Sarah and Johnny
Sarah and Johnny only dated for a week, but after they broke up, Johnny always seemed to know where Sarah was going to be. After school, he’d show up at her volleyball practice or at the local tea shop where she was hanging with her friends for a game night.
During school, he would text her constantly, even though they weren’t supposed to use their phones. And she’d find notes in her locker from him. Sometimes, he’d leave little gifts like necklaces or flowers.
Sarah tried to explain that it made her anxious and sick to her stomach every time she saw his name show up on her phone. And she tried to explain the panic she felt when she saw him at places where she thought she was safe from having to interact with him.
Sarah was actually starting to have nightmares about Johnny following her. But, who could she tell? Her friends didn’t get it and she didn’t know what to do.
Rich and Becca
Rich and Becca were neighbors. Rich always tried to be nice to everyone, but he was having problems being nice to Becca lately.
She had been reacting to every post he made on Instagram and commenting as if they were best friends. She was always at his basketball games and found an excuse to try to talk to him whenever he sat down on the bench – coach didn’t like it and chewed Rich out in front of the team for having a “girlfriend” distract him during a game.
She also got him extravagant Christmas and birthday presents. Then she got mad when Rich would say he didn’t really want them. After he said that one time, she threw the present – a book about dating – at his head.
But, how could he get her to stop bothering him constantly? It was starting to negatively effect his concentration on and off the basketball court.
Obsessive Behavior is Stalking
Both Sarah and Rich are being stalked. And both Sarah and Rich are in eighth grade. Think that sounds unreasonable? It’s not.
January is National Stalking Awareness Month. And, according to The National Center for Victims of Crime, youth have a high risk of being stalked. Nearly half of all victims, female AND male, were stalked before they turned 25. And “an estimated 13.5 percent of female and 16.2 percent of male victims reported having experienced stalking as a minor (between the ages of 11 and 17).” That means it is pretty common for middle school students to have a stalker.
You might be thinking, “Okay, okay. So some students have obsessive behavior, but is that really stalking? It’s not like Johnny or Becca are actually going to hurt anyone.” But, the problem is, that’s not true. Johnny and Becca’s seemingly benign actions are already hurting Sarah and Rich.
Even stalkers as young as 11-17 can seriously impact the life of the person they are stalking. While the definition of stalking is a pattern of behavior that might appear benign or perfectly legal, that pattern of behavior has a strong negative impact on the victim.
Victims also experience lack of sleep or nightmares. They might not be able to concentrate on school, extracurricular activities, or work. They might lose or gain weight.
And the stress of not knowing what might happen next can cause victims to be a nervous wreck.
What Can Teachers Do?
Teach your students what they deserve in healthy relationships – both peer and dating. You might even want to give your students the examples of Sarah and Johnny, and Rich and Becca. Ask them to analyze these relationships in terms of Power Up, Speak Out!’s Healthy Relationship Statements (I get to be myself, I treat others well, I can say no, and I have fun), and core concepts like boundaries and consent.
Use questions like the following to prompt discussion:
- Are Johnny and Becca treating Sarah and Rich well? Why not?
- Are Johnny and Becca allowing Sarah and Rich to say no? Why is it important to accept that Sarah doesn’t want a relationship with Johnny? That Rich doesn’t want one with Becca?
- How are Johnny and Becca crossing Sarah and Rich’s boundaries? Who sets Sarah’s boundaries? Rich’s? Why do boundaries need to be respected?
- Tell a trusted adult or friend that you think you’re being stalked.
- Reach out to an organization with advocates who can help. For a national organization, try loveisrespect.org.
- If you feel it is the right choice for you, report to law enforcement.
- Keep a record of everything – texts, notes, instant messages, social media interactions, emails. Take pictures or screen shots and save several places, or make hard copies in case something happens where originals are deleted or unavailable at a future date.
- For intangible interactions like conversations or running into someone someplace you don’t expect to see them, keep a log. Write down the date, time, place, what happened and how it made you feel. This can be useful if you ever decide to report to law enforcement.
- Brainstorm ways to stay safe. For example, ask where can you go for help? Who will help you? If you need a ride or someone to check on you, who can you call? How might you de-escalate or escape a violent situation?
To learn more about stalking and how to discuss it with your students, visit The National Center for Victims of Crime – Teen Bulletins: Stalking, and Stalking Statistics.
To help your students envision what a healthy breakup should look like, have them listen to our two part podcast for free, Power Up Radio: Breaking Up.
If you’re a Boost Pack subscriber, for a quick ten minute reminder of healthy relationships and a discussion on breaking up, have your students read and discuss A Day in the Life: Jessie and A Day in the Life: Sasha.
The more students know about what healthy behaviors look like, they better they can identify if they’re being stalked. So join the UP-rising, and talk with your students today about healthy relationships