, a musician in New York, explains that she comes from an immigrant family, which comes with the expectation that she should live the "American Dream."

"You come here, go to school, you get married, buy a house, have kids," she said.

Her mother, who herself achieved the "American Dream" with hard work and dedication when she came to the United States, wants to see her daughter living a stable life.

"I'd love for her to be married and I'd love her to have a big wedding," she said.

Chun Xia, an award-winning Chinese actress who's outspoken about empowering other young women in China, said people question her marital status regularly.

"I'm always asked, 'Don't you want to get married? Don't you want to start a family and have kids like you should at your age?' But the truth is I really don't want to at this point. I am not ready yet," she said.

In South Korea, Nara, a queer-identifying artist, believes her generation should have a choice in everything they do, but her mother has a different plan in mind.

SK-II

"I just thought she would have a job and meet a man to get married in her early 30s," Nara's mom said.

But Nara hopes she can one day marry her girlfriend, even though it's currently illegal in her country.

Her mother, however, still envisions a different life for her daughter. "Deep in my heart, I hope she will change her mind one day," she said.

Maina, a 27-year-old Japanese woman, explains that in her home country, those who aren't married by the time they're 25 to 30, are often referred to as "unsold goods."

Her mom is worried about her daughter not being able to find a boyfriend because she isn't "conventional."

"I really want her to find the right man and get married, to be seen as marriage material," she said.

After interviewing the women and their families, Couric helped them explore a visual representation of their timelines, which showcased the paths each woman sees her life going in contrast with what her relatives envision.

SK-II

"For each young woman, two timelines were created. One represents the expectations. The other, their aspirations," Couric explained. "There's often a disconnect between dreams and expectations. But could seeing the difference lead to greater understanding?"

The women all explored their timelines, which included milestones like having "cute babies," going back to school, not being limited by age, and pursuing dreams.

By seeing their differences side-by-side, the women and their families were able to partake in more open dialogue regarding the expectations they each held.

One of the women's mom's realized her daughter was lucky to be born during a time when she has the freedom to make non-traditional choices.

SK-II

"It looks like she was born in the right time to be free and confident in what she wants to do," she said.

"There's a new generation of women writing their own rules, saying, 'we want to do things our way,' and that can be hard," Couric explained.

The video ends with the tagline: "Forge your own path and choose the life you want; Draw your own timeline."

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