If you watch TV and movies, you know that lunchtime bullying in middle and high school is a common plot line in Hollywood. But there is no doubt that these storylines are based upon real life across the country.
According to a high school senior in California this year, it was very common for Natalie Hampton to be ostracized by most groups at her high school. She said that she had to eat lunch alone every day and was pushed into lockers, and sent demeaning and threatening emails. Hampton also reported she was attacked three times in 14 days and came home with scratch marks on her arms. She eventually went to another school, but the memories of those tormented weeks stayed with her.
Hampton said that at the school she would see many people walking by her lunchroom table and she wanted to offer people to ‘sit with us.’ That phrase is what sparked her idea and eventually a social media app. The app Sit With Us is free to download, and connects teenagers who need company with other students who are open and welcoming.
It is essentially a way for students to find a lunch table in their school if they do not have a place they usually go. Students have the option of signing up as an ambassador for a Sit With Us club. They also agree to post open lunches so that anyone with the app who has nowhere to go can get a table and make new friends. This app can be an effective way for students to find a crowd to sit with. It is common for students to ask if they can sit at a table and to be rejected, which makes you feel labeled as an outcast. But with the phone app, you are asking to join a table privately on your phone, so no one else knows.
The Sit With Us app now has more than 100,000 users in eight countries, and has given Hampton a megaphone to preach a message of tolerance and no bullying among teens.
She has become in a few months a strong leader of the movement for anti-bullying across the country. The teen has given speeches at conferences and as even done a TED talk recently.
The app’s inclusive message has inspired other students to create Sit With Us clubs, such as an 8th grader named Lola Clark. The teen said that many people at her school do not really have a place to sit at lunchtime, and she likes to make people feel accepted and not judged. One of the club’s members said that she was never able to fit in exactly with cliques at the school. The Sit With Us club has allowed her to find her own welcoming niche in her school.
For Hampton, the success of her Sit With Us app has given her an entirely new purpose to unite all students in her sphere and to do so one lunch time at a time.
What You Should Know About Lunchtime Bullying As a Parent
Parents have probably heard a lot about bullying in the lunchroom. Bullying at lunchtime can also involve actual bullying and teasing about the food that children eat. Bullying regarding food and at lunch has probably happened since children started to have lunch in school. But the time may be even more ripe today as more students eat at school and lunches in the cafeteria can look very different from one another. Some children may eat organic foods, others may be gluten free and others might be vegetarian. Also, many children and teens today have allergies. And many families struggle financially and may not be able to give their children meals that are as good as their peers.
All of these factors can lead to bullying and teasing in the lunchroom that can be hard on kids. For example, some people report their children have been teased in the lunchroom for bringing foods that no one usually sees, such as hummus or boiled eggs. Some children have made fun of anyone who eats eggs because they smell. They even have said they would not sit with her.
If your children are being bullied about food in the lunchroom, these are things you can do as a parent:
- Do not take it lightly. It is important to treat food bullying like any other kind of bullying. You should be sure your student’s teacher is aware of the problem and informs people in the cafeteria.
- Be careful of your language. It is smart to not use any negative words about food, such as dangerous or toxic.
- Teach children to be kind. Children should learn from a young age to have respect for others of all types and to respect other children’s’ food choices. It is also critical for children to be welcoming of other students at their lunchroom table, regardless of their social status.
- If the food bullying is occurring with younger students, you also can ask if you can go to lunch with your child one day. This may not always be the best solution in all cases, but if your child is comfortable with it, this method can be effective.
- Bullying in the Lunchroom and What You Need to Know. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.parents.com/recipes/scoop-on-food/bullying-in-the-lunch-room-what-you-need-to-know
- Sit With Us App Unites Students to Fight Bullying. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/a-more-perfect-union-sit-with-us-app-unites-students-fights-bullying/