Sure Mom… I Know Slender Man
I write with heavy heart as a fellow parent. The enemy is so clever, and it can be easy to miss the little distractions he throws at our families and children. I think the discussion has to begin with two central questions. Concerning our children, we must ask, “What happens when the lines between fantasy and reality become indistinguishable?” And concerning our parenting, we must ask, “Has complacency yielded to complicity?”
The gruesome but true story is this. Last May, three 12-year old girls in Wisconsin packed up their American Girl dolls for a sleepover. They were good friends, in and out of each other’s homes, and attended school together. Yet, two of the girls had an evil plan to attack the other girl. Why? What causes two seemingly innocent girls to decide to pick up a knife and stab their friend a total of 19 times? Their plan was to impress Slender Man – an Internet-driven fantasy character who is extremely popular among the preteen age group. The two attackers had become obsessed with Slender Man and wanted to serve as his proxies, to earn his favor. Miraculously, the victim lived. But their intent and desire was to kill her as a sacrifice to their Internet idol.
John Kass wrote the following for The Chicago Tribune (chicagotribune.com) in response to the Slender Man stabbing. “It is a culture that has fallen in love with magic and fantasy. It is a culture that takes fantasy symbols of evil — the vampire, the witch — and transforms them into heroes of great virtue. It is a culture where dark magic is celebrated, but religion is considered bothersome.” Kass asks his readers to consider the difference between the classic fantasy literature of the past and what is offered today. This genre in historical literature was written to show contrast between light and darkness. “[It was] written back when evil sought your soul. Now evil wants to be your friend, marry you and hang out on ‘Twilight.’” And, for the young girls in Wisconsin, evil wanted them to do its bidding.
Slender Man is the modern, electronic version of the Boogie Man, a faceless phenom with tentacle-like appendages that abducts children after he has lured them into the woods. He is a meme, created as the result of a paranormal Website’s forum. He is now a cultural marvel that has stories, supposed sightings and urban legends spreading like wildfire through various media. He is found on Facebook, Instagram, horror blogs, chat rooms and in video games. A simple app search on an IPhone brings up nearly 400 Slender Man-related games/apps, many of them free for download. There is even a modification for the uber-popular videogame series Minecraft. While Minecraft itself can be played without accessing the Slender Man mod, kids will still have access to Minecraft’s take on the Slender Man character called Endermen. These are creepy block figures, with long arms designed to look like Slender Man and they can be provoked into turning hostile. Minecraft itself has attracted 33 million players in just four years (pcpro.co.uk). These players have wracked up more than 1 billion hours, the equivalent of over 114,000 years, of play time on the Xbox 360 edition alone (gamespot.com).
There is truly a flood of this type of content, and its grip upon the minds of our young people is frightening. As Christian parents we are forced into the task of trying to keep up with the latest devices the enemy chooses to wield against our children. It is daunting. Is there a balance between isolation and protection? We don’t want to expose our children to the junk of this world, but we can’t have them so insulated that they can’t recognize the tools of the enemy or defend themselves against them either.
It is a battle. But perhaps too many of us are just overwhelmed. It means learning new technology, new language, a whole new culture. And so, we slap on a badge of naïveté and throw up our hands. But is being naïve really all that noble? Or is it merely an excuse to keep our heads in the sand and avoid the reality of what it means to raise children in a culture that is obsessed with violence, sexuality, and death? This is new territory. Never before have children had such unfiltered, unlimited access to pornographic and violent material. Naïve parenting is not going to cut it. Either we educate our children or the enemy will.
So, I asked him, “Son, do you know Slender Man?” My son, the seven year old with wide, innocent eyes, the one who goes to church at least three times a week, the one who attends an Apostolic Christian school, the one who we monitor what he sees and with what he plays, the Bible Quizzer. I asked him, “Do you know Slender Man?” I’m not sure I was prepared for the response. “Sure Mom…I know Slender Man! The guys play that on the playground.” These things are filtering through. The enemy has his foot in the door. Our door!
Should we really be surprised? Parents provide their children access to all types of explicit content, hours of movies, video games, and fantasy books, yet expect that the same children, who possibly still believe in the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, will be able to discern the blurred lines between fantasy and reality when it comes to evil. Children whose brains are not yet fully formed, whose thought processes are still developing, are exposed to violence and filth, and then are expected to put it aside, and to understand that it’s all just a game, just a story. But, for some, it’s all they know, there is no distinction. No doubt in Wisconsin, the darkness consumed those girls’ hearts and minds until the lines were no longer distinguishable.
In his article, Kass challenges parents with these words: “All living things take on the characteristics of their environment. Plants soak up nutrients or poisons, as do animals. Young humans do, too.” We must pray together that the environment of our homes is filled with the Holy Spirit. It is our only hope against the enemy who seeks to steal the innocence and destroy the joy and peace of our children. But it will not happen by coincidence or happenstance. We must saturate our homes and churches with prayer and deepen our spiritual commitment, lest our parental complacency yields to complicity.