No, you dummy.
OK, slightly longer explanation: Squid Game, the incredibly popular Korean survival drama on Netflix, is the world’s latest entertainment craze. So like metal music, Dungeons & Dragons, video games, fidget spinners, and Tide pods before it, it’s time for full-blown parental panic. See, a few parents are letting their elementary-aged kids watch Squid Game. Some of those children are going to school and adding elements from the show into playground activities. Not with snipers; that would be too cool. But a kid who loses Red Light, Green Light might get punched in the arm. This is news outlet gold, baby! There’s nothing like hysteria over children to get those clicks. Scares about Halloween candy aren’t getting the job done in this cynical age where everyone knows edibles are too expensive to waste on your dumb kids. Fortnite is too cartoonish to make a good villain, and Caillou was finally canceled. As a result, there is story after story after story warning parents of the dangers of Squid Game. Local news outlets and parenting sites are getting on the action because there’s nothing they like better than a good moral panic.
It’s a classic case of correlation versus causation. Kids are drawn to Squid Game because it’s childlike, in its way. Simple challenges, primary colors, and graphic violence. It’s live-action Korean Looney Tunes. Children don’t understand the indictment of capitalism or social inequity but to be fair neither do most of their parents. They don’t need to. They see fun games that come with physical punishments for the users. You know, exactly like dodgeball, red rover, punch buggy, snowball fights, king of the hill, and every other aggressive childhood game we played. All invented before streaming entertainment brought the joys of televised mass murder across the Pacific. Most of us didn’t grow into cruel, sadistic adults. Well, some of us. Slightly more than half, say.
Should elementary school-aged children watch Squid Game? Sweet baby Cthulhu, of course not. Neither should middle schoolers. But let’s be honest; it’s no worse than the horror movies we saw from the backseat at the drive-in or peeking through our fingers on the family couch, or crept downstairs to watch while our parents slept. Kids are fascinated by violence and death not because they’re callous little monsters but because they’re curious and the subject is taboo. Of course, most of them are callous little monsters. We are not born with an abundance of empathy, nor the social grace to understand why some actions and words are out of bounds. That’s why we have parents and siblings. It’s why there are teachers and counselors.
Parenting is fucking terrifying. You get laid and 40 weeks later out pops this slimy, squalling nightmare for whom you discover boundless love and awe. Then they grow up a little bit and you discover they have absolutely no filters or self-control. They call people fat because they don’t know better. They loudly comment on someone’s skin color while you die inside. They impatiently shove their friend off the swingset. They hit their sibling with a wiffle bat just to see what happens. And sometimes they punch their classmate during a game of Red Light, Green Light. It’s tempting to blame their behavior on external factors like television or video games. But kids have smacked the shit out of each other since the dawn of time. Moral panics are nothing new. Do you suppose the first generation to master fire bitched about how kids who stared into the flames too long turned into little creeps? I like to think so.
Watch what your kids watch. Talk to them about it. Don’t let your 4th grader see Squid Game. But don’t spiral into hysteria. After all, we live in a rapidly warming world still fighting a global pandemic. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ve got to space out those panic attacks.
Header Image Source: Netflix screenshot