Yes, kids are playing Squid Game at recess. Now what?

·4 min read
Participants take part in an event where they play the games of Netflix smash hit "Squid Game" at the Korean Cultural Centre in Abu Dhabi, on October 12, 2021. - A dystopian vision of a polarised society, "Squid Game" blends a tight plot, social allegory and uncompromising violence to create the latest South Korean cultural phenomenon to go global. (Photo by Giuseppe CACACE / AFP) (Photo by GIUSEPPE CACACE/AFP via Getty Images)

"Squid Game," Netflix's massive global hit, might feature playground games, but it is most obviously not for kids. The ultraviolent show, which follows 456 debt-ridden adult characters as they fight each other to the death for a chance to win millions of dollars, is too gruesome even for many adults, much less children. Think "Survivor" meets "Lord of the Flies" meets "Dodgeball," reimagined by Quentin Tarantino.

But some young Hwang Dong-hyuk fans seem to have missed the memo that "Squid Game" is not for them. The games on the show - all based on classic playground games from South Korea, like tug of war and red light, green light - are popping up on real-life playgrounds, distressing parents, educators and development experts, many of whom are wondering how the heck these kids heard about the show in the first place.

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To be clear, kids in real life aren't invoking the penalty of death that is so crucial to the show. But some reports suggest that violence is still playing a part, with bullets replaced by punches and other forms of physical aggression. So perhaps there is cause for concern when a show featuring red light, green light, but with a murderous motion-sensing doll and walls of hidden snipers, serves as recreational fodder for the milk carton set.

Schools in Australia have asked parents to make sure their kids don't watch the show (thereby ensuring kids will watch the show). Parents in Belfast are being asked to ensure their parental controls are locked in the "on" position. And many caretakers are scratching their heads over how this incredibly violent show, meant for people 15 and older, made its way so quickly into kids' imaginations.

"I don't think it is entirely that different for kids and adults as a phenomena," said Hina Talib, director of the Adolescent Medicine Post-Doctoral Fellowship Program at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore in New York, via Twitter direct message. "It is a social spark that spreads fast, and kids and adults alike want to be included. That's human nature. Certainly kids can be more susceptible to it."

"'Squid Game' should not be viewed by kids less than 16," Damon Korb, behavioral and developmental pediatrician, and clinic director of Center for Developing Minds in Los Gatos, Calif., told The Post in a message. "It is gratuitously violent, and these images have the potential to desensitize people to violence. Children are particularly vulnerable."

Thanks to hugely popular TikTok and YouTube videos, not to mention show-themed games on Fortnite and Roblox, "Squid Game" is reaching kids long before they see it trending at number one on their Netflix homepage. (Netflix says the show has reached the top 10 list in 94 countries.) For many kids who get caught up in the buzz of "Squid Game" and other overnight social whirlwinds, that is all of the contact they may ever have with the show - a moment of belonging created entirely by being peer adjacent, often several times removed.

"Children have active imaginations, which they use creatively in play and to learn," Korb says. "Point them in a direction and they can develop an active fantasy world, making it easy for children to experience a pop culture phenomenon without seeing it firsthand. I have had several patients that had nightmares about 'Five Nights at Freddy's' despite having seen just an image on the Internet or never viewing it at all."

Parents, you may want to view "Squid Game" yourself, if not to prevent your children from watching it, then at least to talk about it, because even if you haven't heard of the show, there's a good chance your kids have.

My 15-year-old binged it immediately, and he insisted that the rest of the family watch it, too. I watched it all in one night, primarily for this article, but also to see what kind of "language, violence, sex, nudity, suicide, smoking" rabbit hole my kid had gone down without bothering to ask for permission.

Is this something parents actually need to worry about? Let's stop for a minute and think about our own days of playground roulette.

Consider the game red rover, where one kid was invited/pressured to run into a chain of arms and inevitably dislocate a shoulder, bloody a nose or sprain a wrist. Red rover was a daily lesson in my own mortality, often leaving children prone on the ground, gasping for air and vowing revenge. And what about crack the whip? Football?

Now that we're parents, those games do seem dangerous, particularly if we want our kids' windpipes to remain intact. But back when we were kids? It was glorious. We played it as violently as playground supervisors would allow, and most of us weren't even in debt.

Sure, the games we played might not have been based on a hit TV show. But survival was real. And so, assuming you or your kid is interested, you might want to check out the nonviolent versions of the games in "Squid Game." Chances are, they are very interested.

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