Teen stalking – More than a crush

Stalking is a crime. Regardless of your reasons, it is wrong to repeatedly do something that harasses someone, invades their privacy, invades their space, repeatedly intrudes on their life or continually degrades them to the point where they are fearful.

The concept of stalking as we know it is a very new concept. Often seen as just infatuation or unrequited love, stalking was in the past seen as almost something flattering. Before the late 1980s it was unusual to hear or people stalking others, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the word, stalker, started to hit the press and usually in relation to those that obsessively followed certain celebrities.

These days, we need to take stalking very seriously because we know:

(a) Stalking is a warning or red flag about future violence and

(b) Stalking causes psychological damage to victims

In the last few years, people have become more concerned about their privacy and at the same time, the capacity to track, monitor or pry on someone in various ways has never been greater. Although celebrities are in a high risk group, you don’t have to be famous anymore to be stalked.

In a way, stalking can be seen as bullying that has been taken to the next level. Researchers have separated stalking from bullying – where stalking goes beyond the school into the domestic or social situation in the wider community

So, what do we know about stalking among teens and young people?

  • We know that being stalked during childhood or adolescence can compromise emotional wellbeing, and interrupt education. Stalking can lead to fear and mistrust that can interfere with social and interpersonal functioning amongst those who have been targeted. Those who have engaged in stalking can face school suspensions, expulsion and legal consequences
  • We know that stalking is more likely to occur in certain situations for young people
    • dealing with disputes amongst friends
    • trying to start or terminate relationship
    • intense infatuation (usually with a celebrity but it could be a teacher or an older friend).
  • We know that stalking is much bigger than having a crush and people need to be careful not to minimise stalking behaviour or dismiss it as being a crush. Stalkers will typically put a good deal of time, mental energy and even money into their attempts to invade a person’s life.

In Australia – sometimes attempts are made to manage stalking behaviour by getting a restraining order. About seven years ago, researchers studied restraining orders that had been taken out by young people or taken against young people and found….

  • most victims knew the perpetrator 98{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de}
  • 50{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} reported being physically assaulted
  • most involved a current or ex-friend 47{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de}, an ex boyfriend or girlfriend 21{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de}, neighbour 14{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de}
  • Stalking included unwanted approaches, phone calls, texts, following, cyberstalking, spreading malicious rumours. Most victims reported being threatened 75{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} or having a friend or relative threatened 15{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} and threats ranged in nastiness from general threats to threats of harm, death, and sexual assault.

Being seven years old now, this research probably does not really capture a lot that goes on these days with online or cyber-stalking. Also, it is important to point out that young people can be affected by stalking in the context of parental separation as well. Children can be caught up as secondary victims as one parent tries to manage how they are feeling by invading the life of the other parent – leaving the children in an emotionally vulnerable sometime physically vulnerable position.

Clearly, people who engage in stalking behaviour to try to deal with their emotions need a proper assessment. We want to deal with anything that is going wrong for them to stop them doing hurtful things to others, also we need to look at the risk for self harm. Many have long histories of problems, limited ways to solve problems, social skills issues, and need a tailor-made treatment. They need more than just anger management. Often, psychologists and other clinicians involved in their treatment need to have a more behavioural focus treatment rather than cognitive because often those who stalk others have problems with verbal skills. To most effectively treat a teen stalker, it is important that we understand the story around or the “type” of their stalking. Treatment might need to be different for someone who is stalking because they have experienced rejection rather than stalking because they are disorganised, enamoured or retaliating.

For those who are being stalked, there are some actions that they should definitely take. Sometimes restraining orders can be evocative – especially where there is a strong sense of entitlement. If you are frightened, it is best to notify police and ask that they investigate the stalking.

It is very, very, very, very, very, very, very important that if you are a young person who is being stalked and you are frightened, that you stop all contact with the person who is trying to stalk you and tell other people.

Many young people struggle with the idea of ceasing contact – especially if the stalker is threatening to harm him or herself.

My advice to young people who feel they are being stalked….

  • As soon as you get scared, tell the person to stop, tell a safe adult all about what is happening, and cut all further contact.
  • Don’t try to be nice to the stalker – even if they threaten to hurt themselves. If they threaten to hurt themselves if you cut contact, still cut contact but alert others (adults or authorities ) to the threats that they have made so that other people can ensure that they are safe.

