Here at Evolve Treatment Centers, our utmost priority is the safety and security of adolescents and teens everywhere. That’s why we’re committed to spreading awareness on the dangers of the dark web, unfiltered social media access, and the unfortunate reality of child sex trafficking/grooming.
Grooming and stalking go hand-in-hand. Many child predators will start talking to their victims online, and then start stalking and harassing them if and when the adolescent stops responding.
However, whereas child predators who target adolescents online are usually strangers, many traditional stalkers – according to data, around 85% – are former romantic partners or close acquaintances.
How Do I Know If My Child Is Being Stalked?
Stalking is a very real and potentially dangerous pattern of activity. There are a number of ways a stalker might harrass your teen. The stalker might start with excessive phoning, texting, or messaging on social media. There have been cases where stalkers even send defamatory letters and messages about your teen to other people, such as friends and family members. Then it might escalate to surveillance, threats, intimidation, property damage, violence, and in some extreme cases, even assault and murder.
Stalking can occur over a period of years. Don’t think that just because your child hasn’t talked about it to you means it’s not happening. Many adolescents and teens are so ashamed by the situation that they try to ignore what’s happening, or try to deal with it on their own. Although this makes it difficult to recognize if your teen is being stalked, stalking is often a traumatic experience for the victim.
Signs of Trauma in Teens
Therefroe, if you see the following signs of trauma, it’s time to have a conversation with your teen. Remember that signs of trauma are not limited to the list below. These are some of the most common symptoms.
- Avoidance. Your teen stays away from places, people, or activities even distantly associated with the stalker.
- Hyper-arousal. Your teen becomes highly alert and easily startled. They could also become very suspicious of others and have trouble trusting them.
- Your teen becomes uneasy or triggered when they check mail, their email, or their phone.
- Trouble sleeping/ nightmares. Your teen’s sleep habits become disrupted.
- Depressive or suicidal thoughts. Your teen develops symptoms of an emotional disorder, or thoughts of suicide.
- Substance use. Your teen may try and escape the pain that they’re dealing with through the use of alcohol or drugs.
How to Get Help If Your Child Is Being Stalked
First, we need to establish that stalking is a crime. Though the definition of stalking varies from state to state, in general stalkers can be prosecuted and jailed for their crimes. That’s why you should never hesitate to contact law enforcement if you feel like your child’s safety is in jeopardy or if the stalker is threatening your child in any way.
However, if the level of stalking has not yet reached the point where you feel the authorities should get involved, there are a number of initial steps you can take to try and solve the problem on your own.
Tell the stalker to stop.
Send a message to the stalker, or cyberstalker, to stop talking to your teen. Be as direct and blunt as you like. Feel free to let the stalker know it’s you (the parent) sending the message. Hopefully, this will scare the stalker into actually stopping.
Block them online.
Stalkers can use a variety of methods to reach adolescents: social media, phone, email, text, etc. After telling the stalker to stop, the very next step is to block them on all of the mediums that they are using to contact your child. Social media platforms include Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, Kik, AskFM, Discord, and other gaming sites. If they have your teen’s phone number already, block their number on your teen’s phone, too. The same goes with email.
If, by any chance, the stalker still manages to send messages to your teen (for example, by making up a new email address or social media profile), the number-one rule is Don’t engage. Tell your teen not to answer them back – not even to say “I asked you to stop contacting me.” This is exactly what the stalker wants: for your teen to keep engaging with them, even if the engagement is negative.
Make social media profiles private.
Stalkers should not have access to real-time updates of your adolescent’s life. This is a dangerous scenario. They can easily continue seeing your child’s pictures, status, and other personal information. Keeping your social media account private is a good idea for all teens, not just victims of stalking, as it prevents dangerous strangers (like pedophiles or child sex traffickers) from accessing teens directly. Although your teen might resist making their posts private since it limits their ability to share with the general public, explain to them that that’s kind of the point.
When the Stalking Is Serious
Remember: if the aforementioned steps do not thwart your child’s stalker, contact local law enforcement. Bring whatever evidence you have of the stalking, including screenshots, notes/gifts, printed email messages, etc. Having documented evidence of the stalking will help the police try to resolve the issue. Also, if at any point in time the stalker threatens to harm your child, time is of the essence. You need to get help as soon as possible. Call 911 and report what’s going on.
Does Your Adolescent Need Mental Health Treatment?
Stalking is a terrifying experience to undergo. It can become a real trauma for your adolescent. Victims of stalking often want to change schools, move homes, change phone numbers, email addresses, and scrub or delete social media accounts in order to avoid their stalker. 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.
If the stalking experience leaves your teen scarred or traumatized, then your child might need mental health treatment. The best way to figure out whether your teen has been emotionally scarred is through a professional trauma assessment by a mental health professional. Even when the incident has ended and it seems like your teen is fine, the aftereffects of the experience can still linger.
Teen PTSD Treatment
According to research, victims who are threatened by stalkers are more likely to develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (Purcell, Pathé, & Mullen, 2005). In addition to PTSD, studies show that victims of stalking often need treatment for depression, anxiety, panic disorder, self-injurious behavior, and suicidal ideation. Thus, if indeed your child ultimately needs mental health treatment, realize that you’re not alone. Depending on the severity of your adolescent’s emotional scarring and their mental health condition, you can choose from mental health treatment at an intensive outpatient treatment program (IOP), a residential treatment center (RTC) or a partial hospitalization program (PHP) for teens.
Make sure to read: Is My Teen a Stalker? How Can I Tell?