Streaming sites have become a part of everyday life for our children. If allowed, even our youngest can access ‘Peppa Pig’ or ‘Masha and the Bear’ at any time. Older children and adults hooked on binge-watching the latest series is a familiar scenario for many of us.
The benefit for streaming services such as Disney, Netflix and countless others is that they capture their viewers at an incredibly early age and capitalise on merchandise – and in the case of Disney, even theme park holidays! Children are the original media binge-watchers with an endless capacity to watch repeats.
Teens are drawn in by sophisticated marketing in popular social media channels such as Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook and Tik Tok, which promote the latest new releases alongside the national press.
This so-called phenomenon has been termed the ‘Netflix Effect’. Children, teenagers, and adults alike lose track of time whilst binge-watching television series.
Viewers find that they cannot just watch one episode of a show. The narrative ensures that the urge to discover what happens next is emotionally overwhelming.
This effect applies to multiple seasons of the chosen show as much as any one episode. Hours upon hours are taken up watching the latest must-see series.
One must then question, what we are watching or allowing our children to watch? Do we know the content of what they are watching? For how long at any given time?
No one can have failed to read about the latest streaming sensation, ‘Squid Game’. It has quickly become one of the most talked about television shows in the world, with many viewers now rushing to catch up with the show before they encounter any spoilers.
It is set in South Korea, and the dark thriller sees a group of desperate strangers gathered in a mysterious place to compete in a series of deadly challenges inspired by children’s games. On Netflix UK, it is promoted for 16-year-olds and upwards. However, there has been an outcry around the world from both parents and schools owing to the nature of its content, and the fact that children as young as six years old have been overheard discussing the series and imitating it in the playground.
All over the world, head teachers have issued letters of warning to parents not to allow children to watch it. They have been alarmed by the extremely high death count in the series, and the fact that it centres around perverse takes on popular playground games which feature extreme violence.
The staggering amount of negative publicity that it has attracted has meant that it is now the most popular series ever streamed. It has attracted an estimated 111 million fans worldwide and has become the series to watch!
Childhood research universally concludes that what children observe, watch and encounter does affect their very being and how they act and behave. Therefore, as parents and educators, how should we be responding to the far-reaching influence of television shows on our children? Have our children been watching ‘Squid Game’?
Personally, I remember being surprised that there was not a bigger outcry during the screening of the fight-to-the-death series ‘The Hunger Games’. This worldwide show featured children killing children, and appeared to be watched, talked about, and read by children as young as seven years old. Indeed, this week, the apparently innocent children’s cartoon ‘Peppa Pig’ has been surrounded by controversy as Peppa is portrayed as disrespectful and bossy, which researchers tell us influences children’s behaviour in a negative way.
Should we be in a moral panic and screening everything that our children watch? Of course, as parents and educators, we are the ones responsible for their health and safety, and it is important that we know what our children are being exposed to, irrespective of whether they are three or 13 years old.
One cannot unsee what has already been watched! It is patently our role to decide what we allow our children to be exposed to, the content and how much time is allowed to watch it. We should make a rational assessment of each individual scenario.
▪ Use parental controls on streaming services – the ones on Netflix are very straight forward to set up, and can be easily found on Google, with simple demonstrations if you are in doubt.
▪ Talk to your children if they want to watch programmes which are graphic or not age appropriate. Establish rules and guidelines.
▪ Set watching limits which are both time and age appropriate.
▪ Watch the programme/film yourself first and make an informed personal decision.
▪ Watch certain programmes with your children and talk about them. Discuss what is real and what is not and share your own beliefs and values.
We are the role models and must also practice what we preach and not be examples of the ‘Netflix Effect’ ourselves – How many of us binge watched ‘The Crown’ or ‘Bridgerton’?
By Penelope Best, Head of School,
Eupheus International School, Loulé