2019 marks the 15th year of recognizing January as National Stalking Awareness Month. The CDC defines stalking as, “a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or conduct directed at someone that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” Many people are probably unaware of the staggering statistic that roughly 1 in 6 women will be a victim of stalking at some point in her lifetime. The purpose of National Stalking Awareness Month is to not only raise awareness, but also promote prevention efforts and provide community supports and assistance to victims.
While anyone can become a victim of stalking, teenagers are among the most vulnerable and experience the highest rates of incidents among victims. Below are tips for families concerning precautionary measures, proactive steps, and other safety strategies to prevent children and teens from becoming victims.
CLEAN UP SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS
For many teens, social media is their method for connecting and sharing with friends. However, much too often, teens are oversharing in their profiles. Talk to your teen about the importance of certain levels of anonymity online. Details such as phone numbers, addresses, specific school locations, full names, and birth dates when put in the wrong hands can be used to stalk victims. Remind your child that “privacy” settings are not always full-proof. Furthermore, that new “friend” or follower request could be anyone—literally.
- Do not accept friend requests from people that you do not personally know
- Do not “check-in” to public places online; this information can be accessed by anyone
- Do not “tag” specific current locations, especially if you frequent these locations regularly
- Report any suspicious users and log the attempts this person has made when contacting you
- Do not respond to any unwanted messages, conversations, requests, etc.
- If teens have a webcam or camera on their laptop, consider covering it when not in use
SWITCH UP YOUR EVERYDAY ROUTINES
Stalkers often rely on victims’ routines to track their whereabouts closely. The less predictable the routine, the more difficult it is to follow. If your teen jogs a specific loop on the weekends, goes to the same coffee shop after school every Wednesday, bike rides through the park to school every day, or walks the dog around the same neighborhood route, encourage her to switch up her day-to-day patterns. A sudden change in one’s habits is sometimes enough to dissuade an unwanted observer. These modifications also prompt teens to try out new places, explore new running paths, or simply catch the bored dog off guard by changing his walking route.
DO NOT FEEL PRESSURED TO OBLIGE
Sometimes, in an effort to maintain one’s social courtesy or show politeness, children and teens feel pressured to say “yes” to a kind offer. Parents have probably taught their kids from a young age to hold the door for others, smile and say “hello” when someone greets them, say “please” and “thank you” when someone shows them a kind gesture. Obviously, being well-mannered is not the issue. However, we do need children and teens to be aware of the option to say “no” or walk away to ignore someone’s unwanted attention. Remind them that agreeing to something just out of politeness is not necessary; they should never be made to feel coerced or intimidated when it comes to unwanted attention or “seemingly” kind offers. Remind teens of the following:
- “Oh come on, give me a smile,” from a stranger in no way obligates you to respond.
- If someone pesters, coaxes, or berates you for not saying “hello” or calls you rude for ignoring them, keep ignoring them.
- If someone asks you how you’re doing or where you’re heading, you do not have to respond.
- If someone offers to walk you home, offers you a ride, or approaches you too closely, move away and remain in a public place until the person has left or until you feel safe.
- If a peer asks you to hang out or go out on a date, do not feel that you have to agree out of kindness. It’s better to let them know straight out that you are not interested in that way.
- If a stranger or peer’s attempt at a conversation is crossing the line or making you feel uncomfortable, use your phone as an out. Call a parent or pretend to receive an incoming call from a parent; use headphones as an indication that you do not want to converse with strangers around you.
Parents should explain the signs of stalking and clearly define which types of behaviors are classified as stalking. Tell your teens to speak up to you or another trusted adult if they believe someone is following, watching, harassing, or intimidating them. Remind them not to ignore their instincts—if something feels off, it very well could be.