This subject is tricky.
Stalking is a very real and potentially dangerous pattern of activity that often escalates from behaviors such as excessive phoning or texting to surveillance, threats, intimidation, property damage, violence, and in some cases, even sexual assault and murder.
Studies on stalking predominantly focus on the victims, and rightly so: they’re victims of a crime. Stalking can disrupt their lives and lead to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and more. Victims of stalking often change jobs, change residences, change phone numbers, email addresses, and scrub or delete social media accounts in order to avoid their stalker. They take out restraining orders. Many live in constant fear of their stalker, and when the stalking behavior finally stops – with or without the intervention of the authorities – it can take years to move past the emotional fallout of the experience.
Being stalked is a horrible experience and the pain and suffering experienced by stalking victims cannot and should not be minimized.
Stalking victims are our primary concern. That said, there’s another side to stalking: the stalkers.
Who Are the Stalkers?
What about them?
Do we care about them?
What if someone you know or love is a stalker?
What if your teenager is a stalker?
That might change your point of view from lock them up to maybe we should try to understand what’s happening.
Let’s be clear: stalking is a crime and stalkers need to be held accountable for their actions accept the consequences when they commit the crime of stalking.
Let’s also be clear: part of putting an end to stalking is understanding the stalkers and what drives them to stalk their victims. Understanding stalkers can help us defuse stalking situations so they don’t escalate and cause more damage.
The limited research on the stalkers themselves indicates they often have mental health disorders and/or cognitive/emotional challenges. Some are genuinely psychotic, some have problems with emotional regulation, some have low functional intelligence, and some lack basic interpersonal and social skills. The more dangerous stalkers lack empathy and the ability recognize the damaging effects of their behavior on their victims.
We hesitate to over-emphasize the mental health component of stalking, however. Not because we want to defend stalkers or their behavior, but because of the generalized stigma attached to people struggling with mental health disorders. The last thing we want is to generate a thought trend that says people with mental health disorders are likely to become stalkers.
There is no evidence that says that.
Threading the Needle
The purpose of this article is to help parents of teens try to determine if their teen is stalking someone. We’ll discuss the five types of stalkers identified by researchers, and briefly discuss their characteristics. The fine line we’ll walk – the needle we’ll thread – is this: we don’t want to criminalize normal behavior or normalize criminal behavior, nor do we want to pathologize healthy emotions or normalize unhealthy emotions.
So what’s tricky about that?
It’s tricky because we’re talking about teenagers. They’re in the process of learning how to become adults – and if you remember being a teenager, this mostly happens through trial and error. The first time your teen gets a crush on someone, gets rejected by someone they’re interested in, or their boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with them, they might overreact, emotionally. And their emotion-driven behavior may look like – and may actually be – stalking.
If your teen is stalking a crush or an ex, they need to know they’re committing a crime.
Your job as a parent is to teach them how to handle these difficult emotional events, and if you find you’re unable to help your teen manage their behavior, your job is to reach out to someone who can.
Below, we’re going to describe the common types of stalkers. What we want you to do, as a parent, is keep an eye on your teen if you’re aware they have a crush on someone or they’ve been rejected or recently had a romantic interest break up with them. Observe their behavior to determine if they show any of the traits we describe below. If you know your teen has an emotional or behavioral disorder, has cognitive deficits or challenges with interpersonal/social skills, we want you to pay special attention to the way your teen reacts to the disappointment: your early intervention can save the victim pain and suffering, and keep your teen from making choices that cause harm.
Types of Stalkers
Research identifies five primary types of stalkers (for more detailed information on these stalking/stalker profiles, please click here):
The Rejected Stalker
These stalkers begin their behavior after the breakdown of an intimate relationship. What often begins as attempts to reconcile becomes stalking. These stalkers may target not only their victim, but friends and family of their victim as well. They may be angry, they may seek revenge, and the stalking may persist because it fills a void left when the intimate relationship ended.
The Resentful Stalker
These stalkers feel they are the victim of a slight, injustice, or some type of humiliation. Their victims tend to be strangers or acquaintances – nor former intimate partners. They’re often driven by revenge or the need to settle a score. They have a sense they can set things right by causing emotional – and sometimes physical – harm to their victim. These stalkers often have some form of emotional or behavioral disorder.
The Intimacy Seeking Stalker.
These stalkers typically begin stalking behavior because they lack close relationships and any form of intimacy in their lives. They act from a place of intense loneliness. Their victims are often acquaintances or total strangers. These stalkers often have severe mental health issues which include delusions and fantasies: they believe they have a relationship with their victim, when no relationship exists. Their stalking is an attempt to establish an emotional connection with their victim.
The Incompetent Suitor
This type of stalker – like the Intimacy Seeking stalker – often operates from a place of loneliness. However, their goal is typically to get a date or initiate a sexual relationship, rather than create a romantic relationship. Incompetent Suitors typically stalk for a brief period of time, and fail to realize the distress they cause their victim. These stalkers are the most likely to have cognitive deficits or lack interpersonal and social skills.
The Predatory Stalker
These are the most dangerous type of stalkers. Predatory stalking is frequently driven by atypical sexual practices or interests. These stalkers are most often male and their victims are most often female. The stalking begins in order to achieve some type of sexual gratification. However, it can turn to surreptitious surveillance with the goal of gathering information to commit sexual assault. The victims of predatory stalkers are typically strangers, rather than acquaintances or former intimate partners.
Stalking and Your Teen
Now you know about the type of stalkers and the characteristics of their behavior. Use this knowledge to make sure your teen is not engaging in stalking behavior. As a parent, you have an advantage. You have – or you should have – access to their phone, their computer, and their email accounts. You should also have access to all their social media accounts and messaging apps. If your teen develops a crush, check all these media to make sure they’re not going overboard. Review their texts, calls, comments – everything. You may find fifty unanswered texts and twenty-five unanswered calls. If you do, it’s time to have a talk with your teen about stalking: a very serious talk where you inform them they’re on the verge of committing a crime, and their behavior is hurting someone.
The same goes if your teen has a boyfriend or girlfriend and they got, for lack of a better word, dumped: check their phone, computer, social media accounts, everything. If you see a pattern of behavior that comes anywhere close to stalking, it’s time for you to intervene. And if you find a pattern that has already escalated past initial stalking to threats or intimidation, it’s time to enlist the assistance of a mental health professional: your teen is committing a crime. They need help, and you need help helping them. To find a qualified mental health professional in your area, use this psychiatrist finder provided by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
Be sure to read: Five Steps to Take If You’re Being Stalked
Angus is a writer from Atlanta, GA. He writes about behavioral health, adolescent development, education, and mindfulness practices like yoga, tai chi, and meditation.