Tag Archives: Tom Jacobs

Volunteers: Something to Be Thankful For (Judge Tom Jacobs)

Volunteers: Something to Be Thankful For, Judge To JacobsFor this season of Thanksgiving, the Changing Behavior Network posts this special piece sent by Tom Jacobs, a retired judge and author from Arizona. Times of great need don’t follow a schedule; we must remain prepared for them at all times. Judge Jacobs speaks of his experiences while serving as a volunteer for the American Red Cross, and suggests how we might help, also. (This article first appeared in the November, 2017 issue of Arizona Attorney.)


Shortly after Hurricane Harvey hit landfall in south Texas on August 25, 2017, state bar president Alex Vakula sent an email asking bar members to consider assisting those in need through donations and pro bono legal services. There is another way you can help in a national disaster. My story illustrates how you can step up and work directly with disaster victims, almost immediately.


In August, 2005, I heard on the news an urgent call for 40,000 new volunteers for the American Red Cross to assist with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I had always regretted not responding to 9/11 and felt this was my chance to pitch in. Two days later, I was on my way to Montgomery, Alabama for a three-week deployment as an “event based volunteer” (EBV). I received a half-day orientation and was given a choice of assignments to choose from. I selected client-services since it would put me in direct contact with the evacuees from New Orleans and neighboring parishes.

After a short van ride with my team of twelve, we arrived in Jackson, Mississippi where our assignment was to interview 1,000 families a day. One hundred thousand people had been evacuated to the Jackson area. We worked in 12-hour shifts, ate when we could, and slept on cots in a staff shelter. In less than a week from the broadcast, I was meeting the evacuees and qualifying them for financial assistance. The need, as it is now with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and possibly Jose is great. EBVs will be needed at least for the next year.

The Joy of Helping Others

When I returned from Katrina, I was hooked on disaster relief. I completed the required courses through the Red Cross and became a certified driver of an emergency response vehicle (the red and white ambulance-looking trucks). My partner, Anne, and I have completed a dozen national deployments serving our clients in floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires. From California to the east coast, we have used the truck to deliver bulk supplies (cleaning and personal hygiene kits, cots, blankets, etc.) to shelters, and conduct fixed and mobile feeding.

In our Harvey deployment, we worked in three small towns in Texas (Edna, Inez and Telferner), delivering lunch and dinner to residents that were without power and water. Direct contact with people in dire straits is a hands-on experience and, admittedly, not for everyone. Even after a few short weeks, seeing them and their families twice a day, establishes a bond. There is nothing to compare with the thanks, hugs, handshakes, blessings and smiles bestowed upon us by our clients. That is our reward.

From the hindsight of a few weeks, in spite of the heat, humidity and mosquitoes (the size of a nickel), would we do it again? Absolutely. It’s the people in need and our ability to answer the call that will help us continue this work. It’s the little four year-old girl who looked at me and said “I’m hungry.” After giving her and her family dinner, she handed me a strip of bark from her front yard and said “This is for you. You can take it home.” Or Evan, a ten year-old boy who came to our truck just to say thanks. It’s the elderly man who hobbled to the truck to hand us a twenty-dollar bill (a fortune to him, we’re sure). We declined his offer since Red Cross assistance is free to everyone, and we don’t take donations out in the field.

Volunteers Needed

Some of the assignments available to the EBVs include shelter work, feeding, nursing and mental health services, damage assessment, warehouse, logistics, etc. You can apply your profession or occupation to specific needs of the disaster, or learn a new skill through Red Cross classes. During one disaster, when I had a half-day off (which is rare), I became a certified fork-lift operator. Again, not for everyone.

Consider becoming a Red Cross volunteer or, at least, an event based volunteer. Assisting others is addictive. Contact the American Red Cross at 602-336-6660; www.redcross.org

I brought that piece of bark home as a reminder of why we do this. ###


Judge Tom JacobsTom Jacobs was an assistant attorney general in Arizona for 13 years before being appointed to the Maricopa County Supreme Court. He presided over juvenile and family court matters for 23 years, retiring in 2008. Judge Jacobs is the founder of the teen-law website, AskTheJudge.info. His books on teen law include What Are My Rights? and Teen Cyberbullying Investigated. He and his daughter, Natalie, co-authored the most recent book, Every Vote Matters: The Power of Your Voice.


