I first heard about from one of my middle school clients.  I listened to several stories that she recommended.  One involved an abandoned Disney theme park, complete with a sinister and foreboding “Mickey Mouse”; it was fairly benign, and would have never prepared me for the event that occurred last week in Wisconsin.  Two 12-year-old girls stabbed their friend nineteen times, nearly to death, all in their efforts to please an online fictional character, Slenderman, a demonlike creature they discovered on the creepypasta website.

In the subsequent news articles and editorials following this attack, no mention was made of the suggestibility of a twelve year old.  At this developmental stage, concrete thinking still rules; the ability to process the world abstractly has not evolved as yet in most middle-schoolers.  The impulsivity that follows them into adulthood, and the lack of understanding consequence, combines to make a violent act such as this less puzzling, though still incomprehensible.  Just as chronic players of video games are often lulled into thinking that the person they’ve “killed” will rise again, so too, maybe these girls dissociated, losing touch with the reality of what they were doing in their altered state.

Is there inherent “evil” in the hearts of some?  Is evil, simply put, a lack of empathy?  Or is it too complicated to sum up in one glib sentence?  The 50’s movie, “The Bad Seed”, dealt with a middle schooler who killed her playmate.  Based on a Broadway play, the title became part of our vernacular, to define a child who was “no good”.  This term was coined before the days of the internet, before the pervasive influence of social media and sites like

Perhaps evil is like a predisposition to substance abuse. If it is in one’s genetic makeup to potentially become addicted to alcohol, it does not necessarily mean one will become an alcoholic.  One may use other, healthier coping tools.  Maybe some of us have a predisposition to heinous thoughts and acts but, unless they are “triggered” by some external influence, we never act upon these underpinnings of our psyche.  Or if we do, it is not so extreme as to make it onto the 6 O’clock News.

Whatever the reason these two 12-year-old girls attempted to kill their friend, the attack has given the mothers and fathers in their community a horrific wake up call.  Their frantic attempts to look for clues in the past behaviors of these children yield nothing.  This event highlights once again what a Herculean task it is for a parent to contend with the overwhelming tide of unwanted internet influence.  No neighborhood is beyond its reach.