Some young people are angry about the fear and disruption to their lives and they believe that cutting off people who are stalking them is “letting them get away with it”, but it is important that no one retaliates and that you hold your ground.

Cutting contact can also mean that you need to change your social media avatar, change your phone number and not share your details with anyone outside a small group or trusted friends and family.

If you are parenting, or caring for, a teen who is being stalked, you need to be sure that you watch to make sure they are following the “cease contact” advice.


Take it seriously. Stalking is a criminal offence and while it may be defined differently in each state, it is still seen as criminal for good reason.



Intelligence – Um, what?

I remember learning about intelligence during my under-grad psychology course at uni back in the 80s. The definition of intelligence in my text book was something like “intelligence is the thing that intelligence tests measure”. And, well, despite having used or looked at an IQ test most weeks of my working life, that is still pretty much my understanding of them.

Intelligence is one of those things that you can’t really hold or visualise. We all kind of have a sense of what it means, but is it really even a thing?

Over the years there have been lots of theories about intelligence. There have been many different legends of psychology who have posed different theories about what intelligence is and most have agreed that it is made up of lots of different parts all working together to let us do the things to solve problems – to learn and adapt.

The earliest measure of intelligence, or IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests, was designed by Mr Binet and Mr Simon in France in the early 1900s. Simon and Binet were given the job by the French rulers at the time to work out which children should go to which school. In earlier times in France, only the rich children got to go to school and when it was declared that all children should be able to access education, it was decided that a test was needed to help work out which children should go to which schools and get what amount of help to learn.

So, the first intelligence tests did just that and after all of these years, intelligence tests are still used to determine the fate of many children and the sorts of education that they can access. Modern day IQ tests are used as part of the process to determine which children should get to go to Special schools, which ones get to have an aide and which ones get to have extra help because their IQ is so low that it effects their ability to get along and do the day to day things that everybody else does. For older children and adults, IQ tests might be used as part of recruiting processes to see which people have the right sort of skills for a job or even which children might get a scholarship at a certain school or institution. Also, IQ tests are used during the process of assessing people who may have had a head injury to determine the strengths and weaknesses and what sort of rehabilitation they may need to assist them.

In essence, an IQ test correlates with how well someone is going to do at their academic subjects at school. An IQ test does not measure creativity, happiness, getting along skills, street-wisdom or any other traits that come in handy in life.

Usually, if people are measuring intelligence using an IQ test, it will involve some word or verbal problems, some visual or shape-based problems and some memory tasks. Some of these might be pencil and paper (or these days computer tablet) based tasks and some might be Eddie McGuire or Quiz Master type questions and answers. All of the scores on lots of different little tests gat analysed and combined in certain special ways to give an overall score that is usually referred to as an IQ Score (Intelligence Quotient). All of the smaller bits that go in to the test can show us a person’s strengths and weaknesses. Some may be really good at words and not so great at memory. Some might be really fast at doing things, but not so great at patterns. This information can be handy, especially if someone is having problems with learning.

Unless you are an administrator responsible for keeping the gates for some extra funding, an IQ test is rarely used alone, because, let’s face it, people are more than their IQ score.

Sadly, however, in the cold hard light of day, someone has to make a decision about who gets to go whee and who gets additional funding and sometimes this boils down to the scores on an individual test on an individual day.

So, it is vitally important that the IQ tests that they are using are the best that they can be, as scientifically accurate as they can be and administered as carefully as possible by people who are properly trained and who understand the limits of the information that an IQ test can give.

There is a lot of research and mathematics that go into developing a modern day IQ test. In essence, the people developing the tests have to make sure that the test is measuring what it’s supposed to measure (that’s called validity) and that it measures things reliably and consistently across lots of different sorts of people (we call that reliability). An IQ test compares one person’s score with the average of a whole lot of other people of the same age (we call this the norm). Every few years (around every 10 years), the people who make IQ tests have to revise the test to make sure that the test is still measuring the things it is supposed to measure and sometimes they have to adjust it for the times. For instance, some IQ tests have had to remove things like pictures of telephones because phones do not look the way they did ten years ago. They also try harder each time to make the tests work across different cultures (which is always very tricky). An IQ test has to be given the same way to every person who takes the test and so there is a lot of training that psychologist have to do to understand the maths and science behind the test, but to also make sure they are not making it easier for some children than others by the way they set out each task or ask questions. IQ tests also have to be kept locked up and secret so that no one can see what the questions are before they take the test. We wouldn’t want anyone to cheat, now! Psychologists also have lots of rules and ethics they need to know before they can administer IQ tests to people.