BULLIED TO DEATH: Bullying, Cyberbullying and Youth Suicide, Part 3 (Guests: Judge Tom Jacobs & Dr. James Sutton)

BTSpReportThis special report, done in interview format, is presented in three parts. It addresses issues of bullying (traditional and cyber) and resulting instances of suicide in young people. Suggestions for intervention are also offered.


JacobsSuttonIf a suicidal youngster is being seen by a counselor, therapist or clinician, what is the focus of treatment?

(Sutton) I can only outline an approach I would take. First of all, it’s critical I keep in the front of my mind the one thing most capable of preventing a youth suicide: the presence of at least one positive, meaningful relationship. It’s a sobering thought, but true, that I might be that one relationship, at least until I can help the youngster re-attach to others.

To this end, the development of a genuine and caring rapport with this child or teen is paramount, as would be my expectation of the youngster that they would not take their life while I am trying to help them. (This might sound a bit egotistical on the surface, but, if a youngster has little or no regard for his/her life, thoughts of the effect of their suicide on others, certainly including family members, could be an excellent, short-term deterrent.)

One of the first questions I would ask of this youngster is one I borrowed from my psychologist friend in Virginia, Dr. Doug Riley: “Do you want to die, or do you just want the pain to go away?” That one question might stop them in their tracks because they’ve always felt that death is the only way for their pain to stop.

Early on, I would want to assess the degree and depth of the youngster’s sense of hopelessness and their level of impulsivity in the face of their distress. It would also be important to address the causes of this youngster’s difficulties and obtain some sort of immediate relief where and when possible. (One example might be a schedule change at school. It’s not a total solution, but it is a start, and it signals to the child or teen our willingness to act on their behalf.)

Although treatment approaches will vary from one youngster to the next, my primary goal would be to help them with the insight and skills for regaining control in his/her life. I would give them “homework” and expect them to comply, especially since their resulting actions, or lack of them, can be therapeutically significant.

(For instance, I told one young man to take a lap around the football field before he walked home after school. My intent was twofold. First of all, some kind of activity almost always helps with depression. Second, a willingness to follow well-intended directions is an investment in one’s own healing.)

At some point, this youngster might be a good candidate for group work, if I can arrange it.

What is the parent’s role in this phenomenon? What can they do to minimize the bullying (traditional or cyberbullying)? 

(Jacobs) Parents need to build trust with their children from an early age regarding all things digital. The child needs to understand they can go to their parent anytime something they read or see on the screen upsets them. Once trust is built and ingrained in their psyche, monitoring their cyber life in later years won’t become a major issue.

As the child matures and is allowed greater use of digital devices, parents should monitor all of their accounts closely and regularly. You can’t protect your child if you don’t know what they’re exposed to. Communication about cyberspace should be ongoing while encouraging the child to report any and all cruel messages or anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.

Regarding sexting, the “sext” talk should be done while in middle school and continue throughout high school. This isn’t like the sex talk that many dread and can’t wait to get over. It should be ongoing.

Because kids have access to smart phones and other mobile technologies earlier in life, is cyberbullying a problem among elementary-age children? 

(Jacobs) Although not a major problem, elementary schools are addressing the issue by teaching and practicing tolerance and kindness. Books and posters are available to K-5 students and teachers from children’s publishers. I am not aware of any court cases or prosecutions of elementary school students for cyberbullying.

 What are the legal options open to youngsters who are severely bullied? 

(Jacobs) The victim and his or her parents can and should take action. If the bully is known, the parents may attempt to discuss the situation with him and his parents. The parents should also notify the principal with a request that the school’s bullying policies be adhered to. Schools have addressed cyber-bullying of classmates and teachers through suspension and expulsion in the appropriate case.

Schools are charged with providing a hostile-free learning environment and failure to do so may have legal consequences. Some recent cases have resulted in civil lawsuits brought against the bully, parents, school districts and administrators. Depending on the facts of the case, a variety of legal theories may be pursued including negligence, physical or mental harm, invasion of privacy, defamation of character, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Another way to deal with a cyber-bully is to seek an Order of Protection from a court. Sometimes referred to as a restraining order or injunction, a violation of the order may result in contempt and possible jail time. The order can restrict a person from all contact with another person or set limitations on the type of contact, frequency and location. Once in place, a protective order will last a specified period of time but may be renewed if necessary.

