Is My Child Gambling? Signs Parents Should Look Out For - Nemours Blog


Is My Child Gambling? Signs Parents Should Look Out For

Is My Child Gambling? Signs Parents Should Look Out For

Everyone is talking about “March Madness.” Many are tracking their brackets and bets closely. There is plenty of fun to be had cheering for our favorite basketball teams, but it’s also a good time to talk to your child about gambling.

You may think this conversation can start when your child is old enough to step into a casino. But for many kids, gambling starts much earlier. Sports betting, lottery tickets, and card games often start in middle school. Some online games bring gambling right to kids’ phones and computers. And these days it’s hard to turn on the TV without seeing a commercial glamorizing the many new avenues for wagering.

Here is some information to help you talk with your kids about gambling.

What Is Online Gambling?

Online gambling is any gambling done through the internet. Common types of online gambling include casino games (poker, slot machines) and sports betting. Money is bet (typically through a credit or debit card or e-cash like Venmo or PayPal) and can be won or lost. Online gambling is legal in most of the United States for adults over 21 (18 in some states).

How Do Kids and Teens Gamble Online?

Most online casinos have strict age requirements. They require multiple forms of ID for payouts. Generally, minors use a more subtle form of online gambling. There are video games set up to reward players. The rewards can be used on the video game site. But the rewards can also be used as currency on other websites for sports betting and other types of gambling. If you know how, this online currency can be converted to actual money.

Most young kids are not using online gaming to make actual money. More commonly, kids play video games that have gambling-like game design but the prizes aren’t converted to money. There are some studies that show these gambling-like video games may lead to gambling for money later.

Talking to Your Child About Gambling

Talking to your kids about gambling can help them make good choices. Start talking about gambling when your child is young and build on that conversation as they grow older. Try to stay curious without accusing your child of doing anything wrong. This way your child will feel comfortable talking to you as they learn about gambling. Here are some ideas for what to talk about:

  1. Start out basic. Does your child know the different kinds of gambling? They may think gambling only happens in casinos. Gambling has become so common, they may not realize that sports betting, lottery tickets, card games and certain online games are all forms of gambling.
  2. Explain what happens during gambling. Winning gives us a surge of brain chemicals that make us feel good. Just knowing we could win again makes us want to try again.
  3. Talk about online gambling, including video games that have a gambling-like game design. Help your kids understand that these video games work on their brains the same way that adult gambling does.
  4. Talk about the problems that can come from gambling such as:
    • Addiction to gambling
    • Losing large amounts of money
    • Getting arrested and/or fined, if underage
    • Problems with relationships, mental health, drugs and alcohol, and money.
  5. Remind your child that gambling is illegal under age 21 (18 in some states). If they gamble online or at a casino, they are breaking the law. If caught, they can be arrested and fined.
  6. Tell your child you don’t want them to gamble. Set a good example with your own behavior. If you or another family member has a gambling problem, help is available at National Council on Problem Gambling or 1-800-522-4700.
  7. Talk about healthy TV, video game, and internet behaviors such as limiting screen time, keeping screens in a common area, and doing lots of screen-free activities. Consider using parental controls to check your child’s activity, limit certain content, and put limits on the amount of screen time. Parental controls can be put in place through your internet provider or by purchasing software.

How To Know If Your Child or Teen Has a Problem With Gambling

Warning signs of a gambling problem in kids and teens can include:

  • Being very secretive about what they do online
  • Increased interest in sports—not just a favorite team, but scores from many games
  • Checking their phone constantly during sporting events
  • Intense interest if other people start talking about gambling
  • Owing money to others
  • Spending a lot of money
  • Frequently asking for money
  • Stealing
  • Having betting sheets, lottery tickets, casino chips and other gambling materials
  • A sudden knowledge of gambling terms, like “spread,” “line,” and “parlay”

If you are worried your child has a problem with gambling, talk to your health care provider. They can help you find a counselor, psychologist, or social worker to talk with your child.

Amy Anzilotti, MD

Amy Anzilotti, MD, is a general pediatrician and a medical editor at Nemours KidsHealth.