In 2004, the month of January was designated National Stalking Awareness Month by Presidential Proclamation. How aware are you of the real meaning of stalking? Would you know if someone were cyber stalking your child using the GPS features of his or her smartphone?
Hopefully, your kids will never face something as frightening as a stalker. However, as smartphone sales for teens rise at rocket-speed this year, it’s even more important to understand how cyber stalking works, and how to prevent it.
The official website for stalking awareness makes a brilliant effort to educate people about the subtleties of stalking. Here’s their brief definition of stalking:
“…a series of acts, a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause that person fear. Stalking may take many forms, such as assaults, threats, vandalism, burglary, or animal abuse, as well as unwanted cards, calls, gifts, or visits. One in four victims reports that the stalker uses technology, such as computers, global positioning system devices, or hidden cameras, to track the victim’s daily activities.”
This definition covers a lot of ground, but it’s safe to simply say that forms of continued harassment, threats or unwanted contacts that generate fear can be classified as stalking.
Statistics don’t lie
6.6 million people are stalked each year in the United States, according to the experts for Stalking Awareness. Stalking is often not taken seriously, or is not well enough understood for victims to realize that it’s a serious crime. Who’s at risk for stalking? Primarily women, although not always. And teens may be more vulnerable than younger kids. Often former partners, admirers, or someone with a grudge will perpetrate stalking, some taking it to the edge with surreptitious photos, and threats of physical violence.
What you should know
If your teen has a smartphone and uses social networking and the phone’s geo-location systems, it’s important to be aware of the following:
- Whom they’re speaking with, who is speaking to them, and the ages of their online friends
- The nature of the conversations: are they positive with respect to your child’s safety and self-esteem?
- Is there contact that’s slightly threatening or could make your child feel fearful?
- Is there is a consistent flow of contact that’s not invited by your child?
- Do you know the people speaking to your child? Does your child know them personally?
- Are the messages positive or benign with respect to the contactor’s attitude and/or intentions?
- Does your child keep the smartphone’s GPS features turned off when they aren’t specifically being used?
What you can do as a parent
Express to your kids that you want to be part of their online lives –not to snoop or judge, but to protect them from the kinds of dangers in the world that kids don’t necessarily recognize. The best way to get involved is to set your family up with NQ’s Family Guardian suite. You can monitor as much or as little as you want, block apps and contacts according to your child’s maturity level, and you can see, in plenty of time, if something’s not going quite right in their mobile online lives.
Every state has laws against stalking, and many have specific cyber-stalking regulations. Check out this website to learn your state’s laws. Test your knowledge of how technology is used by a stalker by taking a quiz at http://tech2stalk.com/. Share with us if you have stories or information about teens and stalking problems. We’d love to hear from you on our blog, or join the conversation on Facebook.