Note: This post was inspired by a tweet from Dr. Michelle Borba.

One day I was walking through our library when a staff member stopped me. She said she was so glad to see me because she was really concerned about a student.  As she was talking about the student, I remembered my colleague had referred the student for mental health services the year before.  Why the concern?  Well, the student was trying to check out books about serial killers (like the child clown entertainer John Wayne Gacy) and the student was boldly announcing the fascination on how they became serial killers.  The staff member was concerned because the student had been banned from checking out books about killers by the parent. I thanked the staff member for the update and reported this information to my colleague. My colleague shared that the parent knew about the student’s fascination and unsuccessfully tried to prevent the access of information about them at school, the public library, and book stores. Although the parent was relentless, the student was able to access information, drawings, pictures, and resources via the internet.  There is a lot of concern for this student and everyone is fearful for this students’ future. 

John Wayne Gacy, Famous Killer

There has always been a attraction for the macabre with adolescents.  As kids, we were strangely drawn into horror stories, but terrified at the same time.  In my own life, I have been drawn into playing games to conjure “ghosts”.  For instance, one childhood game I played with my friend was Bloody Mary.  You may remember the story…you turn off the light in the bathroom, light a candle, say her name three times as you spin around and BOOM she appears in the mirror.  This urban legend developed from stories integrating evil women over time (Mary, Queen of Scots, Elizabeth Bathory aka “Lady Dracula”, and the witch, Mary Worth to name a few).  My friends and I swore we would always see her and then we would run out of the bathroom screaming with our hearts pounding!

Another fascination for teens is scary movies…one in particular that terrified me was “The Exorcist”.  I hated it, but I was often allured to the story by my fascination for the unknown. I found myself going to the library and reading the reading the novel, looking up information about movie facts, etc.  At a sleep over, I finally watched it for the first time and the nightmares started.  When I tried to sleep, the face of the young girl would be looking at me from the edge of my bed or I convinced myself the bed was shaking.  Not to mention the name of her imaginary friend (Captain Howdy) lingered in my head and haunted me when I tried to sleep. Side note: Captain Howdy

Capt. Howdy…I hate this guy!!!

is so popular in our culture that he has his own font, songs about him, a band name after him and his own website…C-R-E-E-P-Y!!  As a teen, I knew the difference between real and fantasy; however, fantasy created sleepless nights and phobias that I had to extinguish as an adult. 

He is definitely not a peer helper!

The world of fantasy and reality is still at war in our culture.  The national news broke a tragic story about the stabbing of a 12 year old Wisconsin girl who was stabbed by her friends to please an imaginary character called “Slender Man“.  Unfortunately, that is not the first time I had heard about Slender Man.  When my son was 16, he mentioned the name of this fictional character to me in passing.  “Hey mom, do you know about Slender Man?”  Clueless, I starred at him blankly and changed the subject. Well, who is Slender Man?  Websites say that he is an urban legend created about five years ago on the internet and has become an international horror figure! He is a tall, faceless, slender man in a suit who goes after children in the woods…a parents’ nightmare.

Apparently, the girls were surfing the web when they came upon the site Creepypasta.  Creepypasta is a website that describes items like creepy chain letters, eerie found photographs, and other urban legends. After the incident, Creepypasta and Slender Man have become the center of controversy in the news causing panic in parents of tweens and teens.  Immediately, parents began asking their kids about Slender Man, checking their browser histories, looking in their rooms for evidence, and the list goes on and on. 

News Story About Slender Man Stabbing

Do you have students in your school who have a difficult time distinguishing fact from fiction or reality from fantasy?  The lives of parents (including myself) are busy and they often become oblivious to the online lives of their adolescents.  So, it often falls on the school to educate parents and that is why our job as school counselors is so important!   We have the opportunity to educate parents, students, and community members about the dangers of unsupervised online activities and the impact on our communities. 

Here is a list of helpful resources and tips that we employ in school:

  1. Provide education to parents and staff. One website that I really find helpful for students and parents is Common Sense Media. The website provides lesson plans, videos, resources, rating scales for movies and games, and lots more! 
  2. Employ peer education programs that use peer to peer education.  One strategy that my peer educators teach and role play is empathy.  Here is a lesson on empathy from Teaching Tolerance.
  3. Educate staff and parents about the teen brain and how it develops.  I am really in this teen brain thing…it is simply amazing to me!  The teen brain  is an amazing organ which can impacted by the environment, substances, and nutrition.  
  4. Increase your knowledge about mental health.  Here is an interesting article on Cannabis Use and Psychosis in Non-Psychotic Teens.
  5. Increase your skill set!  I am attending a training on assessing youth suicide and I plan to attend additional trainings in assessing potential youth violence. Here are two websites that you may find some helpful resources about threat assessments. 

The Teen Brain

I hope you can find some helpful  information in this post and that isn’t too creepy.  However, life is often unpredictable and that is what makes our job even more important and powerful as school counselors!!  YAY US!!!!

    Additional Resources
    Threat Assessments for Youth
    ASCA Ethical Considerations for Threat Assessments
    Fairfax County Virginia Resources and Worksheets for Staff and Parents
    Assessing Violent Students

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