What You and Your Teen Need to Know About Cyberstalking

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If you're like most parents, you've probably talked to your kids about the dangers of predators in the real world. You probably told them not to talk to strangers when they were younger and how to get out of hypothetical dangerous situations.

But most parents don't realize that there are just as many, if not more, predators online than there are in the real world. In fact, cyberstalking is a growing issue that impacts teens—especially those who have been in an abusive relationship.

What's more, perpetrators frequently use social media and the internet to meet and groom victims online. Here's what you and your teen need to know about cyberstalking.

What Is Cyberstalking?

Cyberstalking is the repeated use of technology—such as social media, emails, and text messages—to contact and harass someone, causing them to fear for their safety. As a form of cyberbullying and closely related to in-person stalking, cyberstalking is an invasion of a person's privacy and can be emotionally devastating to those who are targeted.

Cyberstalking is not typically something that's resolved without intervention. In fact, statistics indicate that cyberstalking tends to escalate in more than 75% of the cases.

If your teen is experiencing cyberstalking, it can be hard to identify the perpetrator due to the anonymity of the internet. Sometimes the person cyberstalking your teen will be someone they know, like a former friend or dating partner. The person cyberstalking them could also be a family member, a coworker, someone with an unreciprocated crush, or a stranger that your teen has never met.

Tactics Used By Cyberstalkers

Cyberstalking can be difficult to recognize, even by the victim. People who resort to cyberstalking others are often very creative with their use of online harassment, frequently finding new ways to contact and harass their targets.

One of the hallmarks of cyberstalking behavior is the use of technology to post unkind, lewd, untrue, or suggestive comments online.

It's also not uncommon for the targets of cyberstalking to receive threatening messages or emails. The person doing the cyberstalking may even blackmail your teen in some way.

Just as a person would stalk your teen in person, a person who cyberstalks another also tends to follow them around online. For instance, they may join the same forums or groups or tag your teen in posts, even if the posts have nothing to do with them.

To do this, they often create fake accounts in order to protect their identity. They also may message your teen repeatedly through social media platforms or comment on everything they post online.

Sometimes a person bent on cyberstalking another will do more than just harass their target online. They may employ extremely creative tactics to humiliate and control your teen. One common tactic people who cyberstalk use is catfishing, or the attempt to lure someone into a fake relationship. They also may hack into your teen's online accounts in an effort to take control of their identity and pose as them online.

People who are particularly bent on harming your teen will release confidential or fake information about them to embarrass or shame them. They also might post or distribute real or fake photos of them or create stories and rumors. It's also common for them to demand that your teen send them explicit photos (or sext them) in order for them to stop the rumors. And they may even send sexually explicit photos of themselves.

Other menacing behaviors include sending unwanted gifts to the target or doxxing them, which involves posting their personally identifying information online. Some people who cyberstalk will even track your teen using tracking devices or by hacking their devices or cameras.

Signs of Cyberstalking

Many teens who are being stalked online believe they can handle the situation on their own or are too embarrassed to talk to someone about what is happening. Therefore, they remain silent about what they're experiencing. For this reason, parents need to become familiar with the signs of cyberstalking.

Signs of Cyberstalking

If you notice these signs, your teen may be experiencing cyberstalking:

  • They spend an unusual amount of time online, in private.
  • They receive phone calls, messages, or emails at strange hours.
  • They act suspiciously when they are online.
  • They are receiving gifts from people you don't know.
  • They are visibly upset, scared, or crying after being online.

How to Prevent Cyberstalking

When it comes to the risks of cyberstalking, many teens don't take the necessary precautions to protect themselves online. In fact, according to Pew Research Center, as many as 40% of young Facebook users and 64% of teen Twitter users don't activate their social media privacy settings.

Although it's not possible to completely prevent cyberstalking from ever happening in your teen's life, there are things you can do to help reduce the likelihood of it happening. Here are some things you and your teen can do to prevent cyberstalking.

Keep Accounts Private and Secure

Make sure your teen is taking advantage of security settings. For instance, make sure your teen's social media accounts are private. You can also stress that posts made online should be "friends only" so that only people who know them can see them.

Also, help your kids get in the habit of logging out of accounts. Whether it's their email or their Instagram account, it's always a good idea for your teen to get in the habit of logging out of these accounts. If someone should happen to get into their device and the account is still active, they can easily take control of those accounts and use them inappropriately.

Also, encourage your teen to create a gender-neutral screen name or a pseudonym for their social media accounts. They also should leave the optional fields—like date of birth and hometown—blank on their social media accounts.

Ensure Phone and Locations Are Secure

Remind your teen not to leave their cell phone unattended. Just walking away from their phone in the lunchroom for a few minutes puts them at risk. It only takes a few seconds for someone to install spyware without leaving a trace or to hack their social media accounts.

They also should make sure they keep their locations secure as well. In other words, encourage your teen to disable geolocation settings in photos. They also should refrain from checking in online or posting their whereabouts in real-time. Instead, ask them to post photos of what they're doing after the fact.

