Rethink: An Effective Way to Prevent Cyberbullying

Cyber-bullying is an online form of bullying, that research shows may result in depression, low self-esteem and in rare cases suicides in adolescent victims(12-18). Research shows that, over 50% of adolescents and teens have been bullied online and 10 to 20% experience it regularly. Research also shows that adolescents that post mean/hurtful messages may not understand the potential consequences of their actions because the pre-frontal cortex, the area of brain that controls reasoning and decision-making isn't developed until age 25.  Passionate to prevent fellow adolescents from cyber-bullying, I realized I could use my science & technology skills to effectively prevent cyber-bullying "at the source"(before it occurs). I hypothesized that if adolescents(ages 12-18) were provided an alert mechanism that suggested them to re-think their decision if they expressed willingness to post a mean/hurtful message on social media, the number of mean/hurtful messages adolescents will be willing to post would be lesser than adolescents that are not provided with such an alert mechanism. In order to check if my hypothesis was true, I created two Software systems: 1) Baseline 2) Rethink. "Rethink" system measured number of mean/hurtful messages adolescents were willing to post after being alerted to rethink, while the "Baseline" system measured the same without the alert. Results proved that adolescents were 93.43% less willing to post mean/hurtful messages using a "Rethink" system compared with "Baseline" system without alert. After successfully proving my hypothesis, I put together product prototype for "Rethink" for web and mobile platforms.



My name is Trisha Prabhu, I'm 13 years old and a 8th grader at Scullen Middle School, Naperville, IL. At age 6, I was introduced to a book, which discusses dangers that global warming poses to Earth. I became fascinated with the science behind the issue, spending weeks creating designs for a car that would run on wind and water. I've yet to realize that dream, but it’ll happen-I'm determined.  I am fascinated by behavioral sciences specifically psychology, psychobiology and cognitive science. Last year, as part of our District's science fair, I worked on a Software product design to prevent distracted driving after my aunt was killed in a road accident. This year, I became passionate to prevent cyber-bullying knowing(from research) that it is negatively affecting many young adolescents.  Using my science and technology skills, I am determined to find an effective long-term solution that would help prevent cyberbullying . My love for technology innovation has helped me present winning product ideas in front of investors at an entrepreneurial hub in Chicago. I’m fascinated by the concept of Evolution and Charles Darwin's quest to discover it. I also admire Louis Pasteur (I love cold milk). I want to major in neuroscience, then spend my life unraveling the secrets of the brain. Winning, for me, means more than just prizes(although they sound awesome). It’ll validate my innovative approach and provide an opportunity for me to turn my scientific understanding into a reality that will help millions around the world.


After careful background study, I believed that a system may be considered effective in preventing cyber-bullying in adolescents if that system results in reduced number of mean/hurtful messages that the bully or potential bully will be willing to post on social media sites.  With this understanding of effectiveness, the primary question that I investigated was How could I create a more effective system to reduce cyber-bullying in adolescents on social media sites? After much research, I realized that a system where adolescents (ages 12-18) would pause, review and re-think the decision of posting a mean/hurtful message before they post that message would be more effective in reducing cyber-bullying than if they are not given that chance to rethink. I hypothesized that if adolescents(ages 12-18) were provided an alert mechanism that suggested them to re-think their decision if they expressed willingness to post a mean/hurtful message on social media, the number of mean/hurtful messages that adolescents will be willing to post would be lesser than adolescents that are not provided with such an alert mechanism.   If this hypothesis is proved to be true, I decided that I would go a step further and creatively design a product prototype(Rethink) that would work for any form of social media across all browsers and apps.  This Rethink mechanism may not only result in preventing cyber-bullying, it may also have a long-term, positive effect on adolescents' decision-making skills, helping them not only on social media, but in the real world as well.


Research topics: (Please see Bibliography/references for all sources)

1) What is cyber-bullying in adolescents?

According to, cyberbullying is when an adolescent (ages 12-18) is tormented, harassed or embarrassed using the Internet and interactive technologies (social media sites).  

2) Which age group is most affected by cyber-bullying and why? 

Research shows that about 50% of adolescents(ages 12 - 18) have been the victim of cyber-bullying. The same number have bullied other adolescents. Shockingly, more than 1 in 3 young people have experienced online threats. According to studies at American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, adolescents’ (12-18) brains function differently than adults when decision-making and problem solving. Based on stage of their brain development, adolescents are more likely to act on impulse and are less likely to pause and think to consider the potential consequences of their actions before they act.

3) Why are the existing solutions present proving ineffective & insufficient in preventing cyber-bullying long-term?