Finally, if the acts of the bully constitute a crime under relevant statutes, the police may become involved. Criminal charges including intimidation, threatening, harassment, stalking, or impersonation may be filed against the bully in juvenile or adult court. Penalties for conviction include probation, community service, counseling, jail, or prison.

Do you have any recommendations, legally and socially, regarding action against bullying of all sorts?  

(Jacobs) Generally, regarding cyberbullying, don’t respond or engage the bully, make copies of all messages and block further messages.

Then, if the bullying continues, see the legal options discussed above.

(Sutton) I would only add that bullying, like poverty, disease, hunger and other issues that affect people’s lives, is very much a social problem. We all have a responsibility to deal with it, not only for the sake of a bully’s victims, but for the sake of decency in society as a whole. ###

 Tom Jacobs spent twenty-three years in family and juvenile court before retiring in 2008. He moderates AsktheJudge.info with his daughter, attorney Natalie Jacobs. AsktheJudge is a free, interactive resource for teenagers, parents and educators about the laws that affect teens and youth justice issues.
A nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a popular internet blog and radio-style podcast dedicated to the positive growth of children, teens and their families.

BULLIED TO DEATH: Bullying, Cyberbullying and Youth Suicide, Part 2 (Guests: Judge Tom Jacobs & Dr. James Sutton)

BTSpReportThis special report, done in interview format, is presented in three parts. It addresses issues of bullying (traditional and cyber) and resulting instances of suicide in young people. Suggestions for intervention are also offered.


JacobsSuttonWhat’s new in cyberbullying? What are teenagers and young adults doing online that constitutes cyberbullying? 

(Jacobs)Videotaping friends and classmates at social events is common. However, the line is crossed when an embarrassing incident is filmed and broadcast for the world to see. This happened to Tyler Clementi who was 20 years old when he jumped to his death from the George Washington Bridge in New York after a video of him in his dorm room with another male went viral; or to 14 year-old Matthew Burdette in 2013 when he was taped masturbating in a bathroom at school. After two weeks of torment by classmates and students from other schools, Matthew ended his life.

There have also been incidents of videotaped sexual assaults of teenagers  placed on YouTube to the humiliation of the victims. Some have led to suicide  as in the case of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons of Nova Scotia, Canada and 15-year-old Audrie Pott of California.

Rehtaeh was raped by classmates at a party when she was 15. The incident was filmed and photos were released on social media sites. After a year and a half of torment, Rehtaeh hanged herself at home. Audrie suffered a similar fate. She was 15 when she was assaulted at a party by three teenage boys. Photographs of the assault went viral and Audrie hanged herself a week later in 2012.

Blackmail has also been used by online perpetrators against teens who have sexted photos to others (sometimes referred to as “sextortion”). The perp demands additional, more graphic photos or money with a threat of public disclosure for failing to comply. If this happens to you, report it to your parents as soon as possible. A crime has been committed and you need to be protected.

How big a problem is cyberbullying compared to other criminal behavior committed by juveniles? 

(Jacobs) Comparatively, cyberbullying is not a major problem in the juvenile justice system in the United States. Other low felony or misdemeanor crimes take up the bulk of the juvenile court’s workload. Crimes including shoplifting, minor drug offenses, truancy and runaway incidents account for higher delinquency and incorrigibility statistics than cyber-crimes.

Recent studies indicate that 25% of students have been cyberbullied while 16% admit to cyberbullying someone else. (www.cyberbullying.us) Most of these incidents were handled within the school system as opposed to being referred to juvenile court for processing.

Is the law keeping up with cyberbullying? What are the consequences imposed on our youth for engaging in cyberbullying? 

(Jacobs) Because of the nature of digital technology and the speed with which new apps and platforms evolve, the legal system is unable to keep pace with cyberbullying and its aftermath. The legislative process is slow and not necessarily the best method of addressing all social ills.

Laws regarding communication exist in all states. Those who harass, threaten, stalk or intimidate others may be prosecuted under local criminal laws. There may not be a need to create a cyberbullying classification to cover behavior that is already proscribed by law. Consequences for juveniles adjudicated guilty of cyberbullying range from participation in a diversion program to detention at a juvenile facility or prison.

