By Anne Marie Amacher
The Catholic Messenger
DAVENPORT — When Julia Cook was a school counselor she struggled with how to deal with tattletale students. Dissatisfied in her search for resources, she decided to write a book on the subject.
Thirteen years later, she is an author and speaker who has published more than 90 books in nine languages and travels the world. Her books, primarily for children in grades kindergarten through sixth grade, cover topics such as depression, test anxiety, bullying, divorce, foster care, lying, personal space, good hygiene and technology.
Her goal, according to her website, is to “actively involve young people in fun, memorable stories and teach them to be lifelong problem solvers.”
During a presentation last month to sixth- through eighth-grade students at John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport, Cook told the story of visiting her sister who worked in human resources. She said that since the invention of the “cloud” (off-site data storage), it is possible to seek out information on individuals through various social media and smart phones. Specific software can search deeper into a person’s past posts, texts and more.
“It may be an inappropriate text. It may be excluding someone from a group. It may be pictures (and captions) that make fun of others…. It may be another 10 years before you look for a real job. But even what you do today, you need to be careful. Be careful how you word things. With a keyboard you have courage to say things you would not say to others in person. Talking online is easy, but it’s not the same as saying something in person,” Cook said. She encouraged the students to “think before you post. This could affect your getting into college or getting a job.”
In-person communication is best, Cook said. “There is nothing on your phone that should trump something in person.” If you want the attention of your parents who are stuck on the phone, tell mom that you want to be more important than the phone. Then walk away. Likely the parent will pause to think about that statement, put down the phone, and find you to talk.
The balance between screen time and life is important. When people become too involved in their video games or screen time (on phone/computer) they may be skipping sleep or getting less of it. “When sleep gets cut, people get irritable and cranky and anxious.” Some recent studies are looking at a possible link between lack of sleep and Alzheimer’s.
Fatigue and anxiety can lead to health issues such as depression. The teen suicide rate is increasing due to screen time, she noted. “You all have gifts,” Cook told the students. “If you feel your light is burning out, reach out for help. If you see someone whose light seems to be dimming, help them grow lighter. There are people out there who want to help you see your light.”
Cook reminded students that everyone has a heart. Some wear it on the outside and others keep it deep inside. When you make someone cry, you are tearing them apart. A sincere apology can help bring that heart back together. Make your apology genuine, she said.
One student asked how long it took to write a book. Cook said the whole process can take about three or more months, since her books are not large novels. Research takes the most work, she noted. Then there’s time for writing and for an illustrator to do the artwork.
Students from Lourdes Catholic School in Bettendorf, and All Saints Catholic School, St. Paul the Apostle Catholic School and John F. Kennedy Catholic School in Davenport, presented checks to Cook after presentations she gave one week last month.
The checks worth more than $1,000 will be used to buy shoes for children who lost everything in the flooding in Fremont, Neb., where Cook is from.