Many parents falsely assume gambling is not a concern for their children. With other dangers like alcohol and drug use looming, acts of gambling could seem harmless. However, many teens are exposed to gambling, whether it’s simply walking past lottery tickets or seeing gambling ads online, and these are only a few of the ways your child could be lured into a cycle of perpetual gambling. If you’re worried your teen might be gambling, here’s what you should know.
Risk factors of gambling
Consider that young people don’t always yet have the best coping or decision-making skills. They also easily hide a gambling problem. And for many, the problem develops over several years. Many problem gamblers say they started out gambling at an early age — approximately 10 years old. With no needle marks, drowsy walking, bloodshot eyes, or other tell-tale signs, a young person who has a gambling problem can easily hide it. That’s why it’s vital for parents to know how to identify the signs of a gambling problem in their children.
Authoritative researchers have identified several risk factors for youth problem gaming including (but not limited to):
- Delinquency and crime
- Poor academic performance
- High levels of suicide ideation and suicide attempts
- More depressive symptoms
- Poor family connectedness
- Low-perceived social support
Signs your child is gambling
Scattered lottery tickets around their room, casino chips on their desk, prolonged absences from school, and an obsessive affinity for the outcome of sports games — these are just a few of the telltale signs that your child might be gambling without your knowledge.
When you see your child with these items in their possession, it can be extremely worrying for any parent. That’s why it is important for parents to not harshly punish their child when they find out. Even though hiding or throwing out these gambling items might seem like the appropriate action, it is important to take a step back and try to understand why your child turned to gambling in the first place. When implemented correctly, taking a more deliberate approach to help your child recover from a gambling addiction could not only help your child resist their urges to gamble, but also bring the family closer together.
Talking to your child about gambling
Explain how gambling works
The first, and likely most important step, is to explain how gambling works to your child in a comprehensive way. This way, you have at least taken the step to inform them about the lure as well as the dangers of gambling. From here, you can begin to wean them off of it as they gradually realize how self-destructive gambling could be for them in the long run.
Be aware of the risks
The main risks that grow out of youth gambling addictions stem from the same risks of any addiction: stunting personal development to a point where the child cannot cope with adult life when they reach a certain age. The addiction itself is born out of a need; in the child’s mind, gambling is much preferred to dealing with the emotional pressures of their lives, whether that be difficulties in school or social turmoil. Either way, the child turns to gambling as a way to regain some sense of control in their lives, leading to a viewpoint that gambling is the only activity that can alleviate their inner pain.
Act as a good role model
Be aware that children are more likely to gamble if they observe their family members gambling or hear their family members talking excitedly about gambling. Limiting or eliminating gambling activities in the home and replacing these with non-gambling family activities can help create a fun family environment. To wean them off of it more gradually, you could start by playing similar card games that don’t offer a monetary incentive.
Consider family attitudes and habits
Communicating with a child or teen begins with listening. Encouraging conversation about gambling does not mean that you agree with the behavior. In reality, it can help children make informed choices about their own behavior. The general approach to preventing problem gambling among youth is to reduce risk levels by enhancing protective factors, such as family cohesion and connectedness to school, while strengthening their coping abilities and the surrounding environment. This philosophy helps the child deal with difficulty in activities outside of gambling, gradually reducing their reliance on it as a means of escape.
Treatment is realistic and accessible
If you think your child is gambling you have many treatment options, including seeking professional help. Some general steps to follow include:
- Learn all you can about gambling and its risks
- Be aware of your own gambling behavior and beliefs
- Encourage discussions and questions about gambling
- Listen to what your child has to say
- Set limits on time, money and frequency of gambling if problems are not severe
- Seek professional assistance if you think the problem is severe
For parents who uncover their child’s gambling problem, it can be a complex and difficult situation to get a hold of — but doesn’t have to be tackled alone. For information, referrals, and additional resources turn to Wellspring Center For Prevention offices at 732-254-3344.