Some of the popular social media sites try to prevent cyber-bullying after bullying has happened.  Some of these sites have blocking features, which include blocking users at victim’s request, not allowing bullies to post mean messages in future.  However, all of these features are simply solutions that block bullies from posting messages after it has been posted (after the damage is done) - it does not provide a way for the bully to pause, rethink and refrain from posting before the hurtful messages are posted.  Research shows, while any future cyber-bullying may have been avoided in this instance from that bully to this victim on this social media site, it's only a matter of time it starts showing up in other social media sites against other potential victims. Thus, these features are ineffective as long-term solutions to stop cyber-bullying.

4) Has there been any research already conducted on potential efficacy of “Rethink” in adolescents ?

According to, one of the best ways to stop cyber-bullying is to "think before you post". None of the existing solutions adopt this effective way to stop cyber-bullying. I wondered,how can I design a system that would be effective in preventing cyber-bullying, before the message is posted?  How can I ensure that this is effective on all social media sites? As found in this research, the Prefrontal Cortex is not fully developed during adolescence years and the best way to combat this issue is to teach adolescents four steps in decision making.

1. The Situation: Adolescents need to realize they need to stop/think in an important situation

2. Think: Adolescents need to think about the possible choices/consequences in a situation

3. Their Decision: Adolescents need to decide what to do

4. Evaluate their Decision: (Later) Adolescents evaluate whether they could've made a better decision.

5) Are there any solutions already present that provides adolescents(ages 12-18) a "Rethink" opportunity before they post mean and hurtful messages?

None.  Hence, I proceeded to work on my project to help prevent cyber-bullying at the "source" one message at a time.IFrame


I used the Software Design Process – Waterfall Model to create software systems, for both  "Baseline" and "Rethink" used in this project:

  • Requirement Elicitation and Analysis
  • System Specification
  • Design & Redesign
  • Coding
  • Unit and System testing

Key Requirements

  • Systems should be anonymous, should not collect personal data and should not pose any health risks to subjects.
  • Build a system ("Baseline") that presents adolescents with hurtful messages and measures whether or not they would be willing to post these messages on social media.  
  • Build a system ("Rethink") that measures willingness to post the same set of hurtful messages by offering adolescents a chance to review and rethink their decision before posting  hurtful message on social media. This system will capture both the initial and rethink responses from test subjects.
  • Compare results from "Baseline" and "Rethink" to test my hypothesis. 


  • Controlled age-group of all test subjects to be ages 12 - 18
  • Controlled number of subjects from either gender (150 girls, 150 boys).  
  • Controlled number of trials(5) per subject
  • Controlled time available for response per question (25 seconds)
  • I chose a set of five mean and hurtful message examples provided by Cyberbullying research agency and used them for testing in both systems.
  • All names used in example hurtful messages were kept generic to use @JohnSmith/@JillJone to ensure no real world coincidence.
  • All tests conducted with same laptop using same mouse device


  • Independent variable – Presence of rethink/alert component in the system
  • Dependent variable – Willingness of adolescents to post hurtful message

Testing process

  • Tests were conducted at my school (6th, 7th,  8th grade students, ages 12 – 14) and at local library to test high school students (ages 14 – 18)
  • Total of 1500 trials were conducted for this project.
  • Adolescent user is invited to participate in the test
  • Adolescent puts in their Gender, Age, school and social media sites they use(no personal data was collected)
  • Adolescents are presented with either "Baseline" or "Rethink" system based on a random shuffle
  • "Baseline" - Adolescent is presented with the first hurtful message and prompted "Would you post this on social media site"?   Adolescent clicks "Yes" or "No", hits next button, adolescent is presented with next hurtful message and the process is repeated until all 5 messages are presented. 
  • "Rethink" - Adolescent is presented with the first hurtful message and prompted "Would you post this on social media site"?   Adolescent has a chance to click "Yes" or "No".  If adolescent clicks "Yes", they are provided an Alert message "This message may be hurtful to others.  Would you like to pause, review and rethink before posting?" .  User's "initial" response as well as "rethink" response are captured/saved in the Database. Adolescent hits next button and is presented with the next hurtful message and process is repeated until all 5 messages are presented.
  • Both systems present a Thank you page for participating

Safety measures: Ensured testing was conducted in a safe environment and users had no access or ability to tamper with power outlets.


​​Compilation of Data

After conducting 1500 total trials with "Baseline" and "Rethink" systems (link to results with 1500 trials),  I proceeded with the first step in results analysis, which is compilation of data. This can be explained in the following steps:

1. Exporting captured data from MySQL Database to .csv file to analyze data. I used SQL to query data and was doing a lot of analysis on MySQL (phpMyAdmin), but needed to export data to Excel to create Graphs.(link here to graphs)

2. Analyze data and organize into tables and charts. (link here to Data analysis and results SQL statements)

3. Verify hypothesis and analyze results & findings.



300 adolescents(ages 12 - 18) participated in the anonymous tests: 150 for "Baseline" system and 150 for "Rethink" system (Each group contained 75 males and 75 females to control gender).  Each adolescent participated in 5 trials, there were a total of 750 trials per system bringing it up to 1,500 trials in total.

