What Teens Should Know About Stalking
January is National Stalking Awareness Month, so it’s a great time to talk to your teen about stalking. A 2016 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine surveyed 1,236 randomly selected youth and found that 14% of girls and 13% of boys were victims of stalking. Additionally, the survey indicated that these teens were more likely to report symptoms linked to depression, as well as risky behavior, such as binge drinking and sexting.
Definition of Stalking
The term ‘stalking’ can frequently be used in a joking manner for teens, so it’s no surprise that most youth don’t understand what it really is. Make sure your teen has an accurate definition of the term. Stalking is a repeated pattern of behavior that makes you feel afraid, nervous, harassed, or in danger.
If a teen is unsure whether someone is actually stalking him/her, they should ask themselves these questions:
- Are the interactions unwanted on my part?
- Are the interactions ongoing?
- Do the interactions make me feel uneasy?
If a teen can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, they may be being stalked. Be sure to tell your teen that if they are stalked, it is not their fault. Stalkers are responsible for their behavior, not the victims. Also inform your teen that stalking is a crime.
Signs of Stalking
Teens should be aware that stalkers come in all forms. A stalker can be a current boyfriend or girlfriend, someone they dated in the past, someone they know casually, or even a stranger. When someone repeatedly contacts you, follows you, sends you things, or talks to you when you don’t want them to, they have crossed a line. Stalking behaviors can include:
- Writing and leaving you notes
- Damaging your property
- Knowing your schedule
- Showing up at places you go
- Sending mail, e-mail, and pictures
- Creating a website about you
- Sending gifts
- Stealing things that belong to you
- Calling you repeatedly
- Following you
Actions to Take
Don’t wait for your teen to experience stalking to inform him or her what to do if it should happen. Many teens are embarrassed and/or scared, and do not tell anyone when they have a stalker. Be proactive and inform them what to do before they face a bad situation.
- Establish boundaries. The first step in any stalking situation is to clearly and firmly tell the stalker that you do not want their attention and that their behavior needs to stop. The stalker may be socially awkward and simply not realize that their behavior is inappropriate. Sometimes, a stalker simply needs to be told that you want them to stay away from you, and the behavior will stop. If it still continues, you can be confident that the stalker is acting intentionally and is a potential danger. (Note: your teen should not approach their stalker if they feel in danger.)
- Tell someone. Tell your family, friends, or a trusted adult the identity of your stalker and ask them to try to direct the person away from you, if they can do it safely.
- Practice safety. Whenever you go out, tell someone where you are going and when you will be back. Always have a charged cell phone with you that has the phone numbers of people to contact in an emergency. Think through possible scenarios ahead of time, such as where to go or who to call for help.
- Avoid contact. Once you have told the stalker clearly to leave you alone, avoid all contact with them. If you have been clear and they have not respected your wishes, then there is no reason to communicate with them again. In fact, talking to them or meeting with them again may give them the feeling that they are “making progress” with you.
- Keep a log. Document the situation and share it with the police. Make notes of the exact dates, times, and locations that the stalker contacted you and by what method. Save all emails, text messages, voicemails, letters, and gifts. Screenshot threatening social media posts or comments. Take photos of property damage. If you document what is going on, it will be easier for the police to do something about the situation.