When producers for the Dr. Phil Show called Tom Jacobs recently and asked him to be on the television program, he was happy to oblige. Jacobs, a retired juvenile court judge, has become an expert in many teen-related topics. Dr. Phil asked him to comment on Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl who hanged herself this year following months of abuse and threats by classmates. Jacobs talked about the court case involving numerous teenagers, discussing how the Internet and cell phones make it easier to bully peers. Members of Dr. Phil’s audience received a copy of Jacobs’s book, “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated.”
Tom and his daughter, Natalie, have launched AskTheJudge.Info, a website that provides answers for teenagers with legal questions. Natalie has a criminal defense law background. “Our priority is to educate teens, tweens, parents and educators on juvenile law, making them aware of current issues happening across the country and internationally,” she said, referring to cyberbullying cases. “It’s a relatively new issue where they are trying to decide how to handle these types of issues on a legal level.”
Two years ago, when Tom Jacobs was asked to write an article for The New York Times on the most significant Supreme Court cases teens should know about, he kept see- ing words he had not heard before, like cybercide, bullycide, and flaming (hostile interactions on the Internet). Investigating these cases, he came up with the idea for a book. Tom is in contact with many young people accused of crimes, using their stories and their words of advice in his book. “They did it as a prank or acted out of frustration, yet the consequences of some [of these cases] are severe,” he said. Even if the person charged is found to be innocent, the legal process can take years. The final chapter of Tom’s book includes stories of parents whose children are deceased. “The whole idea of a teenager living in fear, frustration and loneliness that they decide to end their lives, it is unbelievable,” he added.
As the country’s legal system works to play catch-up with the alarming rise in cyberbullying crimes, the Jacobses are working to provide pertinent information. “My main goal when I started this out was to get the word out to kids so they can make responsible choices,” said Tom. His advice to kids is to “think before you click,” because of unintended repercussions.
AskTheJudge.Info offers a lot of information, including a new downloadable e-book for teens. The 30-page “Teenagers Guide to Juvenile Court” costs $4.99 and is also available through Amazon. Natalie says the unique book describes the court system process. “Whether they are arrested or just cited or if the police want to interrogate the minor,” she explained, “it is a step-by-step guide through the system.” The e-book answers questions for people who end up in trouble with the law who are unfamiliar with the system. There are other questions and answers on the website as well.
There is plenty to keep Tom and Natalie busy. The nascent business receives between 30-40 questions daily. In addition to answering legal queries, AskTheJudge.Info features a Rock Stars feature on the site, sharing news about teens doing exceptional activities. There is also a section called Great Reads with suggested titles relevant to teenagers, and all the selections have been read by either Tom or Natalie.
AskTheJudge.Info opened an office in the Northern Arizona Center for Entrepreneurship and Technologies (NACET) about two months ago. Starting a new business can be exciting and challenging, says Natalie. “Both my dad and I have legal backgrounds and neither of us have been involved with this sort of business, let alone starting your own business,” she said. There are plenty of ideas they still hope to implement, including a regular radio show. Natalie says she appreciates the support from NACET, including help with podcasts and videos.
NACET President Russ Yelton is also enthusiastic about this new company. “We believe that AskTheJudge.Info has the potential to create writing and technical jobs as they produce information for teens. This information will be distributed and sold in the form of e-books, online journals and other media forms that will require increased work in these areas with these particular skill sets,” said Yelton.
And while many would say the trend of cyberbullying is discouraging, most would agree that providing education and increasing aware- ness about consequences in our ever-changing society is a valuable service. FBN