"Baseline" System:

Out of the 750 trials in "Baseline",  adolescents were willing to post those mean/hurtful messages in 504 of those trials, resulting in willingness of 67.2% to post mean/hurtful messages.

"Rethink System:

Out of the 750 trials, adolescents were willing to post mean/hurtful message in 533 of those trials, thus resulting in an initial willingness of 71.07% to post mean/hurtful messages. My results showed a significant decrease in adolescents' willingness to post mean/hurtful messages - 93.43% of the 533 decided to not post mean/hurtful messages after they had the opportunity to pause, review and rethink.  Only 35 of those 533 trials were still reporting willingness to post those mean/hurtful messages -  That is 6.57%  that were willing to post mean/hurtful message compared with 93.43% that decided to not post those mean/hurtful messages. That reduced the overall willingness to post mean/hurtful messages of the "Rethink" System to 4.67%-down originally from 71.07%. 


Results Vs. Hypothesis

The "Rethink" System resulted in lesser number of mean/hurtful messages that the adolescents(ages 12-18) were willing to post compared to the "Baseline" System, thereby proving my hypothesis. The willingness of adolescents to post mean/hurtful messages on social media significantly reduced  in "Rethink" (35 out of the 750 trials) compared with "Baseline" (504 out of the 750 trials). That is a significant drop from 67.2% willingness in "Baseline" to a much lower 4.67% in "Rethink" to post mean/hurtful messages. Looking further into "Rethink" system, out of the 533 trials that reported initial willingness to post mean/hurtful messages, 93.43% of those trials decided to not post mean/hurtful messages after a rethink-alert.


Action Upon Results: Prototype 

After having seen just how big of a positive effect "Rethink" mechanism had on the issue of adolescents' willingness to post mean/hurtful messages and how it could truly help address the issue of cyber-bullying, I decided to take a step further and create a prototype of how this mechanism could work as an actual product. This prototype is explained in a diagram in Summary PowerPoint.



 I have proved that if adolescents(ages 12-18) were provided a mechanism to rethink their decision before posting hurtful messages, they would be more unlikely to post them.

"Rethink" system consistently resulted in reduced number of hurtful messages that adolescents' were willing to post on social media, compared with "Baseline" system. There was a 93.43% reduction in the number of hurtful messages that adolescents were willing to post with "Rethink" system, when they were alerted to pause, review and rethink compared with "Baseline" system. I realized that behavioral projects such as these require large sample sizes in order to make meaningful conclusions. With the support and approval of my school teachers and library administrators, I was able to get up to 1500 trials for this experiment. In this project, I ensured that I controlled gender(equal number of males and female subjects), age group(12-18 years), time available for adolescent to respond per question to remain constant(25 seconds per question), same set of mean/hurtful messages and  same laptop/mouse was used for experimentation. Since I designed, developed and extensively tested the software systems for this project, human error or software errors involved in recording data was completely eliminated - all  the data was saved to MySQL database.

Results Vs. Hypothesis

My results showed a significant decrease in adolescents' willingness to post mean/hurtful messages - 93.43% of the 533 trials decided to not post mean/hurtful messages after they had the opportunity to pause, review and rethink - thus proving my hypothesis. Only 6.57% i.e. 35 of those 533 trials were still reporting willingness to post those mean/hurtful messages. That reduced the willingness to post mean/hurtful messages on Rethink System to 4.67%-down originally from 71.07%. Thus, the overall willingness to post mean/hurtful messages reduced from Baseline (504) to Rethink (35), a reduction of about 62.53%.


I believe my hypothesis, research, software methodology, functional design, technology choices were sound and results were completely reliable.  My results were close to 100% accurate having conducted 1500 trials (anonymous) and controlling every aspect that could be potentially controlled. It is possible I could have controlled other demographic aspects such as race, ethnicity etc. in this project, but absence of these control does not affect my results, as my hypothesis does not consider them.  

Future Work and Questions

Encouraged by findings from my project and having proven my hypothesis, I have taken the next step to put together a prototype(diagram) that demonstrates how I envision this "Rethink" system could work with various social media sites/apps to prevent cyber-bullying at the "source"(before it happens). My idea is to create a scalable product that works with existing social media sites/apps and easily adopts to any new social media sites/apps that may come up in future. My design includes a sophisticated context-sensitive filtering system that catches truly "mean/hurtful" message and works with social media site on web/mobile platform. I am looking forward to a future where we have conquered cyber-bullying! 


