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Stalking Awareness Month: Stalking Among Teens

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

This post follows up on our recent article National Stalking Awareness Month: Know the Facts About Stalking. That piece outlined the basic facts everyone needs to know about stalking: the legal definition, what types of behavior constitute stalking, and offered five steps to take if you think someone is stalking you. For your convenience, we also posted a condensed piece on those five steps, which you can read here.

This article drills down on the subject of stalking to offer information that’s directly relevant to stalking among teenagers. We write this – in addition to our initial article – because there’s definitely some overlap between typical teen crush behavior, which can be over-the-top and borderline stalky/obsessive, and criminal stalking, which is completely different. The problem with identifying stalking among teens is twofold. We already mentioned the first part: teens can get overexcited, especially about their romantic interests or crushes, and their overexcitement causes them to get carried away. The second part has to do with awareness and knowledge: sometimes the teen doing the stalking doesn’t realize they’re taking things way too far, and the victim doesn’t understand exactly why they’re getting creeped out – i.e. actually scared – by what their friends and family might write off as typical teen crushing.

Stalking Definitions: A Quick Refresher

The Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC), defines criminal stalking as:

“A pattern of behavior directed at a specific person that would cause

a reasonable person to feel fear.”

That probably squares with how you think of stalking: unwanted attention that’s so extreme it causes you to fear for your safety. By “fear for your safety” we also mean things that aren’t a one hundred percent match with those words. A pattern of behavior that creeps you out, makes you feel uncomfortable, or leaves you feeling – forgive the judgy language – gross or dirty can also meet the criteria for stalking. But there’s the catch: just because someone creeps you out doesn’t make them a stalker, and just because an interaction with them feels kinda gross doesn’t mean they’re stalking you. But what we want you to understand is that where stalking is concerned, your perception of what’s happening is huge. In fact, it’s the crux of the definition: notice that “cause a reasonable person to feel fear” is the key part of the definition, along with “pattern of behavior.”

The point is that you get to decide what causes you to feel fear. Or get creeped out, or feel violated, or uncomfortable. No one else gets to decide those things for you: not your friends, not your parents or teachers, and certainly not the person making you feel those things.

Here’s another catch: if you’re the victim of stalking, you might downplay it, too. You might lump it in with typical clueless teen crushiness, and ignore the weirdness you feel when whoever it is lavishes you with way too much attention. Plus, maybe you don’t want to make a big deal about it. So you ignore the behavior, squash your feelings, and hope it stops.

Don’t do that.

Teens Being Stalked: Internal Warning Signs

We’re about to offer some information about things you may feel if you’re being stalked but don’t realize you’re actually being stalked. But first, we want to make it absolutely clear why we’re making a big deal out of all this:

Stalking can escalate to violence.

That’s a statistical fact. Stalking is especially dangerous is you were once intimate with your stalker. Female victims stalked by a former intimate partner report being physically assaulted, experiencing forms of violence such as the stalker throwing and breaking things near them, and being sexually assaulted.

And that’s not all: stalking can precede the worst possible outcome imaginable – femicide, a.k.a. murder of a female. We’re not trying to freak you out, but we are trying to get your attention. Here’s the data:

  • 54% of femicide victims reported stalking to the police before being killed
  • 76% of intimate partner femicide victims were stalked by their partner before being killed
  • 67% of femicide victims reported being physically abused by their partner before being killed

Do those stats get your attention?

Good. They should.

They’re why we don’t want you to ignore the negative feelings you get when someone is giving you too much unwanted attention. Your feelings might be a better thing to trust than your brain, because you can convince yourself things aren’t a big deal when they really are.

Here’s a list of things you might feel if you’re being stalked. Let’s call these your internal warning signs.

  • Fear of what the other person might do next
  • Vulnerable and unsafe
  • Unsure who to trust
  • Irritable, anxious, or jittery
  • Depressed, overwhelmed, or mad
  • Frustrated, isolated, and confused about what to do

You may also feel less social, more cautious, get startled more easily, and have trouble sleeping. If someone is giving you unwanted attention and you feel or experience these things but have not yet made the connection between the feelings and the attention, then consider making that connection now. If someone is giving you unwanted attention and you feel these things, there’s a good chance you’re being stalked.

