Judge Tom Jacobs – Teen Cyberbullying Investigated

What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it.

Teen Cyberbullying Investigated (Free Spirit Publishing 2010) is America’s only book written for tweens/teens to read about their peers and the trouble they got in regarding their online and cellphone activities. TCI tells the true stories of students who went digital as either a joke or prank or to vent their frustrations with a teacher or principal. Their posts backfired and consequences included suspension, expulsion, criminal charges, jail/prison, and/or civil lawsuits against them and their parents. The main message of TCI is to “Think B4 U Click.” Every teen I interviewed for the book said, had they thought ahead about possible consequences, they wouldn’t have posted their comments. Some of the cases reviewed remain in litigation with a possibility of one or two reaching the U.S. Supreme Court soon on the issue regarding student Internet free speech.

Tell us something about yourself.

I live in Flagstaff, Arizona. After 23 years as a judge in juvenile and family court, I retired in 2008. I have written for teens, lawyers and judges for over thirty years. My teen books can be seen at www.freespirit.com. My law books for practitioners and judges can be seen on www.westlaw.com . Before being appointed to the bench, I practiced law for thirteen years as an assistant attorney general in Arizona (criminal law, prison law and representing Child Protective Services).

Interesting: I appeared last year on the Dr. Phil Show to speak about cyberbullying: “Bullied to Death” show on April 8, 2010.

What inspired you to write this book?

While doing research for an article for the NY Times in 2007, I kept coming across new words I wasn’t familiar with such as “bullycide,” “flaming” and “cyberbullying.” When I noticed the global phenomenon of teen suicides sparked, in part, by cruel digital messages, my research began. Based on my experience with three previous books written for teens to read and learn from, cyberbullying became an obvious subject that had to be addressed. After 23 years in juvenile court, I believe kids learn a good deal from their peers and what’s happened to them as opposed to another lecture in a courtroom from someone in authority.

How did you choose the title?

My publisher conducted a focus group and came up with the title. I submitted one early on as a working title but they get the credit for “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated.”

What obstacles did you encounter in getting this book published? How did you overcome them?

Since I have written for Free Spirit Publishing before, I had no problem discussing this project with them. They recognized the timeliness of the subject.

How did you know you wanted to be a writer? How did you get started?
In the 1970s I wrote several short legal pamphlets and caught the writing/publishing bug. It’s chronic and there’s no cure – only persistence & practice.

Do you have any writing rituals?

The bulk of my writing is done at the public library. There are no distractions – only inspiration.

Did you learn anything from writing and publishing this book? What?

I learned that the vast majority of teens are dedicated, hard-working individuals with a zest for life. Like all of us, they occasionally make mistakes in judgment but overall want to do the right thing. Only through an awareness of consequences can they weigh their actions.

What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors?

It’s easier to list the genres I don’t read: science fiction, romance, and technical treatises. Otherwise, I’m fairly eclectic in choosing books to read.

Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?

Only in my head and far too premature to discuss – but a great question.

What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing or publishing?

About writing: keep an open mind and attitude about life; keep notes of random thoughts; and write for yourself to express whatever you feel strongly about.

About publishing: “No” doesn’t mean “No.” It only takes one person to like your idea and persistence oftentimes pays off.

Who is the perfect reader for your book?

Any teen, parent or educator in search of information about cyberbullying, its consequences and how to put a dent into this growing problem.

Where can readers learn more about you and your book?

On www.freespirit.com or on www.askthejudge.info. The latter is an educational website I moderate about teenagers and the laws that affect them.