It is not uncommon for a juvenile to be placed on supervised probation for a period of time with specific conditions. That may include a restriction on internet use, contact with the victim and victim’s family, and possibly restitution to the victim for counseling undertaken as a result of the bullying. Judges tailor penalties to the crime committed and injuries sustained by the victim.

What’s the connection between cyberbullying and actual physical bullying? Is there usually in-person contact between a cyberbully and his/her victim at school? 

(Jacobs) Online bullying gives the perpetrator the opportunity to anonymously target his or her victim. Cyberbullying from home, for example, allows the bully to hide behind a computer or cell phone without risk of being identified in a face-to-face meeting in public. Consequently, most cyberbullying eliminates the need for real-time traditional bullying in the school hallway or elsewhere on campus. In addition, the bully can invite others to join in, thus creating a cyber-mob. There is also some evidence of bullying victims becoming bullies behind closed doors: an easy way to vent without detection.

(Sutton) The whole cyber-mob mentality is especially devastating because, although a victim might be able to handle the abuse of one or two bullies, the damage created by many classmates (a cyber-mob) can be, and has been, deadly. It’s easy for a suffering child or teen to perceive it as a message from the whole world.

How are schools typically dealing with the bullying issue? 

(Jacobs) Many states have laws that require anti-bullying programs and education for all students. Schools are complying through a variety of measures. Some address bullying at the beginning of the school year at assemblies and individually in classrooms. Bullying posters may be placed throughout the school including the gym, classrooms and cafeteria. Schools have also included their bullying policies in the Student Handbook, Code of Conduct and on the school’s website.

Following either state law or district policy, reports of traditional or cyberbullying are investigated and appropriate action is taken. That may include meetings with the parents of those involved, disciplinary action by the school (suspension or expulsion), or referral to law enforcement when a crime has been committed.

(Sutton) Judge Jacobs is on the mark. I would add that there is also a movement to teach potential victims the skills for dealing with bullies when they encounter them. Here’s the premise: If a potential victim can learn to refuse to be bullied, they gain a life skill, bullying is reduced, and a victim mentality is avoided. Although it’s not a solution for every case and situation, it’s an idea that’s gaining traction.

Another idea that’s catching on in some schools is the active practice of social inclusion. One way of accomplishing this is through the use of daily peer circles. The concept is built around proven Native American restorative practices whereby every member is brought into and included in the events of the tribe or culture. I have never done peer circles in the schools myself, but I have done something very similar with young adults in drug and alcohol treatment. The overall results were nothing short of phenomenal.

This concludes Part 2. The third and final part of this interview with Judge Jacobs and Dr. Sutton will appear in the next post.


BULLIED TO DEATH: Bullying, Cyberbullying and Youth Suicide, Part 1 (Guests: Judge Tom Jacobs & Dr. James Sutton)

BTSpReportThis special report, done in interview format, is presented in three parts. It addresses issues of bullying (traditional and cyber) and resulting instances of suicide in young people. Suggestions for intervention are also offered.


Retired Juvenile Court Judge Tom Jacobs of Arizona received this anonymous plea for help on his Ask the Judge website [link]. (Go to this link to see his response [link].)

 I am very suicidal and I am bullied very bad and I really need help I have asked teachers and I have talked to the therapist and it does not help and I have been feeling more depressed lately and I have been thinking about ending it but can I file against the people who bully me (sic)


JacobsSuttonOur young people are our most precious resource. With that in mind, Judge Jacobs and Texas child and adolescent psychologist, Dr. James Sutton share their insights into this growing concern and offer some ways to address it. (Dr. Sutton is the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network [link].)

What are some of the latest incidences of suicide attributable to bullying and cyberbullying?

(Jacobs) It is important to note at the outset that most teenagers and young adults who are bullied don’t commit suicide. However, some do. Statistics show that suicide notes are the exception, not the rule. Consequently, the motivation and final thoughts of a suicide victim remain undisclosed. Traditional bullying or cyberbullying may have been a contributing factor in each of the following incidents.

Rebecca Ann Sedwick of Florida was targeted on Facebook and in text messages. “You’re ugly,” and “Why are you still alive?” were some of the taunts she received. She changed schools and stopped using her Facebook account. However, she signed on to new apps where the bullying continued. In September, 2013, the 12-year-old jumped to her death.

