Protecting Daughter from Potential Stalker

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Reader’s Question

I’m having a problem with my 9-year-old daughter’s former friend, who is phone stalking her. The problem didn’t originate with the friend, but with her mother, who has mental health issues. At first, I didn’t see any reason to not allow the friendship, however, on one visit the mother began telling me things that were very troubling: how she’d stopped taking her medication and now felt eyes watching her whenever she walked down the street, how she had heard a friend having sex through a wall in her bedroom and it turned her on, and how she used to put alcohol in her daughter’s bottle when she was a baby to keep her quiet and make her sleep.

While I allowed the friendship to continue when the friend moved away at the end of first grade, I decided it would be best if they both moved on, so I stopped taking her calls. Maybe this wasn’t the best way to handle things, but at the time I was pregnant with my second daughter, which was a high risk pregnancy, and I was having a lot of stress at work; I thought that the little girl would make new friends at her new school and move on.

Instead, within a couple of weeks she started calling repeatedly on weekends, sometimes three times in five minutes, as well as several calls during the week. The fact that this behavior emerged so quickly concerned me, but even more concerning were the messages she began to leave.

Sometimes speaking in a strange voice, sometimes pretending to be someone else, once saying something to the effect of “I know you don’t love me anymore, but I still love you”, and sometimes just pressing buttons for a minute or two.

Maybe this behavior isn’t that strange for a 10-year-old, but it seems incredibly obsessive to me, especially since it has now continued for 18 months. My daughter has only talked to her friend once in all that time, when my husband accidentally picked up the phone.

What has really concerned me, though, is that this friend and her mother just showed up at our house the other week, unannounced. My daughter let them in before I was able to process what was going on, and although the visit was pleasant enough, the fact that they just showed up feels to me like an escalation in behavior. I worry that if this little girl is being this obsessive now, what will happen when she’s older?

My daughter isn’t in touch with any of the other children who have moved away from her school, I’m assuming because these children have made other friends. I worry that this girl is having trouble making or keeping friends, primarily because of her mother.

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I guess I’m just feeling overwhelmed by the situation and I’m unsure how to proceed. Am I overreacting? If not, how should I handle it?

Psychologist’s Reply

You are not overreacting. Calling repeatedly and leaving strange messages for 18 months is obsessive, especially for a 10-year-old. Children that age tend to get distracted fairly easily, so the fact that this behavior has continued over such a long period of time is very disturbing. Basic behavioral theory dictates that, if you want to extinguish a behavior, you eliminate the rewards obtained from it. If the reward for calling was getting to talk with your daughter, then the calls would have stopped long ago. Consequently, it sounds as though the reward is something else entirely, like getting her mother’s attention or approval. And, although it could have been that they were just in the area, I also agree that the unannounced visit sounds like an escalation in behavior.

The first thing you need to do is talk with your daughter about letting people into your house without your express permission. As is evident from your situation, there are all sorts of reasons why you may not want people in your home, even people you know, so she needs to be aware that she should ask before welcoming them inside. She also needs to know that this friend and her mother appear to be troubled, so maintaining a friendship is not a good idea and she should contact you immediately should they try to get in touch with her again. You do not know when or where they may show up, so she needs to know what to do should they contact her when you’re not nearby. This may never happen (hopefully it won’t) but all stalkers should be considered unpredictable, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

From what you describe, it does sound like the mother has mental health issues. If you hear any further disturbing details, you may need to consult with your local child protective agency because it very well could be that she is a danger to her daughter. You can contact them anonymously (sometimes you can even do this online) so that the mother will not know who expressed concern. The agency will then conduct an investigation to see if any legal steps need to be taken to protect the child.

If the phone calls are unbearable, you may want to talk with your phone company and see what options you have for blocking calls. You should not have to listen to the constant ringing or the weird messages. I also would talk with your local police department about your rights and what options there are for dealing with stalkers. You may want to also look online for anti-stalking resources. One place to start would be Safe Horizon’s website. Again, this may be unnecessary action, but information is always good to have.

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