It's also a good idea to safeguard online calendars. If your teen has an online calendar, make sure that they keep it private or delete it entirely. A person who engages in cyberstalking can use online calendars to know your teen's whereabouts.

Teach Online Safety Habits

Make sure your teens know what it means to have good online safety habits. In other words, encourage them to only accept friend requests from people they have met in real life. They also should conduct regular social media audits and change their passwords regularly.

Also, stress that passwords should remain private. It's not uncommon for teens to share their passwords with their friends. Even though they may trust their peers completely, there is no guarantee that their private information will remain private, especially if they get into a disagreement or go through a breakup.

You may even want to consider using anti-spyware software. This software will help you detect if any malicious software has been installed on your teen's devices. As an added layer of protection, be sure that your teen backs up their data in some way. This way, if you have to return the device to factory settings in order to get rid of the spyware, you will not lose any data.

What to Do if Your Child Is Experiencing Cyberstalking

Cyberstalking is difficult to combat because it's often challenging to determine who is doing the cyberstalking. For instance, the person cyberstalking your teen could be sitting next to them at school every day or they could be three states away.

Not only does online anonymity make it difficult to verify who is doing the cyberstalking, but it also makes it difficult for law enforcement to track down the cyberstalker. With that being said, you should still try to gather as much information and evidence as you can, in case this situation needs to be taken to law enforcement. Here's what you should do if your teen is being subjected to cyberstalking.

Refrain From Interacting

Although it's usually not recommended to engage with someone who is cyberstalking them, it is appropriate to tell the person to stop what they are doing. But your teen should only do this once. Any further engagement with the cyberstalker could only entice them to continue.

After your teen has asked the person cyberstalking them to stop, they should refrain from interacting with them again. They should not respond to messages, emails, or social media comments.

The best practice is to ignore, ignore, ignore.

Make sure your teen also blocks the person cyberstalking them on social media, on their phone, and anywhere else they have been contacted. Have your teen take every step they can to minimize this person's ability to reach them or interact with them.

Notify Authorities

Whether the person cyberstalking your teen sends videos, leaves phone messages, or types repeated texts, you should keep evidence of everything. Although it may be tempting to destroy the posts and messages because of the pain and turmoil it causes your teen, you will need this documentation as evidence of any crimes the person has committed.

After you have compiled your evidence and made copies for yourself and an attorney—if you hire one—notify the police about what your teen is experiencing. You may need to turn over any evidence to them, so make sure you have kept copies for yourself just in case the originals are misplaced.

You also should report the person cyberstalking your teen to the site or service they used. In other words, if the person cyberstalking your teen used Facebook to reach out to them, report them to Facebook. You also can report them to your internet service provider as well.

Get Your Teen's Computer Checked

Some people who cyberstalk others are technologically savvy and may have hacked your teen's camera and microphone. They may also have installed a tracking device. Be sure that you have your teen's computer and smartphone thoroughly checked out before they continue using it. Or, you may want to invest in a new one altogether.

If the person cyberstalking your child has infiltrated their technology, it will be very hard to put an end to the destructive behavior. Do everything you can to ensure your teen is using a clean and secure device. You also should remind them not to let anyone have access to their technology and to never leave it unattended.

Change Screen Names and Passwords

Sometimes it's helpful to change your teen's email address, especially if the person cyberstalking them has contacted them via email. Also, be sure that online profiles do not include this new email address. It also should only be shared with people they know in real life. They may even want to consider changing their online screen names.

Also, encourage your teen to change all their passwords. Because cyberstalking sometimes involves hacking into personal accounts and profiles, it's important that your teen keeps them secure. The best way to do that is to change all their passwords and tighten their security settings.

Experiencing cyberstalking is a scary experience that can cause a great deal of emotional distress for your teen. For this reason, you should consider connecting them with a mental health professional who can help them process what they're experiencing as well as offer support.

Cyberstalking Laws

When it comes to laws against cyberstalking, this type of harassment falls under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994 at the national level. However, there are other federal laws that can be applied to cyberstalking where appropriate.

For instance, a person who publishes or threatens to publish private photos or videos of another person with the intention of forcing the target to do something may face federal charges of extortion if they communicated via interstate commerce channels like phones, computers, or the Internet.

Likewise, the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act could be used to charge someone if the victim has been secretly recorded through their own computer or where the perpetrator gained access to sexual photos or videos through unauthorized access to the victim's computer.

There is also a federal statute where it is a crime to use a telephone, the internet, or any other telecommunications device to annoy, abuse, harass, or threaten another person. People can also be charged with a crime if they engage in caller ID spoofing, which means they disguise the number that appears on the target's caller ID.

As for the state level, in 1999 California became the first state to develop a law specifically addressing cyberstalking. Since then, some other states have developed similar laws. Talk to your local police to determine if your state has laws regarding cyberstalking.

A Word From Verywell

The thought of your teen is experiencing cyberstalking can be frightening and overwhelming. But with the proper precautions, you should be able to minimize this risk. Just be sure your teen understands the dangers involved in sharing too much information online. Together, you can take steps to ensure that they stay as safe as possible online.

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Article Sources
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