Eleven percent of children between 11 and 16 have had direct experience with some form of gambling.
This discouraging gambling statistic from a 2019 UK Gambling Commission report is hardly surprising if we consider that kids today are exposed to more gambling-related content than they have ever been.
How do children get introduced to gambling? Why are teenagers and young adults more vulnerable to gambling addictions than other age groups? What warning signs should you look out for as a parent or caregiver? What should you do when you notice them? In this article, we’ll attempt to answer all these burning questions.
How Do Kids Get Introduced to Gambling?
Gambling is not just limited to casinos and sportsbooks. It takes place anywhere, online and in the physical world, and it can include private wagers, card games for money, and online games with gambling-like mechanisms such as loot boxes.
This means that regulations limiting the legal age to start gambling are far from sufficient to keep children out of harm’s way. To make matters worse, some forms of gambling have a stamp of approval, having been endorsed by the media, children’s friends, and family.
A child’s immediate surroundings have a deep impact on how they’ll eventually perceive gambling. Research has shown that most gambling problems can be traced back to the younger years. The UK Gambling Commission found that 67% of children are in the presence of their parents when they gamble. Oftentimes, kids watch their parents play a game of cards with friends or relatives.
Seeing the adults they look up to casually indulging in such activities, children come to view gambling as normal behaviour.
How Does Gambling Affect Children?
So, gambling really is everywhere. But what’s the real harm? After all, it’s just kids, and they are not even using real money, so there’s no financial risk, right?
Unfortunately, the situation is much more complicated than that. Studies have shown the connection between underage gambling and gambling addiction in adult life.
You may ask why underage gambling isn’t something that kids just grow out of.
Well, the real danger lies in the lasting effects that exposure to gambling can have on young minds. For most people, life only gets increasingly difficult as they grow up and take on various adult responsibilities, and those who developed coping mechanisms for easy gratification in their childhood will find it difficult to let go of these activities that are at the same time low-effort and highly gratifying.
Gambling is also associated with drug or alcohol problems. An Imperial College of London study found that gambling addiction triggers the same neural pathways as alcohol or drug addiction do. The problems associated with underage gambling are numerous and grave, reinforcing the need to curb the phenomenon.
Signs of Underage Gambling
Spotting underage gambling can be hard. Notwithstanding, there are some signs you can look out for, some more obvious than others.
- Sudden behavioural or personality changes, like losing interest in previously enjoyed activities.
- Unexplained school absences or a drop in school grades.
- Changes in behaviour regarding money and possessions
Watching out for these signs could very well help you keep your kids out of murky waters.
How To Deal With Underage Gambling
Educating children on the dangers of gambling and setting good examples by not gambling yourself is a good way to start. But that only really works when they haven’t already started gambling. For kids already down the rabbit hole, you need to consider other approaches.
- Talk to your child openly about gambling. Having a simple conversation with your kid could go a long way. Explain to your kid how the gambling process works and how the odds of winning are really stacked against them. Informing them of the risks involved works far better than simply telling them they’re not of gambling age yet.
- Install parental control software that either prevents them from accessing gambling sites or monitors their activity and alerts you. Restricting their overall access to the internet is another way to go.
- Fill their time with other activities such as family activities, chores, socialising with friends or family members.
- Monitor your cards and wallets so you can be alerted whenever some money is missing.
- Seek professional help. Accept that gambling addiction is difficult to treat and that you may not be able to cope with your child’s gambling habit on your own. If you feel like the situation is getting out of hand, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.