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Slender Man stabbing concerns media researchers and the effect media has on children

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MADISON (WKOW)-- The story of two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha Wisconsin brutally stabbing their friend captured the attention of viewers around the world. Academic researchers are also fascinated and terrified by this extreme case of media messages inspiring children to brutally attack another person.

"This is an extreme example, but it's something that really makes people stop and think," UW-Madison professor Heather Kirkorian says.

Most of Kirkorian's research focuses on how children perceive the messages they see on TV and on the internet. She works in UW-Madison's Department of Human Development and Family Studies.

"Being aware of what kids are doing is really important and that in itself can prevent a lot of problems that kids have," Kirkorian says.

Adults may view scary stories like the one about Slender Man as harmless tales, but sometimes they can lead to an unhealthy obsession in children and teens. Together with new forms of technology providing around-the-clock access to information, the obsession can quickly get out of hand.

"They'll stay up all night just waiting for the new stuff to come in and that's not only bad for the addiction, it's certainly terrible for health," UW-Madison researcher Joanne Cantor says.

Cantor literally wrote the book on media effects on children. She has spent the past 40 years researching the topic. She suggests simple conversations with your child every few days about the media they consume. She says many other factors led to this recent attack in Waukesha and people shouldn't overreact and shun all media. Parents simply need to be aware of the types of messages they're children are viewing.

Kirkorian agrees saying the line between fantasy and reality can often become blurry for children. This phenomenon is most commonly seen in children aged three to five and is rarely seen in pre-teens or adolescents. That makes the "Slender Man" stabbing an extreme example, but one that still points to the problem.

"This particular example is very extreme with children actually inflicting harm to someone else. Often times what we would see is someone engaging in more defensive behavior. They might avoid certain situations because they're afraid. Parents should be mindful of this," Kirkorian says.

Experts suggest removing handheld devices from a child's room at bedtime. This helps prevent addiction and loss of sleep. They also suggest limiting access to interactive games that immerse a child in a fictional world.

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