Two 12-year-old girls' alleged attempt to murder their friend to please a fictional character is prompting writers and experts to examine American culture, the line between fantasy and reality and the influence of media on children.
The girls, who were charged as adults with attempted homicide Monday, thought the online meme Slender Man was a real being and they sought to join him in his mansion. They believed they had to prove their dedication to him by committing murder first, so they stabbed their friend 19 times and left her in a wooded area Saturday, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Alex Abad-Santos at Vox described Slender Man as an Internet meme of a tall, faceless monster that was created on the forum Something Awful in 2009 and subsequently gained popularity on the horror story forums such as Creepypasta. So how could the girls, who Abad-Santos said learned about Slender Man on Creepypasta Wiki, believe Slender Man exists in reality? And why would they want to gain approval from a supernatural fiend?
John Kass at The Chicago Tribune is worried current culture, which celebrates dark magic but believes religion is "bothersome," negatively affects young people.
He said that stories from works like "The Brothers Grimm" have worth.
"But such literature is historical, written back when evil sought your soul," wrote Kass. "Now evil wants to be your friend, marry you and hang out on 'Twilight.'"
And Kass said young humans, like plants and animals, "soak up" the good or bad aspects of their environments.
Jim Steyer, CEO of Common Sense Media, wrote the Wisconsin incident shows parents should monitor and control children's exposure to media.
"Mature content may not be suited to immature and developing minds, especially in children, who often cannot comprehend the difference between reality and fantasy, and who cannot understand the consequences of violent acts," Steyer said in a CNN blog.
"The reality for all of us...is that what happens online can influence what happens in real life," said Steyer. "Parenting needs to happen in both places. That way our kids can thrive, even in the face of a made-up monster in a dark and digital world."
But Jacqueline Woolley, a child psychology researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, said children can distinguish between fantasy and reality by two and a half years old, according to Kelly Wallace at CNN.
"I don't think that a 12-year-old ... is qualitatively different from an adult in their ability to differentiate fantasy from reality, so I don't think they're lacking any basic ability to make that distinction at age 12," she told CNN.
She said 12-year-olds may not understand the consequences of their actions as well as an adult. However, she doesn't believe that was a large factor in the girls' case.
"I really don't think that you can put your finger on a cognitive deficit entirely," she said. "It may have played some kind of role, but I think there's more going on."
And a statement on the Creepypasta Wiki said the attempted murder was an "isolated incident and does not represent ... the Creepypasta community as a whole."
"This wiki does not endorse or advocate for the killing, worship and otherwise replication of rituals of fictional works," the user stated. "There is a line between fiction and reality, and it is up to you to realize where the line is. We are a literature site, not a crazy satanic cult."
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