A Slender Man graffiti on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, N.C., by an unknown artist. (Wikimedia Commons photo)
A Slender Man graffiti on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh, N.C., by an unknown artist. (Wikimedia Commons photo)

Slender Man stabbings expose ‘prisoners of the moment,’ Baptist educator says

Recent stabbings reportedly inspired by a dark fictional character have many blaming parents and social media. But the problem goes much deeper than that, says a divinity school professor.

By Jeff Brumley

Baptist educator Brian Foreman believes many Americans are living in the moment — only, not in a good way.

Rather than being in the present in the spiritual sense, they are narrowly focused on events in a manner that robs them of historical and social perspective, says Foreman, a social media educator, church consultant and adjunct professor of Christian education at Campbell University Divinity School in North Carolina.

Foreman penned a blog on the topic in the wake of recent stabbings by American children reportedly inspired by a fictional character called Slender Man, who lurks in woods to abduct and kill children.

In Wisconsin last week, two girls repeatedly stabbed a friend in an attack designed to please the internet meme, media reports said. Another such attack occurred over the weekend in Ohio, this time by a 13-year-old against her mother.

BrianForemanMUGAssuming the reports are accurate, it’s a clear case of the youth having a distorted image of the online character and its importance in their lives, Foreman says.

But just as narrowly focused are the critics in online forums and comments sections, which largely blame parents for not monitoring their children’s reading and social media habits. Such popular critiques miss a wide range of other contributing factors, Foreman says, which relegates those observers to a prison of thinking and blaming.

“In contemporary American society, we tend to be prisoners of the moment,” he says.

ABPnews/Herald spoke with Foreman about that concept, and also about the blog he penned for a local television station on the subject. Here is some of what he had to say.

So, what do you mean by “prisoners of the moment”?

I’ll give an example from the SEC, from football. There will be a great game and people will call it ‘the game of the century.’ But every season there is a ‘game of the century.’ We get caught up in the moment and don’t keep things in perspective. It’s also true about larger societal issues and politics.

You hear it in the older generations, too. They’ll say ‘these kids are taking us to hell in a hand basket.’ The problem is, your parents said that about your generation, too.

And you’re saying that’s what happened with these girls who did the stabbing?

Them, but not only them. It’s in the way people are responding to that genre, blaming it on the web site. There’s that teenage aspect and there’s the adult reaction to say, ‘Look at how harmful that is to our kids.’ It’s not just social media or fiction, but there’s something bigger underlying the current phenomenon in our society.

What is that something bigger”?

Well, I do think parents and the Internet have some responsibility in this. There is a parent’s accountability for their kids and they need to be paying attention as well. These girls were losing their grip on reality and somewhere along the way parents or teachers or friends should have noticed a change in their behavior.

Do the content providers share in the blame?

Probably so. They were partly at fault. But were they really? When you read the comments on the article, they jump on the parents and on the writers. But it’s just not that simple. There is a mental health issue here that needs to be explored as well.

Is there anything parents can do?

From a parenting and relational standpoint, they can pay attention and know their children well enough to know when their behaviors start to change. ... Know what’s influencing your kids. ... We can’t know all of that, but be involved enough to know when something is going on.

What can churches or youth ministers do?

From the congregational side, we need to be supporting systems and institutions that make it acceptable to talk about subjects that are taboo in our culture. ... Why aren’t we talking more about mental health? Why aren’t we talking about making good choices despite difficult situations? So many of our teenagers are hearing answers to questions they aren’t even asking.

Are churches equipped to talk about mental health?

We need to be talking about how we can support families who are struggling with mental health issues. ... The more we don’t talk about it, the bigger the problem becomes. ... If we aren’t talking about the health of our students, our congregations and even our clergy, then we’re allowing something to continue eating away at our individuals and at the Kingdom.