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How are children accessing gambling? by Patrick Foster, Founder and Director of GAM-Ed and Author of ‘Might Bite’

Gambling has changed, and as parents and carers we need to understand how it manifests in the modern world and how ever younger children are being drawn into it. In days gone by children simply would not have had access to gambling but the advent of loot-boxes, packs, skins and a plethora of other in-app or in-game purchases has changed all of that.

Often games appear innocent and in the early stages are about collecting credits rather than paying for add-ons, but many change and to reach the next level or get the next weapon or tool, players are encouraged to spend money. Not only can this quickly become very expensive but often the purchase is a gamble because there is no guarantee that what you are buying will move you forwards in the game, and the line between gambling and gaming becomes increasingly hard to see. The sooner we start approaching gambling and gaming as being intrinsically linked and the fact that often one creates a gateway for the other, the quicker we can react and prevent the issues of addiction and mental health which are becoming more and more prevalent across this generation.

As a former gambler I spend the majority of my working life sharing my story and experiences with young people, and I wanted to offer some advice to parents and teachers that I hope will help you to understand the dangers and pitfalls of these activities. So here goes:

The easiest way to think about this is A – B – C – D…

A – Awareness and Acceptance

  • Please take sufficient time to be aware of what your children are doing online when it comes to online gaming and gambling.
  • Try to be vigilant of and observe how much time they are spending on these games, what is their behaviour like when they are on them and off them.
  • Are you aware of any changes in behaviour over time and have you raised these with them?
  • You also need to accept that they are going to spend time gaming and potentially gambling (if they are legally allowed to) because it is now so engrained in culture and society. It is what young people do now and how they like to spend their time both socially and independently.
  • Total prevention or prohibition is not the solution and can create even bigger problems whether that is them doing it ‘underground’ or their reaction to you adopting this stance.

B – Boundaries and Barriers

  • Ensure that you set very clear boundaries with your children when it comes to online gaming and gambling; both in terms of opportunity and finance.
  • Limit what they can do, when they can do it and for how long.
  • These boundaries can always be loosened but it is much harder to have no boundaries and then become stricter or implement them at all.
  • Clear boundaries and mutual understanding and commitment is key. You may get ‘kick-back’ or resistance when implementing or suggesting boundaries but be firm – it’s worth it and essential in the long run.
  • It is also essential to implement and activate ‘parental controls’ or blocks. These will ensure that young people have definitive barriers in place to resist the temptation to do something, buy something or play something that they know they shouldn’t. This can be done on devices and specific games. All the information you require can be found here: https://www.esrb.org/tools-for-parents/parental-controls/

C – Clarity and Consistency

  • Be clear on what your children are playing and doing and what your expectations are.
  • Please ensure that you are aware of the ratings and content of every game that they are playing regularly.
  • There are very good reasons why there are age limits and laws around gambling and gaming, and ultimately its vital you adhere to these.
  • It is vital that you maintain an element of control and ensure that you dictate terms and be consistent with these and your messages.
  • It is easy for you not to have the knowledge, understanding or awareness and for them to take advantage of this and abuse this Please do what you can to ensure this isn’t the case.
  • It is all about control and moderation. If a young person can maintain control of time, money and their mental health then they will be able to maintain a ‘safe’ relationship.
  • Understand that it is so easy to lose ‘control’. The loss of any one of those three factors can be very dangerous. It is vital that both you and your children pay close attention to the impact on mental health. Anger, insomnia, low self-esteem or distress can all arise from a negative relationship with gambling and gaming. Staying in control of these is essential.
  • Something that consistently has a detrimental effect on wellbeing cannot be good for anyone.

D – Discussion and ‘Drawing the Line’

  • Talking is so powerful and the most important thing at all stages of any relationship with gambling and online gaming.
  • It is vital that you talk to your children about these topics. This promotes transparency and makes them aware that they can ask questions without being judged, put their hands up when they make mistakes without the fear of an adverse reaction, and have the confidence to speak up if needed.
  • Facilitate conversations with them, discuss your own relationship with gambling, talk about adverts, implications etc. It is all part of their education. Discuss stories that you read in the media about young people or others who highlight the dangers and pitfalls.
  • Remember to ‘draw the line’ somewhere. If you have concerns, act on instinct.
  • Talk to other parents about it regularly.
  • Sometimes it’s simply a case of saying ‘no’. Not always, but sometimes, and ensuring that you exercise saying ‘no’ when most needed. It can make the difference.
  • Moderation, understanding, awareness, vigilance and control are the keys to ensuring that you protect your young ones from ever suffering the harm that I did.

The ‘Do’s and Don’ts’ when it comes to protecting you son and daughter from the dangers of gambling

  • Don’t glamorise gambling in the household. Similarly, if one parent who glamorises it and one who hates it or completely discourages it, they will not know who to follow.
  • Don’t gamble in front of them.
  • Don’t be blasé about its dangers or indeed encourage them to gamble.
  • Don’t encourage or expose children to small bets from a young age (grand national, sports betting etc).
  • Don’t fund or enable gambling by giving them too much money or constantly ‘bailing’ them out or ‘topping’ them up when they have used it for gambling.
  • Don’t link your personal banking/credit card to games they are playing online.
  • Do encourage open and honest conversation from a young age.
  • Do lead by example – be honest about your relationship with gambling and your views.
  • Do set time limits for any online activities.
  • Do talk about the potential consequences of gambling.
  • Do promote responsibility.
  • Do manage and scrutinise finances if you have concerns or you are aware they partake in these activities a lot.
  • Do restrict access and opportunity.
  • Do encourage them to read literature – both about gambling, addiction and self-help books.
  • Do remove ads from all social media, reduce what they can see on YouTube. (block ads)
  • Do ask what they already know about gambling and their relationship with it.
  • Do make them understand what gambling is, even in its simplest form and further their education on an increasingly relevant topic.

Initiative conversations:

  • What are their favourite games and why?
  • Which games are on your children’s wish list(s)?
  • Which rating categories are OK for your children to play, which ones require permission, and which are off-limits? Don’t forget to give them your reasons too!
  • Are there specific types of content or content descriptors that are off limits?
  • Do any of the games your children play include online multiplayer features? If so:
  • Do they need permission before playing online?
  • Are there rules regarding with whom your children can play online?
  • Have your children ever seen or heard inappropriate behaviour from other players?
  • Do your children know what to do and whom to contact, if they’re being bullied or harassed online?
  • Do your children know to never give out personal information online?
  • Have you set parental controls on your family’s video game system(s), mobile device(s), and computer(s)? If so:
  • What’s the highest rating allowed?
  • Have you set restrictions on in-game purchases, time spent playing, internet and browser access, or with whom your children can play online?
  • Do you and your children understand what (if any) personal information will be collected in the game, why it’s being collected, and with whom it’s shared? (If not, check the game’s privacy policy.)
  • Are there other house rules regarding which games are allowed, when, and how long they can be played (like number of hours each day, only after homework and chores, etc.)?

Characteristics of someone who may be potentially most vulnerable:

  • High risk working environment – professional sport, financial services, gambling industry. (More relevant for adults and older people but useful for those of university age or young adults).
  • Access to money
  • Lack of money
  • Young for their age and naïve or someone who thinks they are invincible.
  • Negative life events, loss of job, death, relationships
  • Lonely or very independent people
  • Gambling to win money rather than enjoyment
  • Competitive people
  • All or nothing type person
  • Impulsive personality
  • People with a mood disorder
  • ADHD/ADD diagnosis
  • People who suffer with mental health issues
  • ‘Addictive Personality’

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