'Squid Game': Parents urged not to let young children watch Netflix hit

Watching violent shows can have a long-lasting psychological effect on young minds, experts say

School counsellors and mental health experts have said young children should not be allowed to watch the violent Netflix hit Squid Game.

Experts told parents to be more mindful of age limits on shows, because watching violent content could be damaging and traumatising for youths.

The South Korean series has been viewed in more than 140 million households around the globe, making it the most-watched show on Netflix.

Squid Game follows a group of desperate people in debt who play children’s games in the hope of winning a cash prize – but the losers are often executed at the end of each game.

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When I speak with parents across the UAE, the recognition is that children should not watch this
Jonathan Hughes, Dwight School Dubai

Jennifer Adinolfi, school counsellor at Dwight School Dubai, said programmes such as Squid Game came with age ratings for a reason.

Netflix says the show is meant for viewers aged 18 and above.

“The best course is to not allow that kind of watching at home because there is strong modelling that is happening and children are very impressionable," said Ms Adinolfi.

"Parents have a strong responsibility to observe and uphold the kind of influences they allow.

“Bullying is an influence by these programmes. When pupils see programmes which have violence and pop culture norms they use it against other pupils."

The show takes children's games and uses them in an adult context, which can be misconstrued easily by young minds, she said.

Children would relate to the games, but it would also go beyond their scope of understanding.

"They need to have the difficult conversations and do the legwork to make sure their children are safe from these mainstream media influences. Often, they don’t seem dangerous until they are," she said.

Dr Yaseen Aslam, psychiatrist and medical director at the Psychiatry and Therapy Centre in Dubai, said parents should be concerned because there was a "persistent theme of extreme violence" throughout the series.

"That can have a harmful psychological impact on children as any violent show or film," he said.

He called on parents to make the decision about what content their children should watch.

A child younger than 16 or 17 should not watch the show unsupervised because it could cause significant harm, he said.

"I think we have age limits on this content for a reason and I think that it's negligent of parents to ignore these age restrictions and allow younger children to be exposed to such disturbing and potentially damaging material," he said.

If older children watched the series under the supervision of their parents, they could have mature conversations about the nature of the human condition and the social divide between rich and poor.

"I am aware of isolated incidents of copycat behaviour. One of the concerns is that for children whose brains and personalities are still developing, being exposed to these kind of acts of violence can have a harmful psychological impact," said Dr Aslam.

Teachers around the globe have voiced their concern about young people watching Squid Game.

In the UK, media reported that children as young as 6 copied games shown on the series.

Some schools in England issued guidance to parents to check their children's device settings.

Jonathan Hughes, head of innovation and digital learning at Dwight School Dubai, said he ran a session with parents on whether children should have access to shows such as Squid Game.

"When I speak with parents across the UAE, the recognition is that children should not watch this," he said.

But he said it might not always be possible to control what children watched.

"In my opinion, parents need to have those open discussions about being digitally safe," he said.

He said parents should focus on prevention and put passwords in place on tablets to control what content was streamed.

He said he had seen middle-school pupils write down a secret code from the show.

It is crucial that caregivers and nannies are kept in the loop so they can help ensure children are safe in the digital space, he said.

Updated: October 31st 2021, 4:00 AM
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