Squid Game is rated TV-MA and Netflix does have parental controls that are easy to use, but children are still finding ways to watch it, inspiring principals to ban costumes based on the show and leading a psychologist to suggest the show will inspire bullying. Two more experts who spoke with PEOPLE on Thursday also warned parents against letting their children watch the violent South Korean series. "This is not something young children should be watching," clinical psychologist Dr. Robin Gurwitch told the magazine.
Squid Game was written and created by Hwang Dong-hyuk. The nine-episode series centers on a group of people living in debt or facing financial straits who are invited to participate in a series of challenges to win millions of dollars. They have to compete in a series of children's games but losing the game results in death, and the death of a contestant means the prize grows. The contestants are forced to wear green tracksuits, while guards wear pink jumpsuits. Since the show was released on Sept. 17, Netflix reported over 142 million households checked out the show, making it the service's most-watched show to date.
Although the show works as an elaborate critique of today's economic climate, it isn't meant for children. "There's nothing redeeming or positive here for children," Gurwitch, a Duke University Medical Center professor, told PEOPLE. "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 parents find alternatives for children who hear about the show and want to watch it.
Pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Murray noted that repeated exposure to the realistic violence seen in the show is "not good for anyone and probably has more detrimental affect on a child." However, she added, a parent "knows their child best and they can make the decisions." There might be 13 or 14-year-olds who can handle the show, but, "Would it be better to have a parent involved? Definitely."
If a child has already seen clips of the show, it is important to have a conversation about what they saw, both doctors agreed. "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,'" Gurwitch explained. "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."
The reason why parents are particularly concerned about Squid Game's influence on children is its twist on games many of them play during recess. For example, the Bay District Schools district in Panama City, Florida warned parents that some students were "trying to actually hurt each other in the name of this 'game,'" after playing seemingly innocent games. "Please make sure you're aware of the content your children are accessing online and that you talk to them about NOT playing violent 'games' at school," the district noted. "We don't want anyone to get hurt and we don't want to generate discipline referrals for students who don't really understand what they are re-enacting."
In response to the situation, Netflix noted that Squid Game is rated TV-MA and the company offers several parental controls so parents can block shows they believe are inappropriate for their young ones. Gurwitch said this is exactly why those parental controls were created, but Murray also warned parents to keep an eye out because some children can find ways around those controls. Murray also recommended parents use CommonSenseMedia.org, a site that rates TV shows, movies, and video games based on how appropriate they are for children.