It's official: "Squid Game" is Netflix's biggest series launch ever, but with so much hype around the show, parents are left wondering whether the series is OK for kids to watch.
"Squid Game" is a Korean thriller that adds a deadly twist to classic childhood games all in the pursuit of a top $38 million cash prize. The nine-episode series leaves little to the imagination in the realm of gore and violence as game participants make a bloody run for the money.
The short answer is simple: "Squid Game" is not appropriate for kids under the age of 17.
What age is 'Squid Game' appropriate for?
The age rating for "Squid Game" on Netflix is TV-MA, which means for mature audiences only.
According to TV Guidelines, TV-MA indicates "this program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17. This program may contain one or more of the following: crude indecent language, explicit sexual activity, or graphic violence."
Some parents may have more specific questions, especially when it comes to handling kids who are begging to watch the violent series.
Can a 12-year-old watch 'Squid Game'?
"I think the kids starting to watch it are the 9- to 10-year-olds," Laura Linn Knight, a parenting educator and former elementary school teacher, told TODAY Parents. "I still think for that age range it's not appropriate."
Why is 'Squid Game' inappropriate for kids?
Knight said that because our brains are not fully developed until age 25, allowing graphic violence, such as that shown in the Netflix series, can feel overwhelming.
"Many parents think, 'My child can understand and differentiate between reality and fiction,'" Knight said. "But children cannot differentiate as much as we think. So when we're sending in these images and expecting them to do what an adult can do, it's unrealistic for them."
Why is 'Squid Game' scary for kids?
Knight told TODAY the element of horror added to a child's everyday activity makes "Squid Game" especially scary for kids.
"They're taking childhood games that they're playing on the school yard, like red light/green light and tug of war, so children are actively playing these games with their friends," Knight said. "Now they're being exposed to it in a way where killing is involved and it's life-threatening."
She added that a child also might hesitate to share that they are scared.
"Many children won't verbalize that, because they still want to watch it," Knight said. "They won't tell their parents that (the show) is freaking them out and they're not sleeping at night."
But my child is begging me to watch it. What do I do?
Knight shared that parents can capitalize on this situation as a teachable moment.
"They want so badly to be involved in this mature activity, and to be included," she explained, adding that a lot of times parents feel like they need to give a "yes or no" response. "If they just say no, their kids will act out or be fully disappointed and they don't want the guilt trip that comes with it."
Knight said it can be beneficial for parents to sit down with their kids and include them in the conversation.
"Have a family meeting, sit down together as a family, and talk about, 'OK, this is really important to you. Your friends are watching a show called 'Squid Game.' What do you know about it?'" Knight suggested. "That doesn't mean that the parent isn't going to hold the firm boundary, but by inviting a child into the conversation and really being curious with them, it's not so one-sided."
The mom of two and educator noted that this approach can work with other topics as well.
"Including them in the conversation is a really powerful parenting tool that doesn't just work for this specifically," Knight said. "Kids are really smart. When they're asked these questions and they're using their critical thinking skills, they will often come to the conclusion you wanted."
Questions to ask kids who want to watch 'Squid Game'
Here are questions parents can use during discussions with their kids:
What do you know about "Squid Game"?
What have you heard about the show?
How do you feel about watching shows that might include scary, gory or violent elements?
What feels OK for you to watch and what doesn't?
Why do you think some kids should or should not watch it?
Have you ever watched a scary show in the past that didn't make you feel good later?
I'm not letting my children watch 'Squid Game' and they're mad because their friends can watch it.
This is not an uncommon parenting situation.
"Kids can feel especially left out if their friends are doing it," Knight said. "This is a really nice opportunity (for kids) to learn a valuable lifelong lesson that sometimes people's families are going to make different choices and what do we do about that."