APPLETON, WI (WTAQ) - A Fox Valley psychologist says it's difficult for parents to stay on top of everything their child views on the Internet, in movies and on television.
It comes in the wake of two pre-teen girls in Waukesha allegedly stabbing their friend nearly to death as a sacrifice to a fictional online character named Slender Man.
What would possibly cause the 12-year-old girls to do this to their friend, who's also 12?
Catalpa Health psychologist Dr. Casey Hanson says it begins with an understanding of the distinction between fantasy and reality, which can happen at different ages.
"That hinges on a number of factors; kids' cognitive development, their exposure, how parents and others talk to them about the distinction between fantasy and reality," says Dr. Hanson. "We see some kids 3, 4, 5-year-olds start to develop that. But for other kids, it takes a lot longer. Even through age 11 or 12 before they have more of that concrete and operational thinking."
Dr. Hanson says the challenge is a tough one, with the advent of new media imagery being more of a feeling of realism over a book with just text. That's why parents need to be on their toes with what their child spends their time on, and don't be fooled with something which may be considered "age appropriate."
"11-year-olds can look at this...that doesn't mean your 11-year-old is capable of comprehending something given their maturity level," says Dr. Hanson. "And if you aren't critically engaged in what your child is doing, you miss out on those signs when they aren't ready to be exposed to something."
So how do you have that discussion with a pre-teen or teenager about what they're into, when all they want is space? Dr. Hanson says being honest about your intention and even age difference may help.
"I think even acknowledging that age difference, and showing your taking a valid interest out of concern, compassion and love really goes a long way," says Dr. Hanson. "Asking them what they saw, and how they understand that...the characters and why they appear more real, and how they relate that to real life, but helping them understand fantasy from fiction and propaganda."
Morgan Geyser and Anissa Weier are both charged with attempted homicide, after police said they stabbed the victim 19 times. She was hospitalized in stable condition at last word.
According to prosecutors, the girls said they planned for months to kill their middle school classmate when they got together at Geyser's house for a sleepover on her birthday.
If convicted as adults, their current charges would net them up to 65 years in prison each.
On Tuesday, Geyser's attorney told the Associated Press that she shows signs of mental illness and wants her moved to a mental institution. He also said Geyser should be tried in juvenile court, where she will have access to more social services and mental health treatment than in adult court.
Meantime, a Creepypasta Wiki site administrator wrote in a Tuesday post that the site “does not endorse or advocate for the killing, worship, and otherwise replication of rituals of fictional works.” That site contains stories involving Slender Man.