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“Stalking-Like Behavior in Adolescence: Prevalence, Intent, and Associated Characteristics” is an article that focuses on the psychology of violence in adolescence. It was published by Michele L. Ybarra, Jennifer Langhinrichsen-Rohling, and Kimberly J. Mitchell in March of 2016. Stalking is best defined as a criminal act that consists of repeatedly following and harassing another person. The most common example for teenagers would be on social media platforms like twitter, instagram, snapchat, facebook, etc.
The national experiment that was done online consisted of collecting data from 1,058 adolescents during the time period between 2010 and 2012. The ages of the subjects were 14 to 21 years old; they were measured on their rates of stalking-like behavior, self-reported malicious intent, and anything physiological that might have a correlation with stalking. The survey was supported by the CDC, but the findings and conclusions in this study are those of the authors.
Although little is known about how stalking-like behavior first emerged, it has been inferred that it begins during adolescence (McCann, 2000b, 2002, 2003, 2006; Scott, Ash, & Elwyn, 2010). This theory is backed up by the 2% of adult women who remember first being stalked around this age (Diette et al., 2004).
Stalking that occurs in adulthood is similar to that in adolescence because in both cases, most perpetrators are male and most victims are female (McCann, 2000a, 2003). However, there are often differences between college-aged and high school-aged youth in this issue. For instance, college students are usually over the age of 18 and are officially adults. This means that they finally have independence from their parents and are reaching higher levels of maturity. In every age group, there seem to be distinct patterns of stalking-like behavior (Brewster, 2003; Diete et al., 2014).
Every state has their own laws on stalking. For example, some states believe that certain acts such as lying-in-wait, surveillance, nonconsensual communication, telephone harassment, and vandalism can be labelled as stalking-like behavior (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998). Due to the lack of a universal definition (Purcell, Flower, & Mullen, 2008), a study was conducted to examine the six actions that correlate with stalking-like behavior: hyper-intimacy, following, intrusive pursuit, aggression, threats, and surveillance across several forms of communication (e.g., in-person, online). The frequency and characteristics of these behaviors were also examined.
It is quite obvious that teenagers spend most of their free time on social media these days. New technology allows humans to interact and maintain strong relationships with just about anyone. The bad thing here is that this type of engagement may increase personal behaviors, such as jealousy (Muise, Christofides, & Desmarais, 2009). It can also make the act of stalking easier because there will always be people who can gain access to your personal information. Similarly, teenagers often “stalk” someone else’s profile on a social media platform, such as Instagram, by looking at the pictures they have posted. This person’s behavior is harmless until it becomes an act of following the person physically, harassment, or any other form of stalking-like behavior (Reyns, Henson, & Fisher, 2012).
Common characteristics of stalking perpetrators include anger, lack of empathy, and substance use. Those who have these traits often display signs of antisocial behavior — empathy is a critical social skill that is necessary for moral development, something that stalkers seem to lack (Hoffman, 2000).
Growing up with Media was the national survey that studied stalking-like behavior by measuring the intensity of pervasiveness of the subjects, based on the six factors that were mentioned earlier. Psychosocial (empathy, whether subject drank alcohol or not) and demographic (household income, youth age and sex, race and ethnicity) characteristics were also reported. At the end of the survey, participants were asked various questions about how the survey process went.
The results of this study were that intrusive pursuit was the most common behavior reported whereas surveillance was the least reported, for men and women. Those who reported engaging in classic stalking-behavior tended to be on the younger side. 62% of youth reported benign intent (did not intentionally harm the other person), 22% reported malicious intent, and about 14% reported unsure intent. Surprisingly, more females perpetrated their behaviors with malicious intent.
Just like all studies, this one had it’s limitations. The idea of removing all bias is near impossible. People can be unknowingly influenced in many ways. For example, the way the questions were worded may have been interpreted differently among the subjects. Another form of bias in this study is that the people in the study were not actually suffering from any harm. Physical and emotional harm of actual victims would have provided a much greater insight into the behaviors of both the perpetrators and the victims, although that might have brought up the issue of morality and whether it would be ethical or not.
The results of the study came out pretty well, finding that approximately 36% of adolescents aged 14 to 21 reported engaging in at least one stalking-like behavior in their lifetime and it was much more likely that it happened in person, rather than via technology. Ultimately, it is quite evident that the youth in today’s society need a great deal of help in developing social skills and learning to respect the boundaries of others.
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