This 15-Year-Old's App Could Help End Online Bullying For Good

"I was shocked," 15-year-old developer Trisha Prabhu said of the effectiveness of her ReThink app.

Trisha Prabhu knew there had to be a simple way to get kids to stop bullying each other online. But what was it?

"All the solutions out there seemed ineffective and they asked the victim to take action, when really it should stop at the source," the 15-year-old Naperville, Illinois, sophomore told MTV News.

"Because 90 percent of the time the victims don't tell anyone. I knew there needed to be a more proactive solution."


Trisha with Selena Gomez at #WeDayIllinois 2015.

The proud science geek -- then just 13 -- pondered it, and two years later came up with a free app called "ReThink," which challenges users to think about how their hurtful words might affect someone before they post them. ReThink -- which will launch later this week on multiple platforms -- encourages young people to take a moment to reconsider if they really want to send that mean text or tweet.

And if her research -- which showed that rethinking leads to a 93% reduction in the number of hurtful messages that teens post -- proves true, she might just change the cyberbullying equation forever.

The Tragic Story That Inspired A Beautiful Idea

Prabhu was spurred to action by a story she read about the death of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick, who committed suicide after allegedly being cyberbullied by two classmates. Her research confirmed what scientists have long known about the brains of teens -- that their pre-frontal cortex, which helps with impulse control, is not fully formed during the teen years and leads to things like posting potentially hurtful things before fully considering the consequences.

Prabhu figured that if she could develop an alert system that would encourage them to rethink the potential harm their message might cause, it could get them to pause and reconsider their actions.

"I really wanted to do something different and I came across this article about the teenage brain," said Prabhu, who began her research when she was 14. "It got me thinking about a technology solution... but I wasn't sure how effective it would be or if kids would think it was stupid."


Trisha with Bill Nye at the White House.

Turning A Teenage Hunch Into A Wildly Elegant Solution

Last year she tested her hypothesis by running a study in which each member of her test group -- 150 boys and 150 girls ages 12-18 -- were given five different messages based on real-life examples of cyberbullying. While the baseline group was willing to post more than 67% of the hurtful messages, the ReThink group was initially willing to do so at a 71% rate, which dropped to 4% after they were given a prompt to reconsider their message.

"I was shocked," she said of the results. "I thought there might be a bit of a change, but part of me thought teens would think it was so stupid that would they would feel even more encouraged to post [a hurtful] message. I certainly did not expect such a high rate of turnover. I realized I'd stumbled onto something that could change the game in cyberbullying."

Facebook ReThink

Trisha with actor Martin Sheen at #WeDayIllinois 2015.

The study earned her a global finalist spot at last year's Google Science Fair and led to more development of the ReThink system, as well as an invitation to the 2015 White House Science Fair earlier this year.

The Big Question: Drop Out And Go For The Gold Or Stay In School?

"I knew parents and educators would love it, but I was concerned about how kids would feel, and most of them though it was really cool," said the super-busy high schooler, who will have to start juggling being an entrepreneur with running 10Ks, Youth In Government, chairing her school's cyberbullying club, Junior Statesmen of America, Science Olympiad, Student Council, and her many other activities when classes start up again on Thursday.

"I've been told by venture capitalists that I should drop out [of high school] and run as fast as I can away from it," she said, noting that she was bullied as a kid for her admittedly "not fashion-forward" sensibility.

But for now she's happy to take phone calls before and after classes and stay "a little busy" while she sees where things go.