Have you ever been so enamored of a celebrity that you wanted to know what they were doing every single minute of the day? Or did you ever have an ex in your life that you couldn’t let go of, and you hungered to know details of what he or she was doing in life after your relationship ended? Intense curiosity about others is a normal phenomenon experienced by millions of people every day. Usually, people don’t act on their feeling of “wanting to know,” but sometimes they do. When someone closely tracks another person’s activities it is called “stalking.”

Young people are just as capable of stalking as adults. What can you do if you discover that your own child is involved in this activity?

What is Stalking?
Stalking refers to tracking the behaviors of another person in such a way that the person feels harassed and violated.  Stalking, an invasion of another person’s privacy, can take many forms. For instance, stalking behaviors  include spying on someone’s private mail or phone conversations, following a person wherever they go, watching a person’s comings and goings, sending unwanted correspondence or gifts, forcing unwanted relationships, and even threatening and attacking the object of one’s obsession. Very recently a new brand of stalking has surfaced — cyberstalking — which is stalking behavior conducted over the internet.

Stalking is a criminal offense punishable by law.

How Do Kids and Teenagers Engage in Stalking Behavior?
Stalking behaviors can range from mild to severe. In some cases, kids and teens don’t even realize that what they are doing may be considered stalking. In other cases, they may be fully aware that their behavior is unacceptable, harmful,  and even illegal but they continue to do it nonetheless.

Obsessing about and following celebrities is the more common type of stalking behavior among young people. Teens can get so attached to a matinee idol or rock band, for example, that they devise creative means to find out where their favorite stars hang out, and sneak inside the hotel they are staying in or the restaurant where they’re eating. This kind of behavior in young people may or may not be considered a criminal offense; some celebrities do encourage these accidental “spottings” (even announcing it on their microblogging sites!) for the sake of publicity. But in any event, any excessive adoration is unhealthy, and can cause significant problems at home or at school.

But there is also the more serious type of stalking behavior happening among young people today, one that is more malicious and ill-intentioned. With the ease of modern  communication and networking, young people can easily find ways to attack someone that they have issues with, or force embarrassing public confrontations. Pervasive harassment through sms, emails, blogs and social networking sites, for example, are fairly common among young people. Worse, some kids and teens are unaware of how they are actually victimizing other people with their actions. They underestimate the destructive impact of their behavior.

What can Parents Do?
Stalking behavior should be treated as a serious matter. Not only can stalking cause severe problems in relating and working, stalking is a criminal offense that can result in arrest and/or commitment to a juvenile facility. Children and teens must know when to draw a line between acceptable ways of relating and violation of other people’s rights. Remember, even if a fixation or obsession is manageable at the moment, it can easily turn unhealthy.

If you’re a parent whose child engages in stalking behavior, consider the following tips:

Evaluate the Gravity of the Situation
As mentioned, stalking behavior exists in a range; with some behaviors more understandable and acceptable than others. Find out where your child is in the stalking spectrum so that you may know if guidance and education is sufficient, or stronger interventions are necessary (such as assessment and treatment by a mental health professional). Signs of seriousness include the presence of delusions (e.g. the belief that the other person is in love with the stalker), lack of empathy for the other person’s feelings, severe anxiety if stalking behavior is not fulfilled, and intrusions of the obsessions into everyday living causing problems at home and/or school.

Explain to Your Child Why Stalking is Wrong
Perhaps your child is simply unaware that what they are doing is wrong. Educate your child about the impact of stalking behavior on not just the stalker, but also on the target. Psychologists have conceptualized stalking as a form of mental and emotional assault (sometimes even physical), that can be traumatic to its victim. But even if the target of the stalking is unaware that he or she is being followed or watched, common courtesy and ethics demand that stalking be stopped. Moreover, obsessing, even without stalking, is an unhealthy habit for a person and should be replaced with more wholesome activities. If your child seems fixated on someone to the extent that other activities are being neglected, try to arrange a consultation with a mental health professional to help address the problem.

Make Them Aware of the Risks of Stalking
Aside, from getting arrested, stalking can also put a person at risk for various negative consequences. Following celebrities around, for example, can result in being crushed in a throng of people, especially if the celebrity sighting is accompanied by fan hysteria. A person also does not know how a victim of stalking will react to finding out that they are being followed; stalking also puts person at risk for being victims of assault.

Give Them Sensitivity Training on Issues of Privacy and Boundaries
At the end of the day, what you want is to enhance your child’s sensitivity to the basic rights of other people. Take all opportunities to teach your child about the importance of boundaries and private spaces. Differentiate between information that should be kept to one’s self, and information that should be kept in private. Tell your children that in the same way they don’t want to have their secrets broadcast to strangers, they also don’t want to intrude on another person’s private correspondence and activities. Let them also understand the line between being friendly and being creepy. Training in social skills can help eliminate stalking behavior.

Deal with the Feelings Behind the Stalking Behavior
Obsessively following or communicating with another person can be a dysfunctional way of coping with unpleasant emotions. For example, the inability to let go of a lost relationship can cause a person to obsess on an ex-girlfriend or ex-boyfriend. Boredom over one’s plain and unexciting life can cause teenagers to want to follow celebrities around. If you can teach your child to better manage their negative emotions, you can give them more functional coping strategies than stalking. Again, treatment by a mental health professional can be the most effective way to help your child if he or she is obsessing or stalking. Keep in mind, too, that stalking and obsessing may be symptoms of a mental health disorder. A psychologist or psychiatrist can help.

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