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Youth Gaming and Gambling

There is a growing number of parents and community influencers asking about gambling in gaming. The line between youth gaming and gambling is becoming increasingly blurred. This can cause worry, but let’s break it down and identify some tips.

Youth and Gaming

Youth gamers (youth who enjoy gaming) enjoy games for several reasons, including:

  • the fantasy aspect of being something spectacular like a war hero, an intergalactic celebrity, etc.;
  • they want to enjoy an activity that doesn’t take much physical effort;
  • gaming brings fun competition among friends;
  • they use gaming as a way to escape a stressful situation; and/or
  • they may be gambling in their chosen game.

Some reasons youth enjoy gaming are healthy pieces of a well-rounded life.  Some are not so healthy ways to avoid or cope with adversity.  Either way, if they’re gambling in their gaming, they’re putting themselves at risk for gambling-related problems and posibly a gambling addiction.

Youth Gambling in Gaming

Gambling opportunities in gaming are abundant, some of which are discussed in a Know The Odds blog post titled Gaming and Gambling: What Is It?  While there are different ways that youth can gamble in a game, many times youth may not even know that they’re gambling.  Whether or not youth are aware that their gaming activities include gambling, they need guidance and boundaries.

The reason we urge parents and community influencers to discuss gaming, gambling and offer boundaries is because there can be severe consequences. Youth who choose to start gambling run the risk of a list of consequences that include an increased risk of:

  • Delinquency and crime;
  • Drop in academic performance;
  • Struggles with depression and/or anxiety;
  • Substance use, abuse, and possible addiction; and
  • Damaged relationships with friends and loved ones.

Youth at an Increased Risk

Youth are at an increased risk for problems from gambling because of the human brain’s development.  The human brain develops from back to front. The front of the brain (the pre-frontal cortex) is last part of the brain to fully develop at around age 24. This part of the brain is responsible for making good decisions.  Before the prefrontal cortex is fully developed, the brain does not have the full capability to make the best decisions on its own.  This means that youth don’t have the full capacity to weigh the pros and cons of their decisions, including their gambling behaviors.  Additionally, youths’ brains are not yet wired to look into their future to consider the possible negative consequences.  Therefore, until around the age of 24, youth cannot make the best choices for themselves without support.

Many parents with teenagers know this. This is why parents breath sigh of stress when they’re asked, “do you have teenagers?” The teenage brain is going through a rapid development. Part of that development is to try and experience lots of activities, emotions and relationships as their brain identifies their likes and dislikes. As the brain finishes this massive development stage, the activities, emotions and relationships that bring the most pleasure are hard wired in. Therefore, youth who find pleasure in gambling will hard-wire gambling as an activity to enjoy, especially during challenging times. As a youth, this reliance on gambling can pave the way to gambling problems.

Tips to Support Healthy Youth

Talk to kids.  Parents have a very strong influence on their kids, especially if they’ve nurtured a positive relationship.  Talking to kids helps strengthen their relationship with regular supportive parents about their lives, their troubles and their dreams.  During these talks, parents should pay attention for gambling language like betting, wagering, win back, or anything else that could elude to gambling.  Parents can ask them about their gaming and gambling habits and tell kids out right that they disapprove of youth gambling. 

Support and promote healthy life skills.  Youth can gain healthy life skills by performing activities such as regular house chores, participation in team sports, volunteering in the community and enjoying outdoor activities.  Performing activities like chores helps youth feel a stronger attachment to their home, feel like a participating member of the household, and gain a sense of pride when completed.  Activities like helping others, team sports and volunteering teach responsibility, problem solving, and time management.  Other skills like building relationships and appreciating the outdoors helps work on self-confidence, independence and a passion for life. These are many types healthy life skills.

Set technology limits.  Parents can limit the number of hours and/or days that a game can be played.  Limit access to technology, such as smart phones, especially during homework and dinner time. These devices are a distraction from the important activity in the moment, such as doing well on their homework or nurturing family ties.  Also, parents can limit access to gaming before and during bedtime.  These limitations can help youth stay on track with the things that are important, and view gaming as a leisure side activity instead of the goal of their day. 

Gaming is a privilege. Parents can make it clear to youth that gaming is a privilege. Gaming is not a necessary activity and should only be seen as leisure. It is a privilege because within their home, their parents are allowing them to use the TV, internet and electricity that the parent(s) pay for. Therefore, games should not be seen as an entitlement, but instead as a privilege parents allow their youth to participate in within their home, just like any other paid or unpaid privilege.

Use Self-Screening tools. If a parent is worried about their youth, the simplest way to identify a problem is to ask, is this activity causing problems in the youth’s life at school, work, or at home.  If so, there may be a problem.  A quick self-screening tool for problem gambling is the 3-question Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen. Additionally, a more in-depth problem gambling self-screening tool is the E-Screener, which can be found on the NYS Problem Gambling Resource Center’s website. This is similar to finding out about gaming problems.  A gaming self-screening tool used by Online Gamers Anonymous can help those in question identify if they’re struggling with a gaming problem.  

Leave with Confidence

While some kids use video games for a healthy recreational activity and socialization, some youth may be participating in gambling activities within the games. We all want kids to be happy, healthy and safe.  There are several things that we can do to support youths’ healthy development (stated above). These tips can help keep kids stay safe from the consequences associated with youth gambling and excessive gaming.  Let’s join together to keep kids safe!

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