Your Kid and Gambling: What to Know and Teach Them about Risk-Taking

You might have experienced your heart jumping into your throat as you witnessed your kid jump from the coffee table to the couch in an Evel Knievel-style stunt – exciting and risky activities can be very appealing to kids. 

Because kids don’t always understand or fully acknowledge the impact of their decisions and actions, risk-taking activities like gambling can be an alluring activity that can lead to problems later in life. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, approximately 4-5% of youth ages 12-17 meet one or more criteria of having a gambling problem.

While kids aren’t playing slot machines, they may be exposed to gambling in other areas of their lives. Maybe a family member let them scratch off a lottery ticket, or they bet $5 on a sports game with friends at school, or they open loot boxes in video games, which mimics gambling.

Although not everyone who gambles develops a problem with gambling, it is an activity that involves risk, and talking with your kid at an early age can help them understand those risks and avoid harmful behaviors. 

What can “problem gambling” look like in kids?

“Problem gambling” covers a range of issues from mild to severe, the most extreme of which can be an addiction or “gambling disorder.” A gambling disorder can lead people to become obsessive about gambling to the point where most of their thoughts revolve around gambling; for kids who struggle with a gambling disorder, they may fixate on the social aspects of gambling with friends or trying to win prizes. It can affect people just like alcohol and drug addictions can. 

In fact, a gambling disorder is a mental health condition that should be diagnosed by a mental health professional, just like alcohol and drug disorders. The good news is that it’s treatable – things like counseling, support groups or, in certain cases, prescription medications can really help those who are diagnosed.

Here are some of the signs of problem gambling in kids:

  • Spends hours on online gaming sites.
  • Obsessed with sports scores.
  • Begins to sell personal belongings.
  • Borrows money from friends and family and does not repay it.
  • Has large amounts of cash that can’t be explained.
  • Has a large amount of debt that can’t be explained.
  • Skips out on hanging out with friends/family regularly or misses activities.
  • Appears distracted and anxious; can be moody or depressed.
  • Unexplained absences from school or extracurricular activities.
  • Breaks curfew regularly.

What can you do to help your kid know the risks of gambling?

Research shows that parents have the power to make a difference in how their kids respond to risky activities.

By educating yourself on problem gambling and what to look out for, you can start the conversation with your kid at an early age. Since kids can start gambling as early as elementary school, the International Center for Responsible Gaming (ICRG) suggests that parents start talking with their kids about gambling between ages 9 and 13. The ICRG also has online resources for parents on how to get the conversation started. But it’s also never too late to start the conversation if you haven’t yet.

That conversation may seem daunting, but it’s an important one not to shy away from. Plus, you don’t have to give a long lecture about gambling; in fact, you should look for natural ways to bring up the topic, maybe while you’re watching a sports game together, or listening to the radio when they talk about a lottery winner, etc. This article has even more tips on making the conversation easier and more meaningful.

Where you can find professional help

If your kid is struggling with school, family relationships or anything else in life due to gambling, get them help. 

There are free and low-cost counseling options for Nevadans who may be experiencing harm related to gambling – find these resources and more on the Project Worth website, which is a program offered by the State of Nevada Health and Human Services’ Problem Gambling Services. 
Plus, there are a variety of recovery groups and communities to explore and join at no cost. Learn more about recovery resources available nationwide on the National Council on Problem Gambling website.

This article was written by the Nevada Advisory Committee on Problem Gambling: This Committee serves the Nevada State Department of Health and Human Services’ Problem Gambling Services program to support effective problem gambling prevention, education, treatment, and research programs throughout Nevada.

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