«Squid Game» - Not suitable for children
The brutal South Korean TV series "Squid Game" is causing chaos at schools and outrage amongst parents. What should be done? Ban it? Talk to kids about it? Two media experts give their opinion.
An oversized doll in an orange dress with pigtails is standing in front of a tree. Beside her are two guards in red jumpsuits and black masks keeping watch. Behind her are 456 men and women in green tracksuits with numbers on their backs. While the robot doll faces the tree singing, the people are allowed to move. If the doll turns around, everyone in green has to stand still.
The game «red light – green light» or traffic lights, is one of the early scenes in the Netflix series «Squid Game». It plays host to five other children's games like tug of war, marbles and tag in which contestants have to battle it out. The players are heavily in debt and taking part in the games for the promise of a huge jackpot. But it's not just money on the table: whoever loses a round pays with their life.
Even if some young people search specifically for content from 'Squid Game', most children unintentionally come across it on channels such as TikTok, YouTube or Roblox.
Kim Gray, Verein zischtig.ch
What's the fascination behind «Squid Game»?
The set design, uniformed figures, melody – the series is well-made: like a colourful computer game. It takes on complex topical issues. «The pressure to succeed and competitive environment in which people find themselves appeal to adults», says media educator Philippe Wampfler. And the hype amongst adults is rubbing off on young people and children. They're curious. «Violence has its attractions for young people – this doesn't have to be negative.»
«Younger children are attracted to the children's games and want to play them», says Kim Gray of the zischtig.ch association. They're easy enough to imitate. «The masked figures and white symbols make the series ideal for being used as a filter on other channels like TikTok», says Gray. For many children and adolescents, it's also something to talk about during playtime with the added appeal of being forbidden and having gory images to shock classmates with. «Even if some young people search specifically for content from «Squid Game», most children unintentionally come across it on channels such as TikTok, YouTube or Roblox», says Gray. There are now countless short videos and games related to the series.
How dangerous is the series for children and young people?
Children and young people usually do not catch on to the critique of society depicted in the series. «The contextual themes are too complex.» They might only see the guns, blood and panic-stricken faces. Violence is not negative per se, say the experts. «It's a form of letting out and dealing with aggression», explains Wampfler. Many adolescents can easily tell the difference between virtual and real violence. With younger children it's different. «The brutality can be too much for them and make them scared», says Gray. It's important that children aren't left to deal with their feelings all on their own. «Offering to speak to them and giving comfort and security is the best thing parents can do.»
Even if «Squid Game» plays out very differently from playground to playground, imitating it is not necessarily bad in itself. «Children play out their fantasies», says Wampfler. The situation becomes precarious when empathy is lost and children get beaten up. «The uniformed figures, the black masks and ritualized violence in the series can lead children to think that all they're watching are machines. They need to have it explained to them that these are people and it's wrong to hit them or inflict pain. But the violence from the series is not being translated literally from the screen to the playground, state both experts. «When violence enters into a game, it's usually not due to a TV series or computer game. The causes are more likely to be bullying, tense group dynamics or children who cannot control their impulses», says Wampfler.
The brutality can be too much for them and make them scared
Kim Gray, Verein zischtig.ch
What should parents do?
Both experts agree: sitting down with children to watch the series together is not the right solution. «Squid Game is not suitable for children», as Gray puts it concisely. For adolescents who are just over 16, parents could consider watching the show with their children. The benefit is that they have somebody on hand to help them understand what they're seeing. «Parents are usually the best people to notice when something is too much for their kids.» It would be worthwhile for parents to watch the series first on their own so they can skip past any troublesome scenes when they watch it together.
Gray recommends asking younger children if they've recently played «Traffic lights» or «Tug of war» at school and what happens to the kids who lose. «It's worth asking specifically: Have you heard of it? Have you watched clips from the show yourself or only heard of it? Many kids and teenagers will find it helpful if their parents clearly say: «We don't think it's a good idea for you to watch things like that but we're always here for you if you have questions, are scared, or something is bothering you.»
«Fads like 'Squid Game' are a good opportunity for talking about values together. We should make the most of them", says Gray.
«Squid Game» - briefly explained
The players are heavily in debt and taking part in the games for the promise of a huge jackpot. But it's not just money on the table: whoever loses a round pays with their life. The plot by the South Korean script writer Hwang Dong-hyuk is not «only» brutal, but also shines a critical light on our highly competitive, dog-eat-dog society – a metaphor for the perils of capitalism perhaps.
The series, rated for ages 16 and older, is storming through the Netflix charts and articles about it are amongst the most-read items on news sites.
Photos: © Netflix