What Parents Need to Know About Stalking

stalker stalking
If you suspect your teen may have a stalker, follow these suggestions. (photo credit: BigStockPhoto.com)

For many parents, stalking brings to mind a creepy guy or a crazy girl following someone around and acting in ways that make other people uncomfortable like the movie “Fatal Attraction.”  But that idea pre-dates cell phones and the internet capabilities of today.  In this world, stalking can happen in the virtual world as well as the real world and it can look very different than it did even a decade ago.  This is one reason we are encouraging all parents to learn more about this issue as part of National Stalking Awareness Month.

Although it doesn’t get as much attention as other crimes, stalking continues to be a real problem. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, more than 6 million people in the U.S. are the victims of stalking every year and a significant number of those victims are under age 25.  Being the victim of a stalker can have serious consequences.  Stalking victims are more likely than their peers to experience anxiety disorders and depression.  They may miss a significant amount of school or work and about 1 in 7 relocate in order to escape their stalker.

What is Stalking

Although stalking is a crime in all 50 states and U.S. territories, the laws and penalties related to stalking differ in each state.  Despite the differences in legal definition across the various states,  the Stalking Resource Center says that the following is a good general definition.

“a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear”

Stalking can include almost any unwanted behavior that continues despite requests for it to cease if that behavior makes the person it is directed at feel uncomfortable, threatened, or in danger.

What Does Stalking Look Like

Having established that stalking doesn’t always look like it does in the movies, it is important to understand what kinds of things stalkers do.  Knowing how to identify stalking behavior positions you, as parents, to be able to provide the help and support your teen needs regardless of whether they are the stalker or the victim.

Common stalking behaviors include:

  • Showing up at a part time job frequently or waiting for the victim after school each day
  • Showing up unexpectedly at places like the mall, sporting events, or private lessons when the victim is there
  • Following or watching the victim as they go about their day
  • Waiting outside the victim’s home, school, job, or other location
  • Sending frequent email, snail mail, and text messages
  • Calling repeatedly
  • Contact via social media like Facebook and Twitter
  • Damaging things that belong to the victim like their car or the contents of their locker
  • Stealing personal items from the victim
  • Making repeated and threatening statements to the victim

What You Can Do

If you suspect your teenager is the victim of a stalker, take immediate action to protect them.  Change their phone numbers and email addresses, block them on social media sites and adjust privacy settings to restrict access to their information.  Talk to the school and the local police department to find out what options you have and how you can best protect your child.  Make sure you get your teen the support they need to deal with the emotional consequences of being stalked.

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