Where, how and when children and teenagers gamble
You might think it’s too early to think about your child and gambling. After all, the legal age for gambling on the pokies, at the TAB or at a casino is 18 years. But some children start gambling very young – as young as 10 years. Most children have gambled by the age of 15.
For children and teenagers, the most common forms of gambling are card games at home, lottery tickets and scratchy cards. Some children move from these games to more serious types of gambling in later adolescence, like racing and other sports betting.
TV and the internet expose children to gambling. There are lots of gambling advertisements on TV, as well as thousands of online gambling websites, which children might access.
Also, children can gamble without money on smartphones and Facebook apps. And many video games rated as OK for children have gambling themes and content.
Smartphones and tablets let young people gamble at any time, day or night.
Why gambling seems like fun to children and teenagers
Gambling and gambling-like experiences are so widespread that children see gambling as a normal part of everyday life, including sport. And gambling advertisements send the message that gambling is fun, exciting and a quick and easy way to get rich.
Teenagers might think of gambling as a good social activity because online gambling activities use chat and messaging to encourage playing with friends, sharing gambling stories and getting others to place bets.
Online gambling is often designed so that players win a lot in ‘practice mode’. Teenagers might believe that this winning streak will keep going when they play with real money. Most problem gamblers had what they thought was a significant ‘win’ early in their gambling history.
Gambling is based on chance, but some online gambling can look like video games and apps that involve skill. This might look like fun to teenagers and 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.
Preventing teenage gambling problems
Explain how gambling works
Children in the upper years of primary school are generally ready to learn about gambling, including the low likelihood of winning in the long term.
It can help to explain the odds of winning in a way your child can easily understand. To do this, 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’.
You could also explain that gambling companies are set up so they always make more money than they pay out to gamblers. If they didn’t make money, they wouldn’t be able to stay in business.
Look out for gambling warning signs
For teenagers having a hard time at home or school, gambling can be a fun but unhelpful way to cope with boredom or escape from stress or other problems.
By being on the lookout for social, educational or mental health problems, you might be able to head off unhealthy activities like gambling.
At the same time, you can encourage more positive 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
Your family’s attitude to gambling can influence your child. The less your child is exposed, the less likely he is to develop a problem.
If parents gamble regularly, children might see gambling as normal behaviour and want to copy what they see their parents doing – for example, playing poker machines, using scratchy cards, or betting on races and sport. Parents who gamble regularly might also send messages to their children about gambling being a way to make money or have fun.
Parents often use gambling language 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 messages about gambling. It’s worth thinking about how often you use this kind of language.
If you do choose to gamble, you can help your child avoid problems by making sure she knows how gambling activities, like lottery and bingo, work.
Talk about screen use and online gambling
The best way to help your child make good decisions about online gambling and gaming is by talking about quality media choices. For example, you could talk with your child about video games with gambling themes and content and why you’d prefer he didn’t play them.
Also, if you encourage your child to have a balanced approach to screen use, she’ll have plenty of healthy ways to relieve boredom and escape stress. This might mean online gambling and gaming has less appeal.
And if you and your child agree on family screen and internet use rules together, it can help your child understand and accept your family’s rules. This might include limits on his access to online gambling activities and the use of your credit card in games.
It’s all about making sure children balance screen time with other activities, and use quality digital media. Our healthy screen time checklist answers your questions about screen time and digital media choices for children and teenagers of different ages.
Spotting teenage gambling problems
It can be tricky to tell when children have gambling problems because they don’t always run into the financial difficulties that adult problem gamblers experience.
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, your child being short of money, or your child borrowing or taking money from family and friends
- changes in sleep patterns, tiredness, low energy levels, changes in mood, or irritability when away from gambling activities
- falling marks at school
- withdrawal from friends, social activities and events
- positive attitudes towards gambling, or a preoccupation with video arcades, internet gambling sites, sports results or TV poker, or simulated gambling apps or games
- a new focus on sports odds instead of sport itself
- 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 – for example, ‘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 the Gambling Helpline on 1800 858 858, the Gambler’s Help Youthline on 1800 262 376, or Lifeline on 131 114. Gambling Help Online also provides email and webchat support services.
Risk factors for developing gambling problems
There are some things that increase the risk that children or teenagers will develop gambling problems in childhood, adolescence, or later in life.
Gambling activities and attitude
Your child might be at greater risk of developing a gambling problem if he:
- has access to gambling at school, at friends’ houses or on the internet
- starts gambling at a young age, does a lot of gambling or has a big win early in life
- has a positive attitude towards gambling – for example, he thinks that winning a big lottery jackpot is common, or that his peers will think he’s cool if he gambles.
Your child might be at greater risk of developing a gambling problem if she:
- smokes, drinks or uses other drugs
- is involved in other risk-taking behaviour like fights, vandalism, shoplifting or truancy from school
- has problems at school
- has a parent with a gambling-related problem.
Your child might be at greater risk of a gambling problem if he:
- has an excitable, impulsive and sensation-seeking personality
- is experiencing distress, depression or anxiety
- tends to try to ignore problems or distract himself from them instead of dealing with them
- is experiencing family conflict, or has a sibling who’s taking lots of risks.
Risks associated with gambling
Low levels of gambling might seem safe for older children and teenagers, and some teenagers who are trying out new experiences do gamble. But gambling in childhood increases the risk of gambling problems in adulthood. About a third of adult problem gamblers who seek treatment started gambling when they were 11-17 years old.
Teenagers who gamble are at greater risk of other harmful behaviour. This includes: