Businesses expose children to 'Squid Game' for commerce - Korea Times
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Businesses expose children to 'Squid Game' for commerce

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Seen is Halloween costumes for children, designed after the characters from Netflix's
Seen is Halloween costumes for children, designed after the characters from Netflix's "Squid Game," available on an online shopping mall. / Captured from internet

By Lee Hae-rin

Kim, 42, a Seoul-based office worker, was surprised to learn that her 12-year-old daughter already knew the whole story of the Netflix original series "Squid Game," although she did not allow her to watch the series.

The daughter said she saw many scenes of the R-rated series on YouTube because she was curious about the series, which "almost everybody" talks about ― not only adults but also all her friends at school.

Lee, 39, another office worker in Seoul, said his six- and four-year-old children wanted to have "dalgona," or the sugar candy, because it's from the "Squid Game." He was surprised that his children knew the connection between the candy and the R-rated drama they were never allowed to watch, but bought them the treat anyway.

"Squid Game" is the latest global craze and children here are not free from the phenomenon. It is R-rated and can only be viewed after age certification, but children can easily watch short clip videos on YouTube and TikTok.

However, the bigger concern is that children are exposed to the micro elements of the drama everywhere in their daily lives ― clothes, television programs, outdoor events, and mobile games, with little to no concern that the series is about deadly survival.

As of Thursday, over 9,450 products are available in the shopping section of the nation's largest portal Naver when searching for "Squid Game for kids." Most of the products are tiny uniforms shown in the drama and they are mostly Halloween costumes, and many parent shoppers say they are happy with the products' high quality and plan to dress their children like the drama characters over this winter at home.

Some people who bought the uniform wrote: "The green color (of the uniform) is just like in the series. It looks comfortable and has enough inner-lining, so my children can wear it over this winter," and "My children wanted this uniform so bad and they are really happy to have it now."

The drama appears in entertainment programs for all ages as well. Several television programs including "Running Man" have used concepts or sound effects from the "Squid Game" to attract the audience's attention.

"Many students in my class told me that they got to know the drama through these television shows. Plus, everyone is talking about Squid Game, so they got curious and looked it up on YouTube," Baek Seo-hyun, 31, an elementary school teacher in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province, told The Korea Times.

"Even though the children didn't watch the whole episodes of the drama, I see them imitate some scenes in class and on the playground. I believe this kind of global attention on Korean content could give them a sense of pride, but as an educator, my colleagues and I are very concerned. Children are exposed to Squid Game literally everywhere," Baek said.

A drama-themed outdoor event was recently planned by a hotel in Gangwon Province, but later canceled. When the hotel initially started to receive applications, the event had no age limit in participants. All five mobile games that appear on the top of "Squid Game" search results on Google Play can be downloaded and played without age certification.

Seen is a picture of a scene from
Seen is a picture of a scene from "Squid Game," drawn by a six-year-old child and posted on an online community. A female figure on the left is holding a gun and killing game participants. / Captured from internet

No graphic scenes or terrifying elements are found in the commercial uses of the series. However, experts point out that the series is made for adults and expressed concerns over the negative effects of children's exposure to adult content.

"Many studies show that minors who have experienced violent content on media at an early age show a higher level of aggression and insensitivity to actual violence. It is extremely important for their guardians, therefore, to control what they watch and learn. For children in the early stages of development, it is natural to be curious and imitate what they see and learn," Kwak Keum-joo, a professor of psychology at Seoul National University, told The Korea Times.

Such concerns are not limited to Korea. In a letter to parents issued Oct. 14, Bay District School in Florida said, "We all agree that Squid Game is not suitable for children. … 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."

Schools in Brazil, Belgium, Australia and the United States have sent a similar parental notices.

"Parents and guardians should be cautious about the harmful effects of early exposure to violence on media. Also, media literacy education must be provided for both children and adults on this matter," Kwak said.

Lee Hae-rin

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