At the moment, there is a group of researchers in Australia trying to collect new averages/norms for the latest version of a child’s IQ test. They are most of the way through it but to make sure that they test the same sort of people that actually live in Australia, there are certain subgroups they have to try to test, too. One of the subgroups that this particular group of researchers is short on are children who have parents who left school at year 12 or earlier. If you are interested in having your children contribute to finding out what the new averages/norms are, you can contact me .  I want to make sure that you get all of the information about the study and the ethics of it all before you nominate your child.




Separated parents: How not to be that (unhelpful) parent!

It’s clear.  Children who “lose” a parent can suffer from a range of social disadvantages including poverty. Children who lose contact with one parent can have fewer resources (financial or otherwise) available to them and this is one of many reasons why the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child speaks to the right of a child to have meaningful access to both parents and why it is important that the best interest of the child are considered when a family separates.

Thankfully, most parents who separate in Australia have their children’s best interests at heart. They are able to maintain a “civil enough” relationship so that both parents can maintain an ongoing relationship with the child and be sure that the children, or other family members, are not put at risk. This is no mean feat if you are struggling with issues about hurt and trust arsing from the end of an intimate relationship, but most parents can achieve this emotional work by themselves or perhaps with the help of supportive family, friends and advisors.

For those parents who can’t sort out a way that the children can maintain meaningful relationships with both parents and have their needs met, a few parents will make use of mediation to assist.

For those who cannot get it sorted with mediation, (a smaller number of people again) a legal process is needed to make decisions about parenting. It is the families that need legal processes to sort out the separation that have the most  potential to be the most upsetting, or even he most dangerous, for the children.

The aim of healthy post-separation parenting is to ensure that the child can have their right to a meaningful relationship with both parents, unless there is some risk. For various personal reasons, some separated parents will spend an inordinate amount of time, money and emotion trying to establish that their ex-partner is risky. Sadly, it is in this process that the psychological risks to the child can become heightened. Seeing children having to deal with the interpersonal angst arising from their parents’ separating is one of the most frustrating and helpless things that I’ve had to deal with as a psychologist.

It does make you wonder where some families get the stamina to fight for years in Court – a stamina that perhaps only arises if a parent hates their ex-partner more than they love their child.

The other things that need to be taken into account when a child has parents who have separated are factors associated with the child. For a range of reasons, some children just do not cope with the demands that a shared care arrangements might place on them. The tricky job for psychologists and other professionals who are called upon to assist the Court is often about assessing what a child can cope with and this will vary with a child’s age, personal characteristics and the demands on the child’s life (e.g. how many out of school activities, anxiety levels, sibling support). Children who are very young cannot be expected to settle after long periods away from a solid attachment figure. I find the “gateway assumptions” of Jenn McIntosh and her colleagues useful. The gateway assumptions are:

  • The priority is that the child is safe and can be comforted by both parents.
  • The child is protected from harmful levels of stress.

Jenn uses these assumptions to assist with making decisions about a young child being ready for overnight stays, but I also think they make sense for children of any ages.

Many of the things that are difficult for separated families are the same difficulties that “intact” families have – differences of opinion about schooling, screen time, makeup, or parties.  Courts can sort out the time arrangements and sometimes the money arrangements, and they can take into account the needs and capacities of the individual child, but they cannot always effectively stop the day-to-day emotional war that a child experiences from parents who are genuinely likeable and loving (except when it comes to their ex partner) speaking and acting badly to or about each other – Nor can the Courts effectively intervene at the level where, for instance, the child who has left a school item at one house during their time there that they now urgently need at their other home needs to swim through shark-infested emotional waters to get a day-to-day need met.

