By Sabrina Bong – As a counselor, several things have scared me: having a girl who had just tried to overdose on pills come and tell me to call the hospital; hearing one of my students talk about the abuse going on in his family; and having a parent yell at me for the first time.
But truly, nothing compares to the fear I experienced when I first heard about the Slenderman case.
If you are not familiar with this case, let me explain: two middle school girls took a classmate of theirs out to the woods. Once there, the two girls stabbed the third several times and left her to die. The girl managed to crawl onto a bike trail, where someone found her and rushed her to the hospital. When the police asked the girls why they had stabbed the third, they explained that she was supposed to be a sacrifice to this fictitious character named Slenderman. They had hoped that, by sacrificing this girl, they would be able to join Slenderman’s followers.
My first reaction to hearing about this story was absolute shock. What could have compelled these girls to believe that A. Slenderman was real, and B. That stabbing their classmate was even an option? As these questions began to sink in, I realized I also felt horror. These girls were the same age as my students. This could have been any of them.
Though our school has not formerly addressed the Slenderman case, I have discussed it briefly with some of my students. One of the small groups I run thought it was something worth talking about during lunch. One of the boys began by explaining what Slenderman was: a character created by someone on a website. He explained that this person had written horror stories and drawn pictures of what Slenderman looked like and did. He described it all as a “cult-like following,” saying that hundreds of people were logging in and commenting on the stories. He said people also were submitting their own drawings and pictures of Slenderman.
This led to a discussion between all four of the boys: What would cause someone to believe in this character? As one of the boys jokingly described it, “It’s like Ms. Bong telling everyone that she’s engaged to the quarterback of the Packers!” And they came up with many ideas as to why this occurred: Some people just have different ideas of what is real and what isn’t; the girls were convinced he was real because of older siblings; they were lonely and wanted a friend. But the one thing they all said was that they hoped no one at our school would ever be a victim of an act like this.
I worry about this case so much not only because of the age of the girls, but the implications this holds. If they were convinced that Slenderman was real, how many others are there? Are there students who are walking through the halls of the school, so convinced that no one loves them and so desperate to be a part of something, that they are willing to sacrifice the life of another student? At what point do we, as adults, need to sit down with our students and explain the difference between fantasy and reality?
My students can laugh and roll their eyes at me all they want, but I have decided that I am going to host a group on social media. A part of this is going to be discussing how not everything on the Internet is real, or true. At this age, they are still learning about being skeptical and not accepting everything as fact. I hope that my students take these lessons and use them well. I encourage parents, guardians, and other responsible adults to take the time to sit with their children and go over these facts as well. Together, we will be able to raise well-educated, savvy students!