Opinion: No, you are not a cool parent for letting your kids watch Squid Game
It is currently one of the most-watched shows on Netflix in most countries.
Ultra-violent and highly addictive, the Squid Game is what binge-watching was made for and millions of people across the globe have deemed the dystopian Korean series one of the best shows ever made.
If you have yet to watch it, the name of the show comes from a Korean children's game, and in the nine-episode series, viewers get to follow Gi-Hun who, after losing his job, is in debt and on the verge of losing custody of his daughter to his ex-wife. Desperate for money, Gi-Hun ends up recruiting for a game alongside a few hundred other players, where, if they win, they receive a huge cash prize.
Tempted by the money, the players compete in traditional Korean kids’ games such as 'Red Light, Green Light' and a kind of “honeycomb” challenge, in which competitors cut shapes – umbrellas, stars– out of a disc of toffee-like candy.
The problem? If you lose a game, you die.
And that is the thing about Squid Game – while it is arresting and addictive in the storylines and the acting, the show is also very violent. Extremely violent. For instance, in the first episode alone, more than 200 contestants are mown down with machine guns while playing a game. And in another scene, a man is shot through the head at the top of a children’s slide, leaving a bloody trail as he descends it.
Influencing children' play
Due to its extremely violent nature, it is needless to say, Squid Game is not a show aimed at – or suitable for – children. Netflix has rated the show 15 in Ireland, and in the US, the rating is 17.
It did not take long from when the show first aired on Netflix until primary schools from Australia to Ireland and many, many countries in between started reporting on a worrying trend – children as young as five and six were playing Squid Game-like games in the schoolyard – where, if you lost the game, you were 'killed.'
Now, as parents, we all know children pick up on pretty much everything we as adults talk about, and I have no doubt that between peers and parents, plenty of children have heard of Squid Game at this stage, yet never been allowed to watch it at home. And rightly so, of course.
However, as comment sections on the topic have revealed of late, it seems many parents are taking a far more relaxed view of the whole thing, and are allowing their primary-school-age children to watch the extremely violent and graphic show.
The argument many have (from the comment sections I have read) is that they either watch it with their children – as something they 'enjoy doing together' – or, they shrug their shoulders and say they can't police what their children do when with friends or when they are not around.
I'm sorry – but guys – that is literally your job as a parent. Policing what your children are doing. Really – I thought that much was a given with being a parent, but evidently not.
As parents, we are meant to make sure our children are – to the best of our capacity – not exposed to things they are not ready for before they are ready. And yes – it is a TV show, and you might argue that your nine-year-old is well able to distinguish between real life and TV, but – and here is the real question – why the heck should you want your young child to witness such gore and violence anyway? Even if they are able to know it is just a scripted show, and not reality?
Age limits on TV, movies and games too are there for a reason – and no matter how cool a parent you think you are, or how much more mature your Johnny is at 11 than Jack from up the street, that doesn't change the fact that an 11-year-old does not have the same capacity to process what they are watching and what it means as a 15- or 16-year-old, and it is your job as a parent to know this. It really isn't all that hard.
"This is not something young children should be watching"
As parents, we should be mindful and careful about our children's media consumption. And I know we live in a time when this is easier said than done – but that just makes it all the more important.
According to clinical psychologist Dr Robin Gurwitch, who is a professor at Duke University Medical Center in the US, violent content in movies or games can actually affect children's developing brains, and while it is up to parents to determine what's age-appropriate for their kids, Squid Game's violent nature should be reserved for kids in their late-teens, if at all.
"This is not something young children should be watching," Gurwitch explained to People magazine.
"There's nothing redeeming or positive here for children. It has the potential of creating, first of all, inappropriate behaviours... and it could lead to a lot of high anxiety in kids. Difficulty getting images out of their minds, which will lead to difficulty in getting sleep. It can create a concern of 'Could this really happen?' among young children too."
Gurwitch also notes that while there's conflicting information about media's effect on a child's brain, it is known that "certainly, repeated exposure to realistic violence is not good for anyone and probably has a more detrimental effect on a child."
Other studies have seen scientists find that children and adolescents who played aggressive video games exhibited less activation in brain areas related to emotion. Worryingly, for the team of researchers, the brain changes revealed in the study are similar to those of adolescents with sociopathic disorders.
The study in question revealed that there is indeed a correlation between the consumption of violent video games and low sensitivity, and that participants who had played violent games a lot had a harder time recognizing a happy face on a person.
Study disseminator Catherine L’ecuyer points out why: “the ability to perceive joy in a face requires sensitivity, empathy. Violence anaesthetizes that sensitivity. Therefore, sensitivity decreases, the threshold of feeling rises and we need these increasingly violent stimuli to be able to feel ”
Other experts are concerned about children watching the show too.
Speaking to the Daily Mail, Dr Sandra Wheatley said the Netflix show could be harming youngsters' 'social and emotional development' if they watch it too young.
The problem? It may encourage them to 'stand by' or 'join in' – rather than help – if they see a peer harmed, she explained.
Just say 'no'
The bottom line? Children should not be watching Squid Game, and even having to point this out feels rather absurd. You know, considering the fact that the show has an age limit of 15 (and even higher in other countries).
As parents, we are just that – parents. Here to parent, and not desperately try to be our children's pals by being the 'cool' one and allowing them whatever it is they want – including consuming content that they should be shielded from. You are not doing them a favour by allowing them to watch TV shows or play games their brains are not prepared for.
Because while it is important to have a good relationship with your children and have fun with them – children actually need someone to parent them – and so that is our job. Parent first, friend second – because they deserve that.