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Tuesday, December 6, 2022

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Ask the Expert: Talking to Your Kids About Gambling and Gaming

Sponsored by Rappahannock Area Community Service Board

Sports betting became legal in Virginia at the start of 2021, and since then, Virginians have been exposed to an increased amount of advertising for sports betting and related gaming.

“The more you see it, the more it becomes normalized, and the more people are going to start participating in it,” said Anne Rogers, Problem Gambling Prevention Coordinator with the Office of Behavioral Health Wellness through the Virginia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services.

Rogers and others in the state who focus on mental health say it’s important for parents to understand that youth are more susceptible to problem gambling than adults because their brains are still developing. They urge parents to talk to kids about gambling in the same way they would talk about the risks of alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.

“I cannot tell you how many parents I have talked to who have talked about their child having a gaming or gambling problem that have said initially that they encouraged and supported their child’s gambling because it wasn’t drinking or drugs,” said Carolyn Hawley, an associate professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Counseling at Virginia Commonwealth University. “We have to shift that stance and recognize that there are harms associated with gambling.”

Virginia public schools will begin to incorporate gambling into the curriculum as early as this school year, thanks to recent state legislation.

While the legal age for gambling is 18 in Virginia, national statistics show that high school-age students are accessing online gambling sites. The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that 60% to 80% of U.S. high school students report having gambled for money within the past year.

Hawley emphasizes that gambling addiction is more prevalent among young people than it is in the adult population.  While gambling disorder affects an estimated 1 to 3 percent of adults, it impacts 4 to 8 percent of American youth. She also notes that studies have shown that gambling addiction has the highest suicide rate among all addictions.

Starting early leads to greater risk

Because children and teens haven’t developed the part of their brain that helps them with logic and executive function, both Rogers and Hawley say they are at heightened risk for problematic behaviors related to gambling.

“Their impulsivity is much higher than that of adults,” said Rogers. “Being impulsive is one of the risk factors for problem gambling, which is why if they start gambling early, kids are at higher risk to become problem gamblers than someone who starts as adult.”

And that start might not necessarily happen on a sports betting site. Social games such as Candy Crush and Fortnite use some of the same psychological principals that gambling sites use to keep kids hooked, and in some cases to encourage them to spend real money for rewards in their virtual realms.

“We do see more players playing social media games develop problems later on with gambling,” Hawley said. “It is believed to be kind of a gateway.”

Hawley is president of the board of the Virginia Council on Problem Gambling (VCPG). VCPG’s Virginia Problem Gambling Helpline (1-888-532-3500) is a resource for anyone in the commonwealth who is worried about problem gambling—for themselves or a loved one.

Starting in 2019, Hawley said, VCPG began to see a shift in the demographics of who was calling the hotline, from a more middle-aged caller to much younger callers, or parents calling on behalf of their children.

She says online gaming and gambling share some of the same addictive qualities, and while gaming may not come with the same financial ramifications as gambling, it can have some of the same mental-health consequences, such as depression, anxiety, loss of sleep and withdrawal from friends and activities.

Signs of a problem

Whether it’s gambling or any other online gaming experience, Hawley and Rogers say some of the behaviors that can indicate a problem include:

  • A dramatic increase of time spent on games/gambling.
  • Neglecting schoolwork.
  • Withdrawal from friends and activities.
  • Lack of sleep due to staying up all night gaming.
  • Anger when not able to access gaming devices.
  • Deteriorating health stemming from addictive behaviors.

 

Signs that there is a gambling problem include:

  • Selling personal belongings, borrowing money, stealing or lying to finance gambling.
  • Major changes in a child’s friend group.
  • Debt that the child can’t explain.
  • Absences from school, not completing school work.
  • Hours spent on betting sites.
  • Obsession with televised sports, sports statistics. An inability to enjoy sports if their team isn’t winning.

Be vigilant, talk early

The strategy for parents, say both Hawley and Rogers, is to talk to kids early about the dangers of gambling, and to be aware of the kinds of games, apps and websites they are visiting on their devices.

Parents should:

  • Model responsible behavior around gambling and gaming, with time limits and firm rules on what is and isn’t acceptable.
  • Ask questions any time a child wants to use an adult’s credit card to make an online purchase. Be sure to fully understand where the money is going and what it is for. Disable in-app purchases on your child’s device.
  • Use news stories about lottery payouts and related topics to talk about odds, and the extremely low probability of winning these games of chance. Emphasize to kids that far more money is lost than won in gambling.
  • Take time to understand the apps your child asks to download—are they encouraging behaviors that could be addictive or encourage gambling? Do they include ads for websites or apps that encourage gambling?
  • Encourage your child to think critically about the logic of paying money for virtual “tokens” or “skins” in online games.
  • If a teenager is going to a friend’s house for a big sporting event, ask if there will be gambling in the same way you would ask if there will be drugs or alcohol. Make sure your teen understands the rules in your house around gambling.
  • Teach healthy spending habits, and talk to kids about what they would like to use or save their money for. Explain that gambling will inevitably lead to loss, and put them farther from their goals.

The Rappahannock Area Community Services Board can help connect parents with resources for talking to children about gambling and other addictive behaviors. Visit rappahannockareacsb.org to learn more.

Emily Freehling
Emily Freehling
Emily Freehling is an award-winning journalist who helps Fredericksburg Parent and Family's advertisers tell valuable stories through magazine advertorials and videos. Emily also produces content for a wide variety of other clients and outlets. Find her on LinkedIn and at emilyfreehling.com.

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