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"Alexa, how do I stand up to a bully?"

Brian Lasker, 19, codes Comforting Comebacks

The French have a term for coming up with the perfect response after a confrontation is over. They call it l'esprit de l'escalier, meaning "staircase wit." Sometimes, we just don't think of the right thing to say until we're already at the bottom of the stairs.

Bullying is a sad fact of life, and one to which few of us have been immune. It makes sense that there should be "an app for that." We believe that, with the right practice, anyone can shut down a bully with a well-placed response. Our target for Comforting Comebacks, a free skill for Amazon's Alexa voice interface, is the gifted student aged eight to eighteen who finds himself a victim of bullying.

Dr. Agnes Meyo, a psychologist who specializes in gifted individuals and chairperson of SAGE (the Saint Louis Association for Gifted Education), teaches her Comforting Comebacks method. Kids learn to make eye contact with their bully, say a calm, witty comeback with a hit of sarcasm, then walk away. We believe that we can integrate these techniques with Alexa to help kids practice standing up for themselves.

After someone downloads our skill, they just say, "Alexa, how do I stand up to a bully?" This command opens Comforting Comebacks, which walks the protégé through a fun exercise. They choose from a few fun and easy comebacks, then Alexa imitates a bully to help them practice. The result is a gifted kid who goes from a bullying victim to an expert at standing up for himself.

We hope not only to help our users find increased self-confidence, but also to reduce instances of bullying by making the bully's job that much harder.

#ComfortingComebacks: a bully's worst nightmare.

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