With the legal age of gambling in the United States being 18 or 21 years old (depending on the state — in New Jersey, the legal gambling age is 21), there’s no reason you need to worry about your preteen or teenager developing a gambling problem, right? Unfortunately, this is not true.
With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, kids even as young as elementary school are being exposed to gambling ads, games that contain gambling elements, and influencers boasting about their successes with gambling. A study conducted by the Oregon State Department of Human Services found that one in ten teenagers are at risk of developing problems with gambling, while another research showed that 60-90% of teens engage in gambling behavior. Based on this information, it’s likely that your child has or will participate in some form of online gambling while they are still underage.
As a parent, is there anything you can do to help prevent your child from developing an online gambling problem? Yes, there is! First, let’s look at why your child may be in danger of becoming a problem gambler.
How Your Child Is Susceptible to Developing a Gambling Problem
While the most common forms of gambling that children and teenagers engage in are card games, lottery tickets, and scratch-offs, they are increasingly participating in online gambling through websites and apps because they are easy to access. As they become more serious in their gambling behavior, they may even engage in sports betting or horse race betting.
The physiological and social aspects of gambling can make it difficult for your child or teen to know when to quit. They’ll want to keep chasing this “high” even when they do not consciously know what they are doing.
The Effects of Gambling on Your Child’s Brain
Kids are drawn to gambling and gambling elements in their video games because their brains release a neurotransmitter called dopamine that makes them feel good. In the moment, it allows them to forget about the hard day they had at school and relieves the stress they feel over trying to figure out their future. Once their brain connects this good feeling with gambling, they will be drawn to the activity again and again. Eventually, the effects will wear off, and they’ll have to increase the stakes to achieve the same excitement. This is where gambling problems begin to develop.
The Power of Online Gaming That Mimics Gambling
It may not be labeled as outright gambling, but some of the features in the games your children play mimic gambling. For example, many mobile and online games ask players to pay real money for a chance to receive items that will help them progress. The thrill associated with the possibility of winning big or progressing further in a game encourages kids to keep playing and spending their own money (or yours).
The Influence of Social Media
Peer pressure isn’t something that occurs exclusively in the halls of your child’s school. It can also happen online. Many games have the ability for players to connect through a live chat during gameplay. In this chat, they can challenge each other and make live bets. To kids, this can seem like a fun and easy way to earn quick money, especially if they view themselves as experts at the game.
Additionally, children and teens are exposed to gambling promotions from some of their favorite social media influencers. When they see these messages about gambling (or games with gambling elements) from someone they trust, they are more likely to view gambling as acceptable and participate in the same activities.
8 Ways to Prevent Online Gambling Problems in Your Child
It’s much easier to manage your child’s draw to gambling while they are still young. You can help prevent online gambling behavior from developing in your child or teen in the following ways:
Additional Support for Your Child’s Gambling Behavior
As a parent, you want to protect your children from everything harmful. While some things are out of your control, you can help prevent your child from engaging in internet gambling by having an open and honest conversation about what gambling is, how dangerous it can be, and how it can affect the whole family.
If you need assistance talking with your child or managing their gambling behavior, you can call 1-800-GAMBLER for gambling support for the whole family. Experts are available 24/7 to help you find the resources and treatment your family needs.