Gambling holds an inherent fascination for many people, teenagers included. It seems like a high-thrills way to make money—lots of money. Some teenagers even live with government-sanctioned gambling every day. For example, when a teen’s parent buys a lottery ticket and jokes about winning big, that is a way of fueling the teen’s lofty dreams of riches. Learn about Gambling Addiction Now!
It’s important to understand what exactly gambling is. According to kidshealth.org, it occurs when a person participates in any activity where money or some kind of good is spent in hopes of netting a reward such as more money.
Winning and losing at gambling often come down to chance. Examples of this sort of gambling include lotteries and slot machines. However, research and skill can bolster the odds of winning some activities such as darts, blackjack and horse racing. But even in blackjack and horse racing, much of the game comes down to chance.
Teenagers find many ways to gamble. They include:
- Online casinos
- Betting on sports
- Card games with same-age peers and older people
- Scratch cards
- Throwing dice anywhere, even in school bathrooms
Why Gambling Is Bad for Teenagers
Make no mistake, gambling can be prohibitively expensive. Streaks of fantastic luck prove deceptive and always lead to plunging lows. Once someone has started winning big, it’s hard to stop, and that person ends up owing money. Here are other ways gambling can affect teenagers.
- They may put up valuable objects as collateral (car, jewelry, etc.).
- They may steal and lie to acquire money and collateral. Legal problems often result.
- They may lose interest in school, work and other goings-on.
- Their moods may swing up and down a lot, depending on their current gambling fortunes.
- Gambling losses can lead to depression, anger and suicide attempts.
- Personality changes and stealing can drive away friends and family and cause tremendous stress.
As gambling becomes a larger presence in someone’s life, it can alienate friends and loved ones and cause friction and bad feelings at home.
Why Teenagers Gamble
Gambling addiction is a serious issue in itself. But the ramifications are even graver because this addiction can serve as a gateway for other problems such as drug addiction. So why do people—especially teenagers—gamble? The opportunity to earn money is only a small part of the story.
- Thrills: The high from a gambling win is much like a drug high or the high of a person in love)
- To combat boredom/to escape from problems: Teenagers are limited in many ways. Some can’t drive; they don’t have licenses or cars. They can’t drink or stay out too late. Gambling is an activity that fits within many of these limitations, but once the cycle of risk and reward begins, it’s difficult to break out of.
- Exposure through family and friends: Many teens grow up seeing their mothers or fathers get together with a bunch of pals for poker night or playing the lottery. Some may have fond memories of going with a grandfather to a race track or seeing family members placing informal bets on sporting events with one another.
- Glamour in the media: The media, such as movies, usually give gambling a flashy treatment. Glitzy casinos, drop-dead gorgeous people, lavish suites dripping with wealth. The bad—and realistic—side of gambling is rarely shown.
What Parents and Family Members Can Do
If parents gamble, they don’t necessarily need to stop—but they do need to make sure they are gambling responsibly and that their teens are aware of the consequences of gambling. Here are some proactive measures parents can take.
- Ensure teens have plenty of healthy and accessible activities to choose from, especially if a teen is in a high-risk category (see section below).
- Initiate open discussions about the dangers of various addictions such as gambling
- Discuss partaking in activities in moderation
Is Anyone at More Risk?
Not surprisingly, some groups of teens are more prone to becoming addicted to gambling. These groups include teenagers with lower impulse control (for example, these with ADHD). Thrill seekers and teens who easily become bored also fall in the higher-risk category.
Signs of Gambling Addiction
Gambling addiction doesn’t come with the same symptoms drug addiction or alcohol addiction does and can be tough to spot. But there are ways to tell if a teen may have a gambling problem.
- Always asking for money/losing money OR always seems to have too much money
- Legal trouble/police arrests
- Grades dropping
- Strangers calling often
- Personal items disappearing
Social teenage gambling often occurs and does not necessarily mean a teen has a problem. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, teens who gamble but who aren’t addicted:
- come with a certain amount of money and have no problem walking away once it is gone. No putting up more goods at risk.
- do so for fun and don’t feel a need to continue
- play games with small stakes
- only play with friends and no more than once or twice weekly
Here are questions a parent can ask a teen who has been gambling. If the answer to as few as two is “yes,” the teen may be addicted.
- Is gambling on your mind increasingly often, and do you obsess over the next time you’ll get to gamble?
- Is gambling the number one way you spend your time?
- Is gambling the number-one thing you think about?
- Is gambling affecting your finances? For example, are you using bus money for gambling?
- Have you stolen anything, including money, to help fund gambling?
- Have you hidden gambling through lying and/or omission?
- Have you turned to other illegal activities?
- Is leaving a game once you’ve started getting harder and harder?
- Is boredom and/or escape a reason you gamble?
- Have you tried to quit and not been able to?
- Has gambling caused suicidal thoughts?
Gambling Addiction Treatment
If a teen has a gambling problem, or a suspected problem, a parent should talk to the teen if possible.
- Pick a time and place where there will be no interruptions.
- No accusations and judgments should be made.
- Use “I” statements (“I am afraid you might have a gambling problem.”)
- Use specific examples (“I’m worried that your grades will continue to drop; right now, they’re Ds when they used to be As.”
- Urge the teen to call a gambling hotline (there are several national ones as well as state-sponsored ones). Counseling is free and private.
If a parent doesn’t feel comfortable having such a conversation, he or she should turn to another adult or older teen the child trusts. A school counselor is also a possibility. However, at some point, the parent has to enter the picture.
Other things parents can do:
- Find new activities and hobbies for the teen.
- Spend more time with the teen.
- Limit access to computers and credit cards.
- Arrange for in-person therapy.
- Find gambling addiction stories online and use them as examples to teens that the addictions can be overcome.
Patience is necessary. There may be several steps forward and several back, and some slip-ups before the addiction is broken. Also, there is no one-fits-all counseling method. Putting in the time to find the right match with a therapist is worthwhile.