An Internet-born character called Slender Man is said to be the influence behind a vicious stabbing of a Wisconsin 12-year-old girl earlier this week. It was at the hands of two other 12-year-old girls who were acting out to please the fictional character.
Some are calling it the Slender Man Stabbing, and it is putting all eyes on the history of an Internet-based character. On the fictional horror site where the stories first appeared, Slender Man is described as a tall, thin man with a blank face and tentacle-like arms. The stories say he is always in search of a new victim.
"It's scary for parents today in general because there is so much available on the Internet and children can saturate themselves in these really frightening, scary characters or scary, fictional stories," counselor Sarah Drennan said.
Drennan is a school counselor for the State of California and South Dakota and has experience helping young children through fear. She says there is no telling what age stories like these would be appropriate for viewing, because every child is different.
"It depends on their developmental age. There's chronological age and developmental age and it varies with every child, but the young mind is very easily influenced," Drennan said.
"For young, developing minds, it's often times difficult for them to determine the difference between reality and fantasy, and if they're exposed to these stories day in and day out, that line becomes blurred," professor Steve Van Bockern said.
Augustana College professor Steve Van Bockern believes that without the proper influence of a mature, adult mind, young kids who are saturated with stories like the Slender Man could be more likely to believe in that fictitious world.
"Exposure to the story isn't bad in and of itself, but if you don't have someone talking through it and helping kids understand the difference between fantasy and reality, that's where we might be going over the edge," Van Bockern said.
One big way parents can help their kids is to educate them on what they'll find online.
"Give them some pre-teaching about what the Internet is going to be presenting them. The challenges it might be presenting," Drennan said.
"We can begin teaching at a young age the difference between reality and fantasy in little conversations we have with kids," Van Bockern said.
Along with keeping track of your child's Internet history, Drennan says that if you notice your child becoming separated from their normal group of friends and living a more introverted lifestyle, asking them what's going on can go a long way in helping them stay on track.