On June 3, 2014, two 12-year-old girls from Waukesha, Wisconsin, did the unthinkable. They stabbed another 12-year-old girl 19 times. The girls said they did it to please “Slenderman,” a popular monstrous character they learned about on the website Creepypasta, according to various news accounts. This site posts fiction delivered in a style that makes it look like a real crime news story. Slenderman is described as a pale, ghostly “man” with extremely long, slender arms and legs. He also has multiple long, black tentacles that protrude from his back. Able to stretch his limbs and torso to inhuman lengths, he induces fear in order to capture his prey — most often children.
What is the story behind this story? Apparently, the girls believed that Slenderman watched them and could read their minds. To become part of his cult, they thought that they needed to kill someone. They tricked a girl into going with them into the woods where they stabbed her 19 times and left her to die. The girls had been planning the attack for months, according to various reports.
You are probably thinking that these girls are suffering from mental illness. I don’t disagree. At the same time, upon hearing this tragic story, my inquiring (adolescent medicine) mind wanted to know: could this be adolescent development gone wrong?
It is normal for teens to go through a stage known as the “imaginary audience,” according to developmental psychologists. At this stage, they live with the feeling that peers, family and strangers are watching their every move and judging them. Adolescents believe that they are continually “on-stage,” and that any slight imperfection of appearance, behavior or character is seen and criticized by the audience.