The vast majority of gambling is a healthy and fun activity that is carried out by adults as a way to unwind and inject a little excitement into the everyday. Whether you’re on a night on the town at a casino, spicing up a day at the races with a hopeful flutter, or getting competitive with your mates over the football, there are plenty of acceptable avenues for gaming that fit perfectly into a normal life.
However, gambling is rightly legally restricted to the over 18s in the UK, and there is increasing concern in the media (see the recent Daily Mail article here) about how it can affect the minds of children, who may not be emotionally ready to cope with gambling as a concept.
The world of gambling is much more accessible for children these days, with modern technology allowing access to age restricted gambling via mobile devices and tablets. A child who might have been turned away from a bookies with a clip round the ear 30 years ago can now access the same high stakes tables as any adult in an online casino, or make as many casual bets as they like on the football, with only their parents’ credit card information.
So in an age where this sort of technology has become pervasive, how can we help educate children about responsible gambling, and keep them away from sites that aren’t appropriate for their age?
Education, Education, Education
A great way to start a child on the road to a healthy relationship with gambling is to clearly and helpfully explain what gambling is, and what it isn’t. It may be tempting to avoid discussing the subject at all until your child is ‘old enough’, but a child will be exposed to a wide range of environments that mimic the adrenaline rush and excitement of gambling that actually have nothing to do with the gaming world, even at a very young age. Things that will have them gambling in all but name.
Online games are a staple of most young people’s lives, with everything from free arcade games on an iPad to a £50 blockbuster video game with a budget bigger than a movie readily available in shops. While parents may welcome games like this as a distraction for their kids, without a close eye on their activities, they can become a problem.
In-app purchases are part of even the most simple and free games, often utilised to let the player unlock extra content, unique items, or gain an advantage over rival players for money. While these extras may only cost a couple of pounds each, they can add up to a large amount of money over time. ‘Practice’ modes in games allow players to win more often, until they play with real money, and some games are released deliberately half-finished so that purchases are necessary for a compelling experience.
In this scenario, the child isn’t ‘gambling’ as such – they’re buying a product in the same way they’d pay for a bag of crisps or a Mars bar – but they are normalising the feeling of paying for a short thrill online that demands more money later on.
It’s important to explain to children the addictive nature of games like this in any conversation about gambling, because they can often be a gateway to more dangerous behaviour further down the line. Unlike an adult who knows that they are risking real money, the game presents the risk as a necessary part of the action – not a purchasing decision – which gets a child’s relationship with gaming off to a bad start. This is not the sort of gambling any gaming company would encourage, and not the healthy relationship they try to encourage in adults.
Setting kids straight about gambling is helpful, but it’s not always 100% effective.
Kids will be kids, after all, and even the most clued up youngster thinks they know better than their parents, and will be determined to try forbidden things even if they’re not allowed. Even innocent activities like online games and chat rooms that have in-app purchasing options can end up setting a bad precedent, and being a serious drain on your wallet. One solution is to use content filters to restrict what your child can do and see on the internet.
Most tablets and mobile devices now have a function that allows you to restrict the ability of apps on that device to spend money online, requiring a code to be typed in to give that app permission to make a transaction. Two levels of security are always better than one, and tech-savvy kids can often run rings around their parents online, so adding similar filters to your home broadband package can also help protect your children – once again preventing your computer from loading gambling sites without a password.
This way, your child will have to ask you before they can buy anything via the internet, which gives you the chance to have a conversation if you think their attitude is harmful. You don’t have to ban in-app purchases completely, but keeping a responsible cap is a good idea.
Keep An Eye Out
A key feature of the Daily Mail article referenced earlier is that the parents of the addicted kids had no idea that their child was spending so much money on games, apps or gambling websites. It’s important to keep an eye on your child’s behaviour, especially around technology, to spot any signs that they might be getting themselves into financial trouble.
Addictive behaviour is a common response to other external stress like exams, friendship groups or trouble in the home, and could be the reason a child is spending so much time glued to their tablet or up in their room. A sudden pre-occupation with their finances, sports results, televised poker or irritable behaviour when separated from their smart devices could also be a sign.
While a lot of these symptoms also sound like typical teenage activities, more than one or all of these put together could point to a negative pattern of behaviour that may indicate a gambling problem or addiction. In this scenario, you should also keep a close eye on your own finances, to see if there are any irregularities that could have been caused by theft or casual use of a parent’s card by a child.
A third of problem gamblers started their career when they were between the ages of 11 and 17, so it is definitely a formative period in a child’s life where positive messages about gambling and risk can be enormously beneficial.
Ultimately, there is no one factor that can prevent a child from being exposed to unhealthy signals about gambling when they are brought up. Emulating peers and parents is key to any child’s upbringing, so an open and honest relationship with gambling that allows children to see the fun and excitement as well as the risks is key to them growing up healthily. If your child or any child you know is exhibiting signs that they may have a problem, calling GambleAware for advice can be the first step to setting them on a better path, and a healthy relationship with gambling in the future.