Are You Teaching Your Kids to Gamble?

Observational learning in adolescence describes the process where children learn by watching others, retaining the information, and then later replicating the behaviors that were observed. For most children, the experience occurs in the home as they observe their parents and siblings. The method is highly beneficial when activities are conducive to a healthy lifestyle such as exercising, reading a book, gardening, eating nutritious foods, creating art, and so forth. However, the method backfires when observations include activities that are potentially problematic if not outright unhealthy. For instance, adolescent use of alcohol and drugs can be directly linked to watching parents participate in consumption.

As it turns out, America’s teenage gambling problem is also linked to what goes on in the home, and in many cases the learned behavior begins with seemingly harmless things. It is especially concerning if there is a history of gambling disorder in the family.

Are you enabling and contributing to a culture of kids gambling? Let’s find out.

6 Ways Parents May be Enabling Kids Gambling in Their Very Own Homes

I. Hosting Poker Nights

It all began during the “boom” era of the 1950s. The Great Depression was a distant memory and the world wars had ceased. Industry was thriving, the economy grew, unemployment was low, and there was a sense of wonder that allowed households to engage in frivolous activities with friends, neighbors, and coworkers. The decade incited the rise of “poker nights” across the country, with grownups sitting around the table engaged in Texas hold ’em, 5-card draw, baccarat, and more. Chips piled up on the table, whiskey was poured, and money was won and lost as if there wasn’t a care in the world. All the while, young children watched from the corner of the living room, eagerly anticipating a future when they too could participate in what looked like so much fun.

Poker nights have persisted ever since, even if America’s sense of wonder and optimism has not. Gambling kids are born from observing their parents engage in game play of this nature. If cards are an important part of your leisure time, let others host while you have a trusted babysitter watch your kid/s.

2. Allowing Them to Play Certain Video Games

There are video games that parents may let their kids play that encourage gambling, or contain elements that are similar and initiate chemical reactions in the brain that align with those experienced when gambling. Obvious ones include Grand Theft Auto which features casino environments. Less obvious ones include those that your child may very well be playing today.

Roblox Corporation reports that in the first quarter of 2024, they had over 32 million daily active users of Roblox games under the age of 13. Roblox, along with Apex legends, FIFA, Mario Kart Tour, Overwatch, Star Wars Battlefront 2 all contain a feature known as loot boxes which are considered by experts to function a lot like gambling. Parents must now add gambling to their list of things to watch out for in video games which already includes themes relating to sex, drug use, and violence.

3. Gifting Scratch Tickets at Birthdays and Holidays

It has become unfortunately normal to tuck scratch lottery tickets into the Christmas stockings and birthday cards of adolescents in many households. This directly contributes to the rise of gambling kids in America, and is a practice that needs to end today. And for parents (and uncles/aunts) who don’t already know this – it’s illegal.

We also encourage parents to not let their children participate in activities associated with lottery. If they see you scratch tickets they may ask if they can do it, because it’s fun for them to unveil what may be a winning combination of numbers of symbols. Don’t let them. The anticipation they feel when using a coin to scrape away the silver gunk results in a dopamine release that is partly responsible for creating habitual behavior. Further, don’t allow them to get involved in the selection of lottery numbers when playing Powerball and the like. The “best practice” here is to not have them be present when purchasing and checking lottery tickets.

4. Taking Gambling Vacations

If you don’t want your child to get bitten by a rattlesnake, don’t take them on a hike through heavy underbrush in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona this summer. And if you don’t want them to potentially develop a gambling habit early in life, don’t take them to the gambling capitals of America.

Avoid vacations to Atlantic City, Las Vegas, and Reno where high-level exposure to gambling is inevitable. In addition, don’t stop at local casinos nor pull on one-armed bandits when pulling over at roadside diners when on road trips through states where on-premises gaming is permitted.

5. Getting Them Involved in Fantasy Sports

You don’t need us to tell you that if your child observes that you’re deeply engaged in sports betting, that they too may learn the behavior. However, you may have had them participate in your daily fantasy sports (DFS) picks in an innocuous effort to get them excited about the sports that you’re excited about. Woefully, DFS can be a gateway to sports betting and a problematic relationship with it for those who are vulnerable.

Let your kids enjoy sports fandom in it’s pure form. You can still get them involved in the statistical side of things by helping them build an impressive baseball card collection (or basketball, football, etc.) which is a call back to a more innocent time in sport that America needs at the moment.

6. Not Getting Help if You Have a Gambling Problem

If you find it hard to avoid any of the above, then you may need to look in the mirror. Check to see if you exhibit the signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling. If so, your child may have already picked up on it, and at the very least they will have observed and learned from your behaviors. If you don’t get help right away (as applicable) you place them at further risk. This all of the incentive you need to get help from an expert who specializes in the treatment of problem gambling for both individuals (click here) and members of their families (click here) who have been impacted.

Questions About Gambling Support Services for Yourself and/or Your Family?

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Kids Gambling