Bibliography, References and Acknowledgements

Bibliography and References:

INTERNET WEB SOURCES (Question, Hypothesis, Research):

These sources were used extensively during the development of my question, my hypothesis, and the large background research conducted for this experiment.

Cyberbullying-Related Research:                                                                                                                                      

Other Social Media Site Related Research:

Brain/Adolescent Related Research:

WS3 AND STACKOVERFLOW SOURCES (used in Method, Testing and Redesign/ Product Prototype):

I have been coding since age 11.  However, for creating "Baseline" and "Rethink" systems, I had to refer to multiple sources in regards to System Architecture, Web Architecture using WAMP, the Software Waterfall Design Process  and during unit/system testing. Those sources have been referred below. I’d also just like to quickly note and thank amazing online resources like WS3 School and StackOverflow for being great sources during the Method, Testing and Redesign of my project (both of the surveys and when looking into my prototype). I used WS3 for specific help with specific languages like HTML, PHP, SQL, JavaScript, and CSS during the development process of both the Baseline and Rethink surveys. I used StackOverflow for problems I encountered during the development process, but not specifically for a single software tool.  I also used both of the sources when looking into a prototype of “Rethink”. 












Apache rewrite rules


References for "About me" section:

Global climate change book that inspired me at age 6:

I was the winner of IMSA Powerpitch event in April 2014 - coverage in Chicago Tribune below:,0,3930408.story

Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy:

Chicago Entrepreneur hub (Technical Incubator) - 1871

Illinois Junior Sciences Academy of Science:

Beacon news covered my Cyberbullying tests for School project (This project was the inspiration for Google Science Fair project).

Money Smart week:

My blog that I maintain in summer months only for the past few years


This project, like any other great science project,  was the result of support of many invaluable people. I’d like to thank and acknowledge their contribution to my project here.

Firstly, I’d like to thank Mrs. Kimberly Krupicka, my 8th grade science teacher, for mentoring me as a teacher through an earlier science fair project on cyber-bullying, that inspired me to pursue this project. Her support has been a great help.

I’d also like to acknowledge and thank Ms. Elizabeth Kaleta and Mrs. Ann Ketcherside for allowing me to test their 6th graders during the first 20-30 minutes of the school day for almost 3 weeks in late March to early April. They helped to contribute almost 60-70 of the test subjects in this project (300-350 trials). Their support of my project helped my Results to grow in both size and validity, and I owe that to them.

On that note, I’d also like to thank Thomas. G. Scullen Middle School’s administrators, faculty and staff, for supporting me through this project in many ways. Mr. Marcus Fredericks and Ms. Jessica Bogie allowing me to take time out of the advisory period to test other classrooms in our school and in the lunchroom. I thank them for believing in me and my project work.

I’d also like to mention that a lot of my testing for adolescents from the ages of 14-18 was conducted at the local library-the Naperville Public Library. I would like to acknowledge and thank them as a great facility and applaud their support in allowing me to test subjects at their library. And to the subjects- I’d like to thank them for taking a few minutes out of their day to participate in these anonymous tests.  It’s people like them who help to grow science and research on important issues like cyber-bullying around the world, for they didn’t just contribute  to a science project, but to a growing scientific community.

I would also like to take a moment to acknowledge and thank those that mentored me through my anti-bullying product prototype. As part of being an innovative and enterprising 13 year-old, from a young age, I have enjoyed developing product ideas and pitching them to potential investors. The Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy (IMSA -, a gifted college preparatory school for 10-12th graders runs a program called “Talent PowerPitch”, where the students pitch their Product ideas to real investors at 1871(  an entrepreneurial hub in Chicago, for cash prizes. Despite the fact I’m only 13, two of the directors of this program, Carl Heine and Jim Gerry, have allowed me to compete against the high school students for the last 3 years (I did my first PowerPitch when I was 11). This year, I pitched my anti-bullying software product idea as part of the Prelims and at the Finals at 1871 and won 1st place. Thank you Carl and Jim for believing in me all along.

Last, but definitely not least, I’d like to thank my amazing parents for supporting me as I worked through this endeavor. My mother helped to review my dashboard work and slides (as I a writer, I tend to be quite verbose) and provided feedback to keep them concise. My father helped mentor me through the technical aspects of building the systems and helped me with setting up Apache rewrite rules for WAMP server. My father also mentored me with technical aspects of  “Rethink” prototype as I started to look into how a potential prototype could work. Beyond that, I’d like to thank them for being the best parents in the world. My grandmother back in India prayed everyday that I achieve what I dream for. Thank you, Grandma, for your love and support. Their constant trust and belief in me and what I can do is the reason I am who I am today.