By Raising Children Network
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Teenager using his smartphone

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  • Boys have at least twice the risk of developing gambling problems compared to girls.
  • A study done in South Australian showed that about 60% of children aged 15-17 had gambled in the last year.
  • A UK survey showed that nearly a third of teenagers aged 12-15 have gambled in the ‘free play’ sections of online casinos.
Teenagers have lots of opportunities to gamble – more than you might realise. Explaining to your child how gambling works can help him understand the risks. Encouraging other interests and hobbies can help him find healthier ways to have fun.

What you need to know

You might think it’s too early to think about your child and gambling. But studies show that some children do start gambling very young – as young as 10. The majority of them have gambled by the age of 15.

The most common forms of gambling are card games and instant lottery tickets. These might seem harmless. But some children do move from playing these games to more serious types of gambling in older adolescence.

The internet exposes kids to gambling well before they’re 18 and legally allowed to gamble on the pokies, at the TAB or at the casino. For example, teenagers say that they come across ads for gambling via email or while surfing the internet. These ads send the message that gambling is fun and exciting, that the chance of winning is high, and that gambling is an easy way to get rich.

The internet and other technologies also give kids new ways and opportunities to gamble. There are more than 3000 online gambling websites worldwide, including casinos and sites for betting on sport and racing. Teenagers can also gamble without money on phone and Facebook apps. And more than 100 video games rated as suitable for children have gambling themes and content.

Gambling in childhood increases the risk of having a gambling problem as an adult. About a third of adult problem gamblers who seek treatment started gambling when they were aged 11-17 years.

Why gambling is a problem

Low levels of gambling might seem safe for older children and teenagers. But research shows that teenagers who gamble are at greater risk of other harmful behaviours. These include:

Gambling might also be the outcome of other difficulties a child is facing. 

The belief that gambling is a way to make money or that you can keep winning can increase a child’s risk of problem gambling as a teenager or adult.

Preventing problem gambling

Explain the risks
You can start by explaining the risks of gambling. Children in the upper years of primary school are generally ready to learn about gambling risks, including the low likelihood of winning in the long term. It can be helpful to explain the odds of winning in a way your child can easily understand.

Rather than using numbers, you could compare the chances of winning to other chances. For example, ‘Your chance of winning the lottery is one in 15 million. Your chance of being hit by lightning in your lifetime is one in 300 000.’

Look out for problems
For teenagers experiencing difficulties at home or at school, gambling can be an attractive but unhelpful way of coping with problems. For example, many teenagers start gambling as a way of coping with boredom, or to escape from stress or other problems.

By being on the lookout for general problems, you might be able to head off unhealthy activities such as gambling. At the same time, you can encourage more positive hobbies and extracurricular activities. These can be a better way for your child to handle boredom or stress. They can help her feel good about herself, have fun and let off steam.

Think about family attitudes and activities
Children learn a lot of their behaviour by watching what their parents do. How you approach gambling in your family can influence your child. Many teenagers are introduced to gambling by their parents. If parents gamble regularly, children might see gambling as normal behaviour.

Exposure to gambling activities that can be played quickly and often – for example, poker machines, scratchy cards and races – is thought to be risky for young people. The less your child is exposed, the less likely he is to develop a problem.

Parents often use gambling to encourage their children – for example ‘I bet you can’t swim to the other side of the pool. If you do, I’ll buy you an ice-cream’. There’s a fine line between healthy and unhealthy gambling. 

If you do choose to gamble, you can help your child avoid problems by making sure she knows how gambling activities, such as lottery and bingo, work.

Limit private internet activity
This can cut down your child’s access to online gambling websites. Keeping your networked computers in the living room or family areas of your house, rather than in bedrooms, can also make it harder for your child to hide gambling activity.

Is betting on the Melbourne Cup likely to create a problem for your child? Probably not, although it’s important for you to supervise even these infrequent gambling activities. Supervised gambling games can sometimes be a good way to teach young people about mathematics and probabilities.

Spotting problem gambling

It can be tricky to tell when a child has a gambling problem. For adults, problem gambling is often first spotted when the person runs into financial difficulties. But the negative consequences of problem gambling for teenagers can be less severe and more difficult to spot in the early stages.

Some warning signs that your child might have a problem with gambling can include the following:

  • sudden changes in the amount of money your child has, or your child being short of money
  • changes in sleep patterns and tiredness
  • falling marks at school
  • withdrawal from friends, social activities and events
  • low energy levels, or irritability when away from gambling activities
  • secrecy about gambling, or denial that there’s a problem.

If there’s a problem, your child might also try to tell you that gambling is better than some of the other things she could be doing – ‘At least I’m not taking drugs, Mum’.

If you want to discuss your child’s gambling, you can get advice from a psychologist, your GP or local problem gambling services. You can also call a counselling, information and referral helpline on 1800 858 858, or call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Some traps for kids

It’s easy for children and teenagers to get the wrong idea about gambling. For example:

  • Online gambling is often designed so that players are highly successful in the ‘practice mode’. This draws in players and builds the belief that gambling can make money. These early wins make people more likely to come back for more. Teenagers might believe that their winning streak will keep going when they play with real money.
  • Most types of gambling are based on chance. But the crossover between gambling and gaming technologies that involve skill (for example, video games and smartphone apps) might lead some young players to think gambling also involves skill. This could give them unrealistic or false beliefs about gambling and the odds of winning.
  • Children might think that gambling is a socially positive activity because gambling and gambling-like experiences are so widespread.
  • Teenagers might think of gambling as a good social activity because online gambling activities use online chat and messaging functions to encourage playing with friends, sharing gambling stories and getting others to place bets.

Teenage gambling facts and stats

According to a UK survey:

  • up to 8% of teenagers aged 12-15 years have tried gambling online
  • a quarter of teenagers have used the gambling applications, where no money is involved, on social networking sites such as Facebook.

A 2007 South Australian school study showed that:

  • some children start gambling as young as 10 years, although very few do
  • approximately 60% of children aged 15-17 years had gambled in the last year, although only 15% said they gambled on a weekly basis.
  • about 60% of child gamblers are playing electronic gaming machines (for example, pokies) by the time they’re 18 years old.
  • Last updated or reviewed 01-12-2011
  • Acknowledgements This article was written with help from Daniel King, a University Research Fellow in the School of Psychology at the University of Adelaide.