Do Violent Shows Raise Violent Children?

Giselle Nascimento Dias explores how violence on TV can have adverse consequences for child development.

Squid Game took the world by storm after its release in September. The dark, violent, Korean drama is Netflix’s most successful show of all time. Yet, in recent weeks, it has also made headlines for a different reason. Children have begun to copy games from the show on school playgrounds, which rightly raises questions about the influence that TV shows and popular media are having on young people today. 

Squid Game is rated 15 on Netflix. Therefore, theoretically, no child under the age of 15 should watch this show. But age restrictions don’t really mean much. How many of us watched something we were technically too young to watch when we were growing up, even if it was just by one or two years? For some kids, it’s a badge of honour that makes them cooler; they go to school and tell their friends all about how they broke a rule and watched something scary.

According to a survey taken in 2018, only 23% of parents don’t follow age restrictions with movies. Yet, we all know how difficult it is for those who do wish to monitor what their children watch. The rise of streaming services like Netflix, and websites like Putlocker and 123Movies, have made parents’ jobs much harder. All it takes is WiFi and a tablet, phone or computer, and children will be able to access a plethora of things that they probably shouldn’t. 

Nowadays, most children in the UK have regular access to a device they can connect to the internet. A lot of parents use tablets and phones as a way of distracting their children and keeping them well-behaved in public, whilst many schools ask children to bring devices with them to use in class. Children are practically raised behind screens, and they are certainly smart enough to figure out how to do things with their devices that their parents don’t want them to. 

Despite not being all that much older than these children, those born in the early 2000s have had hugly different upbringings to the children born in the past decade. Children of the early 2000s didn’t grow up glued to iPads and phones, and whilst many families would have had computers, children spent most of their time either playing with physical toys or watching TV. And television is far easier to monitor than tablets or computers.

Now kids can watch almost anything by just typing a few words and clicking a few buttons. Whether they accidentally stumble upon something inappropriate or actively go searching for it, it is a lot easier to access inappropriate content now than it was in the early 2000s. 

But violent movies, TV shows and video games seem to be more prominent than they were twenty years ago. The most iconic TV shows of the 2000s, such as Gilmore Girls and One Tree Hill, were comparatively extremely tame and nothing like the ones that are popular today, which contain violence, sex, drugs, or a mixture of all three. It’s impossible for this shift not to have had an impact on young people.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, TV shows can be a powerful influence on the development of kids’ value systems and the shaping of their behaviour. Children who are exposed to TV violence may come to see violence as a way to solve problems, may imitate the violence they see, and tend to be more aggressive. Violence in TV shows rarely has consequences, so when children see a character they like hurt someone, it isn’t surprising that they would be drawn to imitate that behaviour. Consequently, watching a show like Squid Game – especially without understanding the show’s wider social commentary – could lead to a negative impact on a child’s development. 

So, what can be done about this? We need to find new ways of monitoring content that cannot be undermined by a resourceful child. There is a strong argument for reducing a child’s screen time; bring things back to the 2000s. Furthermore, media companies and governments could work together to find a viable way to limit a child’s exposure to violent TV shows and movies. Ultimately, at the centre of this argument is child protection versus innovation. 

However, we also need to take a sharp look at our own viewing habits. Do we as a society like Squid Game because of the witty social commentary, or because of the violence? And if it’s the violence, is that healthy for us, even as adults?

Image credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via Unsplash