So, despite the best efforts of many individuals, and even Court, to the child’s best interest at heart, much of a child’s experience of parental separation comes down to how their parents behave.

Some parental behaviours are just plain toxic. Some of the most common unhelpful post-separation parenting types that I have seen over time include:

  1. “Diss” the other parent parenting – Speaking badly about a child’s parent where the child can hear you is emotionally equivalent to reaching in to the child’s chest and pulling out the heart and stomping on it. It is abusive. It is also abusive to a child when a child’s parent is defamed by grandparents, uncles, aunties, new partners……
  2. Time is money parenting – There is no strong link between time allocated to each household or parent (as in hours/minutes/days/weeks) and a child’s wellbeing.

    What matters, is the quality of care and knowing that, whatever difficulties exist, both parents remain united in their wish to do the best they can as a parent.

Unfortunately, for some parents, time in terms of days, weeks etc, equates to money. Given that we know that children from separated parents can be affected by poverty and lack of resources, ensuring the child has appropriate allocated resources is important.  The last thing many parents want to do is part with their hard-earned cash, but especially to be giving it to a person they no longer live with or love or like or respect. Some see it as a payment to the ex partner and not a payment to the child. Some will go to extreme lengths to avoid having to pay the ex partner. This can mean that they start to defame the ex partner (see unhelpful parenting type 1 above).

  1. Super-fun-bags parenting – The super-fun-bags parent is the person who may be genuinely be delighted to spend time with their child, but so much so that every moment spent with them is like a birthday or holiday adventure. This is not always in the best interests of the child.

Parents need to think about “being with” their child in their allocated time and not “doing things or buying things”.

Of course, occasional fun times and celebrations are wonderful but regularly handing a child over to the other parent exhausted and having had no boundaries will not help the child settle back into their usual weekly routine of school at all.

  1. “Oh a shiny thing” parenting – Some parents struggle to settle after a separation (or maybe even before their separation) and they regularly want to move the child to new places with new people. The Courts are kept very busy with the onset of online dating because this has meant that separated parents often meet new partners from faraway places and at some stage want to commit to the new partner. The ramifications of multiple or distance moves and FIFO (fly in fly out) work need to be considered in relation to what is in the child’s best interest.
  2. “Let’s ignore the rules” parenting – It is in a child’s best interests to have rules that are reasonably consistent across their households.  All children need love as well as discipline and limits.  Small variations will be normal and children will learn what presses each parent’s buttons and adapt.  However, some parents will purposely ignore the rules or undermine the limits set by the other parent because they want to anger the other parent or because they want to be the super-fun-bags parent.  If the rules are extremely inconsistent, a child will struggle and fractures may appear in their abilities to cope,
  3. Overly anxious parenting – Some parents, despite knowing that the gateway assumptions have been checked off, find it really hard to believe that their child will not cope without them for any length of time. The anxious parent’s anxiety is palpable and ripples through into the child and is similar in many ways to defaming the other parent in that it sends the child a message that is very damaging.
  4. Mixed unhelpful parenting– Sometimes the types of unhelpful post-separation parenting can be mixed. Take the example of a parent is a shared care arrangement who gets an exciting new job opportunity interstate -Again, a challenge that can also happen in an intact family. When this parent requests that their portion of care time is allocate to his relatives instead of back to the mother they are clearly not thinking about what it means to have a relationship with their child and may be more concerned with time and money.

I’m pretty sure that some parents who have separated and have just read the above list have thought about their ex-partner and used it as a checklist to justify or check to ensure that they are the better parent in comparison to their ex partner. This is not a list to use to critique an ex-partner. It is a list perhaps best used to consider a person’s “own” parenting post-separation as, let’s face it, it is much easier to focus on own behaviour rather than trying to change someone else.

So, if we want to do what is best for a child, what kind of parenting post-separation is more helpful?

Here are some tips…and all of these are much easier to do if you focus on the love that you have for your child rather than the hate that you might have for your ex-partner.

