Should Kids Watch 'Squid Game' ? Experts Say No — but Here's How to Approach It If It's 'Too Late'

Both a clinical psychologist and pediatrician tell PEOPLE all about how parents can handle their kids asking about Squid Game

Squid Game
Photo: Netflix

Squid Game has become playground fodder for children way below the target audience, but how can the show's violent content (intended for adult audiences) affect their developing brains?

Two experts who are part of PEOPLE's Health Squad — clinical psychologist Dr. Robin Gurwitch, who is a professor at Duke University Medical Center, and pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Murray — tell PEOPLE why parents should be careful about their kids' media consumption. Or, in this case, how to talk to them if they've already seen the show or heard about it in school.

Read on for guidance on approaching the topic of Squid Game with young kids, and what parents should know about the wildly popular series.

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

What is Squid Game?

The Korean thriller debuted in mid September and quickly became a surprise hit for Netflix. In fact, Squid Game became the streaming service's "biggest series launch ever" with a whopping 111 million viewers, surpassing another recent adult blockbuster, Bridgerton.

For more on Squid Game and other top stories, listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day.

Squid Game is a nine-episode drama that sees people compete to the death in childhood playground games to forgive their debts. It contains strong violence, sexuality and gore.

Creator Hwang Dong-hyuk told The Hollywood Reporter earlier this month that he wanted the concept to be "easy to grasp" and attract audiences all over the globe.

"The children's games that are featured in the show are those that will bring out nostalgia from adults who actually played them as a kid; but they're also games that are really easy to grasp. So anyone watching, from anywhere in the world, can understand the rules of the games very easily," he said. "And since the games are so simple, the viewers don't need to focus on trying to understand the rules. They can instead focus on the inner feelings and the dynamics between the characters a lot more, and then they can get immersed into the whole experience, cheering for and empathizing with the characters."

Should your child watch it?

No. That's the short answer from both Gurwitch and Murray, though they note it's up to the parents to determine what's age appropriate for their kids. Both agree the show's violent nature should be reserved for kids in their late-teens, if at all.

"This is not something young children should be watching. There's nothing redeeming or positive here for children," says Gurwitch. "It has the potential of creating, first of all, inappropriate behaviors ... 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 concern of 'Could this really happen?' among young children too."

Gurwitch suggests finding other shows or activities to "replace" their desire to want to watch this.

Squid Game
Squid Game. Noh Juhan/Netflix

Murray notes that there's conflicting information about media's affect on a child's brain, but says that "certainly, repeated exposure to realistic violence is not good for anyone and probably has more detrimental affect on a child."

At the end of the day, Murray says, "The parent knows their child best and they can make the decisions. Are there 13-, 14-year-olds out there that could watch the show? Probably. Would it be better to have a parent involved. Definitely."

What if they already did?

It's possible, however, that your child has already managed to watch Squid Game, whether via Netflix or through clips on social media or YouTube, so how can you chat about it at that point?

"Having that communication is hugely helpful," says Murray.

Gurwitch suggests, "Start the conversation very simply: 'There's been a lot of talk about that new show Squid Game. Tell me what you've heard about it.' That way you get an idea of where the child is coming from. Then, 'What do you think about it? How did that make you feel?' Have a discussion about what this was all about and how do we treat others and what is appropriate with our friends when we play games."

She clarifies, however, "This is not a watch-and-talk. This is a block-and-talk. If it's too late, you've got to talk about it."

Parents can make it clear to their child they understand or expect that the show would make them scared or uncomfortable, "just because a child might not feel comfortable saying how they really felt because, perhaps, that's not what they're hearing from their peers."

Squid Game
Noh Juhan/Netflix

Why is it becoming a trend among kids?

Across the country, there have been reported instances of kids reenacting Squid Game at school, inflicting some form of violence in place of the "elimination" when losing a game. Elementary schools in New York banned Halloween costumes based on the show after they noticed students "mimicking" it, and a school in Florida warned parents to talk to their kids about appropriate games after the show caught on.

"Children and teens don't want to feel left out," says Gurwitch. "A lot of kids, even if they haven't watched it, have heard about it. Kids want to be in-the-know."

Some kids may pretend to have seen the show, too, in order to fit in, adds Murray. "It common for kids to want to watch what their friends are watching because that's the cool thing. Reenacting games and shows is very normal; what is unusual is that children in some places are engaging in actual violence. Not to the level of the show, of course, but the fact that they would actually do that is concerning."

RELATED: Squid Game Costumes Banned at N.Y. Elementary Schools Since Students Are 'Mimicking' Violent Show

And while it may be a passing trend for now, the show might pop back to the forefront of pop culture in the future: Dong-hyuk teased to THR that a second season is possible.

"The pressure on me is huge now, with such a big audience waiting for a season 2. Because of all that pressure, I haven't decided yet whether or not I should do another season," he said at the time, adding, "I don't know yet, but I'll just say there are a lot of possibilities out there for season 2 storylines."

Resources and parental controls to consult

In a statement to PEOPLE, a Netflix spokesperson reminds parents that the show "is rated TV-MA and intended for mature audiences. We offer parents a wide variety of parental controls to make the appropriate choices for their families."

"This is why parental controls were invented," Gurwitch says. "Parents need to be mindful that kids want to do grown-up things oftentimes. We really need to be mindful of what the impact of watching this kind of show can have in the long run. ... We are responsible for helping make good decisions about our children's media exposure."

"How we engage with technology is something we have to consider from a young age," says Murray, who adds that kids can sometimes cleverly get around parental controls, so it's important to be present or check in periodically to monitor their engagement.

Additionally, a "really good" online resource Murray recommends for parents deciding on content appropriate for their children is CommonSenseMedia.org.

Related Articles