Do you suspect that your teenager is gambling? Some recent studies have shown that teens who loved playing video games such as Rules of Survival, Maelstrom, Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG), Grand Theft Auto V, Destiny and Overwatch as children may have gotten a taste of gambling earlier than we think.
Stats show that children in the age group of 8-16 spend several hours per day playing video games. Many video games use gambling elements such as loot boxes, which encourage children to place bets using special digital currencies or fake money. Most parents are not aware that kids are getting introduced to gambling via popular video games.
These games also allow young players to purchase items with these currencies and enhance the gaming experience. This may introduce children to the concept of gambling way too early in life.
How can you know for sure that your teenager is gambling? Watch out for the following signs:
Excessive Interest in Gambling
Teens who have just started gambling usually talk about it a lot. All of a sudden, they will exhibit knowledge of gambling terms, gambling games, and gambling strategies. If you take the trouble of checking their belongings, you may discover gambling material such as lottery tickets, poker chips, casino sheets, bingo tickets, and others.
While previously they showed interest only in sports events, they will now show excessive interest in the outcomes of games, spending too much time checking sports scores online as well as in sports magazines and newspapers.
Teen problem gamblers are irritable, stressed, or constantly worried. They may also exhibit signs of depression and anxiety. If you notice a sudden change in your teen’s sleeping or eating patterns, you have to get into action at the earliest possible.
Teens who have started gambling will also win some money now and then. Be alert if they purchase something expensive with money you haven’t given them. When you confront them, they are unable to explain how they got so much money.
If your teen is gambling and losing, he/she will show excessive interest in money. Such teens may start borrowing heavily from anybody who cares to lend and will not be able to pay off the debts.
Teenagers fast turning into problem gamblers make desperate attempts to raise the money for gambling. In addition to borrowing from friends and family members, they may take steps as extreme as selling their valuables or getting involved in criminal activities.
Decline in Academic Performance
Teenagers with gambling problems skip classes and are unable to get good grades. They do badly in school because they skip classes frequently without providing any explanation for the same.
This is a tell-tale sign for all kinds of potential teen addictions – be it alcohol, drugs or gambling.
Withdrawal from Friends and Activities of Interest
Have you noticed that your teen is no longer interested in hanging out with friends? Teenage problem gamblers stop showing interest in things that they once enjoyed doing. This includes friends, sports, music, hobbies, and many others.
Missing Cash / Unaccounted Transactions
This may not be the case for most teens but there is evidence to show that teenagers gain access to their parent’s debit/ credit cards or bank details and use this to make purchases of loot boxes in video games or play online casino games. Most of the time the amounts used are small so that it does not get flagged.
Make sure your financial information is secure. Always check your statements to see if there are any unaccounted transactions. If there is, check and see if the purchase was used for video games or loot boxes.
Argument and Denial
When you confront such teens, they go on the defensive and say that there is no problem. They hide behind lies and claim that they are not at all interested in gambling.
And even if teen problem gamblers accept that they have a problem, they may argue with parents and caregivers and say that it is not as bad as taking drugs.
So now that you are sure that your teenager is gambling, what can you do about it?
Talk to Your Teen
If your child is excessively interested in video games with gambling themes, you must tell him/her about the dangers of such games. Help your teen to choose not to play such games.
Children need to understand that devices have to be used moderately and that spending too much time on the screen can be harmful. Help them to create healthier alternatives to screen use, including family outings, sports, music, and others.
Ask your teens to agree with you on rules regarding Internet use and screen time. This will force them to think of healthier ways to spend their time, thus limiting their access to harmful gambling content.
If you are unable to handle your teen on your own, you can approach the non-profit support groups GamCare, Gam-Anon, Action on Addiction, Families Anonymous, among others. These organizations provided the required help and support free of cost.
Understand that teen problem gamblers are also at risk for other harm including anti-social behavior, loss of non-gambling friends, depression and anxiety, poor grades in school, drug use, binge-drinking, and smoking.
Meanwhile, governments and child rights groups can protect children and teenagers by either restricting the time they spend on video games or banning them. In Nov 2019, for example, China passed laws to restrict video gaming time for children below 18.