The Difference Between Awkward Teen Crushing and Stalking

As noted, sometimes it’s hard to tell what’s harmless and what’s not. Here’s a list of developmentally appropriate – and possibly over-the-top – behaviors a romantically obsessed but totally harmless teenager might do, compiled by victim advocate and expert Michelle M. Garcia for a lecture presented at a 2008 conference on justice for victims of crime:

  • Follow you around school
  • Call you a lot
  • Write a lot of notes
  • Wait in locations they know you might be, like your locker, the lunchroom, or outside classrooms/activity locations

All that is typical teen behavior. You know it because you’ve probably done similar things yourself, unless you’re one of the few teens – or humans on earth – who’s never embarrassingly put themselves out there over a crush. Now, here’s a list of similar behaviors – adapted from the same lecture above – that are not developmentally appropriate and are borderline, red-flag warning signs of stalking behavior. They’re known as intrusive contacts.

Examples of Intrusive Contacts

  • Calling when you never gave out your number
  • Calling a lot, at inappropriate times, and sometimes hanging up
  • Driving by your home frequently
  • Watching your home
  • Stopping by your home uninvited
  • Refusing to leave your home
  • Causing a disturbance at your home
  • Leaving notes on your locker, car window/door, or at your home
  • Doing any of the above to your friends or family

These intrusive contacts, when they’re grouped together and form a pattern, cross the line and become stalking. Here’s a list of teen behaviors that are absolutely stalking, by default:

  • Verbal threats
  • Intimidation
  • Following you
  • Lots of unwanted notes, pictures, or gifts
  • Spreading false rumors about you
  • Excessive phone calls, texts, emails, direct messages, social media comments or posts
  • Waiting for you outside school, your home, or where you work
  • Any of the above directed at your family or friends

The person who decides if these behaviors are stalking – i.e. cause you fear – is you. If someone is doing the things above and it scares you, it’s time for you to call it what it is: stalking. And it’s also time to do something about it.

Teen Stalking: Regain Your Power

First, understand that if you feel like the situation is out of your control, we have helpful news:

You can regain control by taking the steps we recommend.

Second, put yourself, your feelings, and your safety first.

Being mindful of others is an important character trait, but in this case, it’s time to be self-centered. Your stalker’s feelings should not affect your decision about what to do about it. Your friend’s opinions – if they’re anything but take action to stop the stalking now – should not affect your decision to take action.

Also, if you have feelings along the lines of I don’t want to make a big deal out of this or I don’t want to cause trouble or this is going to mark me as that person or this is way too embarrassing – we understand.

Those feelings are totally valid and common to someone in your position. But don’t let those feelings stop you from taking action, because stalkers count on that. They rely on your fear of speaking out. If you feel those things, it’s time to understand that those are the same feelings that keep people in abusive relationships when they’re adults, and those are the same feelings that allow stalkers and perpetrators of domestic violence to continue their behavior without consequences. When you allow your fear of speaking out to win, you give the stalker power. But we’re here to tell you that you have power, you can exercise that power, and there are adults out there who can help you keep that power.

One Possible Exception

With all that said, there may be an exception where teenagers are concerned: it’s not unrealistic to think that a teenager with a crush might exhibit stalking behaviors without really realizing they’re scaring you, and that they’ve crossed the line into criminal behavior. If this is the case – and they’re genuinely just clueless – then they simply need to be made aware of how their behavior makes you feel, and they’ll probably stop immediately, apologize profusely, and feel terrible for scaring the person they’re crushing on.

What You Can Do

Understand this, in no uncertain terms: the law is on your side. Experienced advocates are standing by, ready to help you. Before we give you ways to contact them, we need to make sure you also understand that any time you feel you’re in immediate danger, feel threatened, or fear for your safety in any way, there’s one thing  you should do right away:

 Pick up the phone and call the police.

Even if the person you feel threatened by is a peer. Even if they’re an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. Do not wait for the behavior to escalate, because statistics show there’s a real chance stalking behavior can and does escalate to physical violence or worse.

Okay, enough on that. Here’s a list of phone numbers to call for help and advice if you think you’re being stalk, but you’re not in immediate danger:

  • Victim Connect: 1 (855) 484-2846
  • The National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1 (800) 799-7233 En Espanol: 1 (800) 787-3224
  • The National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1 (800) 656-4673

Finally, there’s a very helpful online resource called the Stalking Harassment and Risk Profile (SHARP) Assessment you can do online. It’s a powerful tool. You answer questions, submit your answers, and the website generates a report – in legal terminology – you can use if and when you contact the authorities. If you think you’re being stalked but still unsure, use this questionnaire. It gives you an objective, third-party assessment of your situation based on current law. It only takes about fifteen minutes. It’s worth your time and empowers you to take important steps toward ending the stalking behavior before it escalates to something more dangerous.

Be sure to read: Is My Teen a Stalker? How Can I Tell? 

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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