  • As for all children, if a child is unsafe, protect them and call the authorities if needed.
  • Contain your negative feelings near your children and near the other parent – encourage your relatives and friends to do the same.
  • There will always be disagreements and misunderstanding. These happen in intact families, too. Try to resolve them as they arise without dredging up too much of the past or worrying too much about the future. Deal with one problem at a time.
  • Be open to your child having a meaningful relationship with both parents. It is their right. In time, if not already, they will learn that each parent has strengths and weaknesses and attributes that they find attractive or annoying. Let the child arrive at those conclusions by themselves.
  • Accept that the other parent has a right to a new life with a new partner and help your children to be open-minded about this, too.


If you are going through a separation or your child knows other families that are separating and has lots of questions about it all, perhaps some quiet time spent sharing “Love is Like a Tree” could help

Youth homelessness – the sadness, the dangers and being “at risk”

Homelessness is a problem that we normally associate with far away people in far away countries. Sadly, though, homelessness is a significant issue in Australia and if we let ourselves imagine homeless people in Australia, we probably visualise a dirty and unwell looking man asleep on a park bench.

Unfortunately, it’s even sadder than that.

42{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} of the homeless population in Australia is under 25 years of age – a number estimated to be around 26 000 children and youth. Yes, children, too. Infants and children can be homeless along with other members of their family. The Bureau of Statistics provides an age breakdown from figures that were gathered in 2008.

Just under three-quarters of homeless youth leave home to escape family violence, abuse, family breakdown and parental substance use. For many, their first experience of homelessness is “Couch Surfing” – being unable to return home, they move from place to place staying with their friends’ families. Many also end up spending time on the streets, in hostels or emergency accommodation which may not always be safe.

Whilst homeless young people can be tricky to pin down The Salvation Army report that in a group of homeless young people that were surveyed, over one third of them reported that police had visited their homes in response to violence between their parents. Many (14{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de}) said that the police had come to their homes on more than 10 occasions. Not surprisingly, many homeless youth reported psychological distress and mental illness including self harm and suicidal thoughts. In my experience with homeless youth (sadly, again, when they have found a home in youth justice facilities), they are also more likely to have serious health issues. Sleeping “rough” can be hard on a young person’s growing developing spine and other bones, poor nutrition levels, the health risk of exposure to substance use and missing out of preventative immunisation programs.

In order to do sound, long-term research, much effort has gone into trying to understand which children might be most at risk of homelessness so that steps can be taken to prevent young people living without a safe home. Given that much homelessness usually follows family problems, conflict, discipline, abuse, neglect or parental substance issues, clearly there are many difficulties that proceed homelessness and can serve as useful indicators that a young person needs more ongoing support.

To me, it seems like there is a risk in anything that causes a young person to be disconnected from a safe and supportive place to belong.

One group of researchers actually looked at children who were homeless and compared to children who were “at risk” of homelessness as well as children who were not at risk. Their survey was very large and it indicted that as many of 10-14{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de} of school students met the criteria to be at risk of homelessness. Concerningly, being “at risk” of homelessness was almost the same as being homeless in terms of negative outcomes like suicide attempts, abuse and low quality of life. “At risk” youth had six times higher levels of depressive symportna than homeless youth, more trouble with their social skills and a longer history of problem behaviours. Their families had poor family management and high levels of substance use. The researchers concluded that the “at risk” kids were likely negatively affected by the same things that led to homelessness, but the homeless youth had a greater sense of self control and responsibility than those caught up in a toxic home life. Clearly, we need to be able to intervene with these children even before we see them as being at risk of homelessness. They need help and support when they are “at risk” of being “at risk”.

If there is a chain of events that leads to young people being homeless, we need to start as soon as we notice the first link.

  • Stay aware and spread awareness about youth safety. Remember a young person’s safety is paramount. Report abuse and neglect.
  • Don’t ignore young people’s cries for help.
  • Support families who may have a child with problematic behaviour to get some intervention early before the behaviour leads to them disengaging from safe friends or being suspended from school.
  • Encourage a sense of belonging at school or in other groups or even workplaces.
  • If a child is regularly missing school, follow up before they disengage all together.
  • Volunteer your time with one of the many agencies that provides support to young people
  • Get behind programs and campaigns targeted to put domestic violence in the spotlight
  • Support parents that you may know who are trying to overcome substance use

For those of you who are interested in learning more or doing further research into the psychology of homelessness, check out this book for some sound information.