Un-masking Slenderman: Talking to your children about the Wisconsin stabbing

After a pair of girls in Wisconsin were arrested for allegedly stabbing a friend repeatedly, news reports pointed to the 'Slenderman' myth as the impetus for their actions. Parents can un-mask the mythical online character by facing any fears together.

Screenshot from Amazon.com
An image of a 'Slenderman' mask for sale on Amazon.com. The 'Slenderman' myth is making headlines, after two pre-teens near Milwaukee, Wis. stabbed a friend, citing the myth as part of the reason behind their attack.

After two girls reportedly attempted to stab a third girl to death in the woods near Waukesha, Wis. – allegedly as a way to please the mythical “Slenderman” character – parents should realize that they may unwittingly strengthen their own children’s fears, unless they un-mask Slenderman along with other imaginary monsters.

According to multiple news reports, two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls, who stabbed their 12-year-old friend nearly to death in the woods, told a detective they were trying to become "proxies" of Slenderman (also referred to as “Slender Man”), who they hoped would then take them to his “mansion in the woods.”

My son, Quin, 10, said this morning,”The only thing Slenderman could make me do is run!”

I confronted Quin when I read reports claiming the girls learned about Slenderman from the same Creepypasta.com Wiki site Quin frequents to learn about the origins of scary monsters and legends. Creepypasta.com posted a long statement Tuesday on its home page about the incident.

I was in “shut it all down until I figure this out” mode when I read the news.

I soon realized that Quin sees knowledge as power, and knowing about the myths that scare him by reading about them on sites like Creepypasta.com helps him to discern what is unreal. Unfortunately, it seems this same site may have had a different effect on these girls, taking a hold that encouraged fear over reason.

Both girls were charged as adults, with first-degree attempted homicide Monday in Waukesha County Circuit Court; they each face up to 60 years in prison if convicted.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, the girls had been planning to kill their friend for months and finally made the attempt in a park early Saturday morning, after a slumber party.

I imagine I’m not the only parent today who is wondering “Who or what is Slenderman, really?”

The answers I got from my sons and online today may have differed, but the gist is that he’s a Boogieman with the “power of mind control.”

“Once his arms are outstretched, his victims are put into something of a hypnotized state, where they are utterly helpless to stop themselves from walking into them,” according to the CreepyPasta website, which the girls allegedly visited.

My son Ian, 19, tried to give me what he says is a more accurate account of Slenderman.

“There is no ‘mansion in the woods.' That must be from that new game people play online,” Ian told me when I asked about different parts of the Slenderman myth alluded to in the Wisconsin news story.

He said that Slenderman has suddenly gained popularity among children and teens thanks to a new online game related to the myth.

The makers of the online Slenderman game, which can also be found on YouTube claims; “He [Slenderman] has the need to kidnap children, and is seen right before the disappearance of a child or multiple children.”

In the game, players “wander the woods” online, in search of pages of a manuscript about Slenderman.

According to Ian, the character of Slenderman was introduced back in 2009 in a series of short horror films, shot in the same style  of “The Blair Witch Project” and posted to YouTube by a production company named Marble Hornets. Marble Hornets was allegedly the name of the film being made in the woods when Slenderman was caught on film. Each video in the series has more than 3 million views.

“It’s the story of two guys making an indy film project in the woods and one guy goes crazy and later dies,” Ian explained.

Apparently, according to the Marble Hornet videos, of which I have now watched a fair number, a teen examines the raw film and begins to see Slenderman popping up over and over.

The basic idea of the myth is that once one has seen Slenderman, he will get into the viewer's head and drive him or her insane, following the viewer until they die.

It’s the same entertainment template used since people first gathered around a campfire at night. A yarn is spun in the hope of ensnaring the gullible, empowering the teller to frighten others, and later providing the relief and camaraderie that should come when everyone realizes they were taken in by a tall tale.

Somewhere along the line, it seems the Slenderman myth, like a game of “Telephone” became more twisted, with more details attached to it, giving tellers of the tale even more perceived power over the imaginations of the audience.

Apparently, in any version of the tale, the only hope of surviving Slenderman is to get him out of your thoughts entirely.

This doesn’t seem to be the same monster under the bed I dealt with as a kid. At least when I was a child and thought there was a monster in the closet or under the bed, someone could come in and shine a light to show me that it was just a shadow or my bathrobe hanging on the back of the closet door.

However, it seems the Slenderman myth requires parents to shine a light on reason over raw fear and dispel a lot more than a shadow in a corner.

Parents and guardians need to un-mask the Slenderman myth and recognize it as a mind game some kids play for the thrill of telling scary stories by a campfire (One obstacle to be aware of is that most of the Slenderman-related sites include a sort of disclaimer intended to undermine parental efforts to dispel the fear factor).

After 20 years of parenting boys, I have learned that facing our fears together is the only way to beat something imaginary that seems scary in real life. When kids try and face their fears alone, it’s often too easy to be overwhelmed by their own fertile imaginations.

Slenderman is not that different from the ‘Bloody Mary’ games that enthralled girls at slumber parties when I was a kid. My grandmother would always snap me out of it by telling me what I now tell my own children, “These things only have the power we give them.”

As a parent, the thought that will not leave my head and keeps me up at night is that children like these two girls join the monster rather than beat it.

The bedtime story to tell our kids tonight, and for many nights to come, is the one about the child who had the power to dispel and un-mask monsters all along. We can tell them how badly that frightens Slenderman and all the other myths that try to seek to control us and encourage fear.

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