Gambling has become a highly visible part of our day-to-day lives. Today's children and youth are the first generation to grow up with gambling all around them. Digital technology plays a large role in the daily life of children and youth. It's important to be aware of what your child is doing online. As ways of gambling have gone from traditional gambling to online gambling, children and youth are seeing more marketing about online gambling or gambling-like activities. This includes ads, apps, video games, and social networking sites.
Although most regulated gambling activities are not legal until the age of 18 or 19 in Canada, children and youth still take part in various types of gambling activities. As parents and guardians, you have an important role in what you teach your child, directly and indirectly, about gambling before it becomes a problem.
What are we dealing with?
Here's what research in Alberta tells us.
- About 4 out of 10 young people gamble. That means that just over half of young people don't gamble.
- Almost 4 out of 10 of the young people who gamble aren't problem gamblers.
- About 3 out of 100 young people who gamble are at risk for developing problems with gambling.
- About 2 out of 100 young people who gamble are problem gamblers.
It's important to know that not all gambling is a problem or a disease. Gambling as an activity occurs along a continuum from harmless fun to problems or addiction.
Problem gambling is any gambling behaviour that is causing trouble in your life, or the lives of people close to you like family or friends. It's not just about losing money. If the gambling activity is no longer fun and disrupts regular activities, then gambling is a problem. Disruptions or problems could include missing school or work, having more arguments than usual with family or friends, or worrying about money that's been lost.
It's also important to be aware of problems with gambling in your child and get help as soon as possible. Problem gambling has been linked to substance use, depression, anxiety, suicide, and poor overall health.
Why do young people say they gamble?
Young people say they gamble for entertainment or fun, for excitement or as a challenge, and to win money.
- They don't see betting as gambling; instead, they see it as a natural part of what they do.
- For most young people who are problem gamblers, gambling was a common and visible activity in their home.
- Young people who are problem gamblers usually had early gambling experience, often with a parent or guardian or someone else they look up to.
- Much of their gambling involves informal bets with family or friends. For example,
- playing cards or board games for money
- betting on the outcome of sports events
- playing games of skill such as pool, golf, or darts for money.
Young people with gambling problems were also likely to use tobacco and alcohol more heavily than most in their age group. They also are more likely to have used cannabis.
What are some signs of gambling problems in young people?
Watch for changes in behaviour or what your child is paying attention to. Some examples include:
- health problems, such as more headaches and stomachaches than usual, changes in sleeping or eating patterns or staying up late to play games on their phone
- missing school, work, or important events with friends and family to gamble
- losing interest in other activities they used to enjoy
- using money for gambling that was meant for something else
- betting money they don't have, going into debt because of gambling
- selling, giving away, or losing things that belong to them
- suddenly having extra money and expensive items
- stealing money or items from other family, friends, or stores
- monitoring sports results very closely
- becoming overly excited or depressed at the outcome of sports events
- using gambling apps on their phone or websites in their computer browser cache
- creating opportunities to gamble, like turning games into chances to bet
- always thinking about activities related to gambling
- having difficulty cutting down or stopping gambling
What can I do to prevent gambling problems?
Many things shape the choices your child or youth will make about gambling. In the same way that you have guided them on important issues before, you can influence your child about gambling. How you do this depends how old your child is, and your family values and experiences.
Be clear about your values and what you think about gambling. Talk about these with your children in ways they can understand.
Your family values and experiences also play and important role. Talk about how you feel about money, competition, and the place of betting as a recreational activity. Notice and guide what values your child or youth starts to develop.
If you gamble, think about what spoken and unspoken messages you may be giving to your children about gambling. Explain to them what a gambling problem is, using examples they can understand, and let them ask questions. If they do gamble or may have a problem with it, try to reduce any stigma or blame. Reassure them that they're not alone and help is available.
Gambling is a problem if it causes financial, personal, or other problems for the gambler or those close to them. It can cause problems just once in a while (for example, being late with paying for their phone bill some month) or it can be and ongoing problem (for example, gambling with money that was meant for day-to-day expenses).
Encourage your child or youth to develop a variety of different skills and interests in their spare time. Spend time doing things with them.
Focus on their strengths to help them develop a strong sense of self-worth.
Develop a trusting relationship with your child, balancing their need for independence with your need to monitor their attitudes and behaviour related to gambling.
Steps you can take to keep your child or youth safe online (called cybersecurity) include:
- changing passwords on apps at regular intervals
- disable or manage pop-ups
- limit internet access to only sessions that are supervised
- set a timer and monitor how long they're on the internet
- help them keep their identity protected
- consider cancelling access to your credit cards
- remove all devices from bedrooms at night
A little prevention now can go a long way later.
Many children and young people don't see betting as a big deal. For many that's probably true. The concern, however, is that young people who make gambling a regular part of their recreation now may carry that behaviour with them as they get older. As an adult, when they can get into gambling venues (like casinos and bars), habits and problems can increase when they have a higher income and access to credit.
If you're worried that you or someone you know may be having problems with gambling, help is available. Addiction treatment services are voluntary and private (confidential). For more information and to find an addiction services office near you, call the Addiction Help Line. Help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
To find more information about gambling visit:
Growing up online
GameSense Alberta | Responsible Gambling
Teen gambling: What parents should know | Caring for kids