Childhood gambling – how can I tell if my child is involved?

News that the NHS is opening a National Problem Gambling Clinic for children and young people aged 13 to 25 has brought childhood gambling into focus.  But why do children start gambling, and what signs should you be on the look-out for?

Why do children start gambling?

The reasons behind childhood gambling share a lot in common with why adults start.  One reason is how gambling is made to seem glamorous and fun, especially around premier league football and elite sport.  Children and young people are just as receptive to these messages as adults, but haven’t yet developed the critical thinking skills, or the ability to assess risk, that gambling requires.

As well as being widely advertised gambling is also widely accessible, especially through the internet.  If you’re concerned that your rules around screen time aren’t enough, you could always think about preventing access to gambling sites on your children’s devices.  These may not be fool-proof though, so if you are concerned about childhood gambling then it’s best to be aware of what to look for.

What signs should you look for?

Firstly, it is possible for children to run into gambling problems before they experience severe financial implications, and so you can’t rely on looking for these.

Secondly, these are general guidelines and shouldn’t be taken in isolation.  Think about whether your child’s behaviour has seen a marked or unexplained change, rather than just looking at the behaviour itself.

  • Have they become more secretive at home? 
  • Are they missing or acquiring possessions without being able to explain why? 
  • Have they started to borrow, steal, or lend money to friends or siblings?
  • Are they starting to be absent from school or part-time jobs?
  • Have their results or behaviour got worse at school?
  • Have they developed a sudden interest in a particular sport, or has an existing sporting interest changed focus to betting odds and outcomes?

If you answer ‘yes’ to some of these and you’re concerned then the first step is to have a conversation with them.  Try and find out the extent of any gambling activity, and check what they understand the risks are.  Don’t be afraid to take action before they find themselves in deeper emotional or financial trouble. 

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