Kids becoming problem gamblers: What are the odds?

The Spring Carnival is in full flight….the fillies, the fashion and the flutters. Hmmmm…..”flutters”. “Flutters” is one of those words that makes something that could be very serious seem like it’s a tiny, wee thing that is harmless, perhaps even beautiful. For some, a flutter is poison.

Problem gambling, in essence, is when someone has difficulties limiting money and/or time spent on gambling which leads to adverse consequences for the gambler, others, or the community.

We know of the stories of parents leaving their children in unattended motor vehicles for long stretches of time while they gamble as casinos or poker machine venues. We know that a problem gambler can get to the point where they spend all of the household’s income… and then some. The effect of this on young children is obviously problematic leading to financial problems and relationship issues in families. According to Australian statistics, problem gamblers are more than six times more likely to divorce than non-problem gamblers. Clearly, family separation has a clear impact on children.

What about children who become problem gamblers? Before you scoff and picture a child standing up on a box to reach a one-armed-bandit, consider how easy it is to gamble these days without even leaving home…in fact, without even leaving your bedroom. These days, it is easier than ever to gamble. People can gamble day and night on their smart phones, tablets or home computers. Television advertisements remind us that we can bet while we watch the season’s final of our favourite sporting codes. People can bet on the outcomes of nearly anything and can gamble in online bingo-type games 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For those who have an urge, there are plenty of ways to follow through at a moment’s notice.

When adults with problem gambling are asked, many will report that they started their problem gambling during their teen years. Young people (age 18-24) spend more money on poker machines that any other age group (and you thought it was those grey-haired nanna’s, didn’t you?).

Statistics tell us that problem gambling in children is linked to a range of factors:

  • Children with parents who have gambling problems are 10 times more likely to become problem gamblers
  • Children who are rated as having emotional distress by their teachers during the kindergarten years were more likely to be gambling by the time they reached year 6 in school. The link between anxiety, depression and emotional distress particularity becomes an issue for early gambling when it involved high levels of impulsivity.
  • We also know that when gambling is portrayed as both glamorous and as a means of achieving financial freedom leaves a strong impressions certain adolescents may crave. If they strongly desire financial good fortune or yearn to be seen as attractive to others, gambling is portrayed as a means to these ends. However, like their adult counterparts, many teens gamble as a means to escape – to avoid a feeling or set of circumstances in their lives that is not working of them or does not feel good

Not all children who play cards as youngsters will go on to become problem gamblers. Most children will grow up to gamble occasionally for fun and be able to walk away before they risk too much money, too much time, or too many social and relationship issues.

So, as perhaps you consider heading on out that door for a champagne cocktail and a “flutter” in the office sweep, you can be reassured that most children will be okay when it comes to gambling, but what signs might indicate that your child may be one that does have issues with gambling?

Things may need a closer look if:

  • your teen has more money than they usually would
  • they are asking for more money than they usually would for food, bus trips of other incidentals…or worse, expensive belongings are missing
  • their day to day language starts to us more betting terminology – some uselful examples can be found here.
  • they are spending time on internet gambling sites or watching more television broadcasts that may have a link to gambling
  • there’s a change in their mood or usually pattern of socialising (always something to check in with for a range of youth issues)
  • they are skipping school or having relationship issues

I’m not sure that it’s completely possible to guarantee, 100{ba4639bc087185d97391fd5d15a50de89571c56f25425ee41c30a195518528de}, that your child won’t become a problem gambler, but if you want to take some steps towards preventing problem gambling in your kids, the research would suggest you talk with your kids about gambling.

To send healthy messages to young people about gambling and ensure that they can keep it fun and healthy:

  • Ensure that you take any steps to deal with gambling if it’s a problem for you or for someone that you love
  • Teach children about gambling and the signs that gambling may be a problem for someone. When those advertisements pop up on television or computer screens, have a bit of a chat about what your child thinks they are and what they think they mean and what they are trying to get people to do
  • Help children with their decision making and problems solving and ensure they can weigh up the pros and cons of things before they take action. If your child is impulsive, it’s especially important that you promote problem solving and encourage them to stop and think before that act
  • Let them know the true odds of winning and help break down some myths and fallacies about gambling
  • Share fun teaching them card games and how to follow a team without needing to introduce money into the picture.

If you need to get help for yourself or for someone who is worrying you with their gambling, there are some fabulous resources for people with problem gambling as well as their families available at Gambling Help Online

Kids Help Line has some great resources for young people who have worries or low mood as well as having some information in relation to money issues

If you are a teacher or a mental health professional, there are a range of useful resources available using skills training, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Relapse Prevention Models.

The “best bet” is to spend time with your young people and help them with day to day decisions, taking considered time before acting, getting help early if there are any signs they are not coping with their lot in life, and making sure they can have fun without their needing to be some gain or win.

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