Hannah Smith lived in England and was 14 years old. In August, 2013, she hanged herself after relentless bullying about her weight and a relative’s death.

Charlotte Dawson was a model and television personality in Australia. Twitter trolls led to a suicide attempt in 2012. She became an advocate against bullying but succumbed to the weight of cyberbullying in 2014 by hanging herself at home. Charlotte was 47.

Why are some youngsters more susceptible to being bullied than others?

(Sutton) The short answer is they are more capable of being bullied, often being withdrawn, unsure of themselves and uncomfortable in social encounters with peers. Students showing these characteristics can be easy targets for bullies, especially when they are the new kid in the school and classroom.

Not surprising, some of these youngsters have a troubled home life or can even be foster children that have been removed from their home of origin. These children and teens may have been suffering in silence for a long time. They don’t feel very good about themselves, so they are uncomfortable with any efforts to deal with the bullies on their own. Bullies pick up on this and pour it on even more.

(Jacobs) Evidence presented in court cases where someone is charged with a bullying-related crime points to several common factors shared by the victims: a disruptive home and/or school environment; isolation; and a history of depression and mental health treatment.

Why would a bullied youngster begin to think of suicide?

(Sutton) It’s because their misery and pain are trumping their will to live. That’s saying a lot, because the will to live is innate; it’s an incredibly strong drive in all of us. So a youngster thinking seriously of taking his or her life is saying that living another hour, day or week in their current state of distress is unacceptable.

Consider this, also: Suicide always occurs in a low moment. The thought in that moment is that things will NEVER be any better, ever. In reality, this is rarely the case, but a youngster on the cusp of self-destruction can’t see it. The youngster that contacted Judge Jacobs was asking for help, but many kids don’t know how to ask, or they feel they are too far gone for help, anyway.

Are there any clues youngsters might give us regarding thoughts of suicide?

(Sutton) The first thing we think of is that a youngster “looks” depressed and down, but that’s not always the case. Some kids don’t show it on their faces, or they attempt to disguise it so no one will ask them questions they don’t want to answer.

It’s important to look at grades, relationships, and eating and sleeping habits; these can’t be disguised for long. Grades in school, especially when they drop quickly and dramatically, are a strong barometer of a problem somewhere. These youngsters might also pull away from friends and even family members. There also might be changes in eating habits and they either can’t sleep well at night, or they want to sleep all the time.

There also might be clues in a youngster’s conversation, much like the words of the youngster contacting Judge Jacobs. In visiting with a child or teen, I listen closely for evidence of the Three “I”s: Intolerable, Interminable and Inescapable. Although they won’t use these exact words, youngsters can express them clearly in other ways: “I can’t take it anymore (Intolerable),” “It’s never going to stop (Interminable),” and “I just can’t get away from it (Inescapable).” The Three “I”s are huge red flags.

Another strong clue is a youngster’s general level of impulsivity. In other words, how reactive are they in the moment they become upset? Impulsivity exists on a continuum, and it generally fits in with one’s overall temperament. It only makes sense that a highly impulsive and reactive child or teen is in trouble even when they are experiencing a small or moderate amount of distress.

Here’s an analogy that’s easy to share. Imagine getting an email that really upsets you. You compose a scathing response and are ready to hit “Send”. Hitting “Send” is an impulsive act in that instant of frustration and anger; it’s irreversible once done. Later, you might wish a million times you had not hit “Send”, but you did, and you can’t take it back. By contrast, you might read your email once more and decide to save it as a draft, giving yourself some time to think about it. Chances are, once you cool down a bit, you might tone down that email, or not even send it at all.

The email represents suicidal thought; hitting “Send” quickly represents a suicidal act. Fortunately, a less impulsive youngster (like the one who contacted Judge Jacobs) might still be having thoughts of suicide, but they are not in an immediately lethal state.

(Jacobs) Parents who monitor their kids’ use of social media may notice a sudden lack of communication on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. This may be because their child has opened new accounts on sites unknown to the parents such as Voxer, Yik Yak, Ask.fm, etc. There have been teen suicides where the bullying continued on these hidden sites all the while telling Mom and Dad that everything is okay – “I’m fine.” Rebecca Ann Sedwick did just this unbeknownst to her parents.


This concludes Part 1. The interview continues on Part 2.