Fantasy vs. reality: Parents should focus on the real world and real-life consequences

WAUKESHA (WITI) -- The stabbing case out of Waukesha, involving three 12-year-old girls, has raised the issue of new media creating new problems for parents. 12-year-old Morgan Geyser and 12-year-old Anissa Weier are charged as adults -- accused of stabbing their 12-year-old friend in the woods in Waukesha -- nearly killing her. The girls told police they did it to impress a fantasy character they read about on the internet. That has many asking how fantasy became reality for these very young girls.

A criminal complaint against Geyser and Weier indicates Weier spoke with police about a website called "CreepyPasta."

The complaint says Weier explained this was a website that talked about horror stories — and people can create their own stories.

It is on this website that Weier told police she learned about “Slenderman” — the leader of CreepyPasta. Just below Slenderman is the killer. Just below the killer is the proxy. In order to be a proxy, Weier explained, you have to kill someone — to show your dedication to Slenderman, according to the complaint.

The complaint says Weier told police many people do not believe Slenderman is real — and she said she wanted to prove the skeptics wrong.

The complaint says Weier introduced Morgan Geyser to the CreepyPasta website — according to the complaint.

The complaint says in December of 2013 or January of 2014, Geyser told Weier — “We should become proxies of Slender.” Weier told police she said: “Okay, how do we do that?”

That’s when Weier told police Geyser said they needed to kill the victim in this case to prove themselves worthy to Slender, according to the complaint.

The girls told police they initially planned to kill their 12-year-old friend during a slumber party on Friday night, May 30th -- but there was a change of plans.

The next day, the three girls went to Davids Park in Waukesha -- where the girls told police they had planned on killing the girl inside a bathroom -- but eventually, the girl was stabbed 19 times in the woods, apparently during a game of hide-and-seek, according to the criminal complaint.

When speaking about this case on Monday, June 2nd, Waukesha Police Chief Russell Jack said this case should be a "wake-up call" for parents.

“Both suspects had a fascination with a fictitious character that often posted to a website that is a collection of small stories about death and horror. Parents should not be allowing their children to have unrestricted or unmonitored internet usage –whether it be on their computer on their smart phone on their PlayStation. All of those accesses to the outside world,” Chief Jack said.

Traditional forms of media, like television and motion pictures tell stories that eventually end. Books and magazines close. When the stories are over -- we return to real life.

But the internet is always on, always there, and always updated.

"The kids know that this content is being refreshed all the time, so it can be total immersion in a way we haven't had before," Joanne Cantor, a psychologist and former director of the Center for Communication Research at the University of Wisconsin said.

Cantor says reality/fantasy is a complex concept.

"If left to their own devices, they'll be there, on their devices the whole time," Cantor said.

Cantor says because kids have access to computers, smartphones and tablets virtually all day and night, they're plunged into an online world and can have difficulty separating fantasy from reality.

"Because it's everywhere, it becomes more and more of their reality. If you stay on that and you don't have any contact, or any credible contact with people who can debunk this -- like your parents -- then the internet is going to win the day," Cantor said.

Cantor suggests that parents monitor and limit internet use -- and ask questions that get kids talking about why they like certain websites.

"There's a whole conversation that needs to be made about, how can we allow you to be social with your friends and get something out of it, without having it completely take over your life and your family interactions and your social interactions and school work, because the internet is so powerful and so plentiful," Cantor said.

Cantor says one of the key questions to ask a child interested in fantasy is this: What do you think would happen if you did that in real life?

Cantor encourages parents to keep bringing the conversation back to the real world -- and real-life consequences for actions.

As for the stabbing victim, Waukesha police met with the victim's family on Wednesday, June 4th.

She is said to be walking and talking -- and working on her physical recovery.