Squid Game has captivated millions of viewers across the world but the gruesome nature of the hit TV show has triggered an Adelaide school into writing to parents to warn them about its potentially harmful effects.

Key points:

  • Squid Game has so far reached a global audience of more than 110 million viewers
  • The show’s simulated violence includes depictions of mass shootings and throat slashing
  • An Adelaide school has advised parents of children who have seen it to “monitor” their reactions

The sanguinary series, in which contestants play childhood games with deadly consequences in a bid to become rich, has become a global phenomenon since its launch on Netflix earlier this year.

The nine-part drama is frequently violent and its most lurid simulations include mass shootings, throat slashing, dissection and organ harvesting.

It has an MA15+ rating in Australia, meaning it cannot be legally watched by anyone under the age of 15 “unless they are in the company of a parent or adult guardian”, according to the national classification ratings.

But staff at Linden Park Primary School in Adelaide’s east have expressed concern the show is trending among school children across Australia, and have written to parents advising them to be vigilant.

The grounds of Linden Park Primary School in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs.(Linden Park Primary School)

“There are reports that children have been acting out these games in the school yard and on social media platforms,” an email from the school’s leadership team states.

“If your children have not seen the series it is possible they have seen aspects of it on social media.

Linden Park Primary School principal Deb O’Neill said the show was unsuitable for children.(South Australian Primary Principals Association)

Principal Deb O’Neill said while there had not been “any incidents” at Linden Park linked to the show, teachers there had noticed Squid Game being discussed in classrooms, and the decision to contact families was “about getting on the front foot”.

“Forewarned is forearmed. [We want] to give them some information about the series in case it does come up in conversation at home,” she said.

“The content could be scary and could be confusing to young children who see it.

“I think it’s natural for children to be interested in things that are causing a bit of a fuss around them, but it could be a teaching point I think rather than a concern.”

After watching some of the show to get an impression of it, Ms O’Neill said she was of the view “it is not suitable for children”.

Squid Game depicts competitors embarking on a series of deadly games.(Supplied: Netflix)

“Children are always going to be interested in things they’re hearing and things coming up on social media and it is quite a popular series,” she said.

“Once these sorts of things hit Snapchat and TikTok and Instagram, there are all sorts of spin-offs from a series like this that can become a little bit out of control.

‘Deeper investment’ makes violence ‘more distressing’

The school’s decision to explicitly address the show with parents has been praised by Australian Council on Children and the Media (ACCM) president Elizabeth Handsley.

The council itself recently warned that Squid Game’s “extreme frequent violence that is realistic and gory” could “scare or disturb” children.

“The series uses extreme violence as a mechanism for creating impact, and the repetitive and visceral nature of the violence has a distinct desensitising, dehumanising, and numbing effect on the viewer,” ACCM said in an advice message posted online.

Netflix said the show had reached more than 110 million viewers.(Supplied: Netflix)

“Although Squid Game has the blood and gore that one might expect from a gory horror film, it also has strong character development which evokes a deeper emotional investment by the viewer.

“This makes the slaughter of characters even more distressing at various points throughout the series.”

Professor Handsley said the show highlighted the need for a reappraisal of the current content classification system.

“The trend that concerns us is the classification creep — there is evidence that more violent content is getting into lower classification categories,” she said.

“The classifications should be based on research evidence about child development, which they’re currently not.

“They don’t take into account anything about what kinds of violence are most damaging for children, what other kinds of content are damaging for children; they don’t directly address scary content unless it’s violent.”

Evidence shows that exposure to dramatic depictions of graphic violence can cause “changes in attitude and outlook”, as well as behaviour, Professor Handsley said.

Professor Handsley said the national classification system needed to be updated.(Flinders University)

She said the trend towards more extreme simulated violence could be down to the sheer volume of available content.

“I think it’s probably something to do with the battle for our attention in the current media environment where there are so many sources of content,” she said.

“There’s an inherent incentive to be more sensational.”

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