Support Healthy Choices in Youth Posted On

With summer on the horizon, youth will soon be out of school.  Without proper action, youth may choose to fill their time engaging in risky activities like gambling during their time off.  Let’s support youth and encourage healthy decision making by avoiding underage gambling. 

Youths’ Development

Youth, which includes school age and college aged youth, are going through a time of great development.  From the time they’re born, their body, most particularly their brains, go through many changes.  One of the last things to reach maturity is the youths’ prefrontal cortex, or the very front part of their brain just behind their forehead.  

“Why is this important?,” you might ask yourself.  The prefrontal cortex is the part of the brain responsible for weighing pros versus cons and decision making.  It’s extremely important to understand that without a fully developed prefrontal cortex, an individual will not always bel able to make the best decisions.  This is like a car completely built and ready to go without a well-connected steering wheel.  That driver may do their best to steer, but the car will ultimately not go in the best direction and can easily go astray.  

The brain is not fully developed until about the age of 25.  Therefore, youth who are on their way to age 25 are developing all parts of their mind and body, but just aren’t ready to make all decisions on their own.  As parents, guardians, and community leaders interested in supporting youth, it’s important to understand that before the age of 25, youth still need our support.  

Youth and Gambling

Knowing that youth are not fully matured and ready to make important decisions, it’s important to learn as much as we can so we can to support youth.  One of the things that we should be aware of are the risks associated with underage gambling.  Since youth can’t make the best decisions on their own, yet, we need to understand that there are consequences to youth gambling.  We need to understand that youth may choose to engage in risky activities that could have an effect on the development of their brains, and consequences on their future.  Some consequences of youth gambling include and increased risk of:

  • Poor academic performance,
  • Delinquency and crime,
  • Damaged relationships,
  • Mental health issues like depression and anxiety,
  • Substance use and abuse, and
  • Addiction.  

When anyone gambles, their brain releases dopamine, which makes them feel excited about the activity.  If the brain releases too much dopamine too often, the brain becomes reliant on that excessive dopamine to feel good.  Therefore, if youth choose to gamble to experience that excessive dose of dopamine, they may become reliant on gambling to feel good.  This reliance on gambling to feel good is how youth may develop a brain addicted to gambling.  

Supporting Healthy Youth

There are many ways that we can support the healthy development of our youth.  We need to learn as much as we can about the risks youth may be taking, and how we can motivate and inspire youth to make better choices for themselves.

Connect with youth.  Take the time to talk with youth.  Even if they seem distant, start with small chats and work your way up to asking questions about what they’re doing.  Ask them who they’re spending time with, and what they do together.  Make sure to ask direct questions, such as:

  • “Do you and your friends ever gamble?”
  • “What types of gambling activities do you engage in?”
  • “Do you know the risks associated with gambling?”

Find out what excites them.  Find out what makes them happy.  Without criticism, learn the things that they dream of for their future.  Remember, we all had many dreams as youth.  Support youths exploration of those dreams.  They can lead to some great self-discovery.

Support healthy choices.  Some examples of healthy choices are working on grades, joining an extracurricular activity, or starting an entrepreneurial endeavor such as a lemonade stand.  Connect with youth about why they’ve decided their choice is important to them.  Find out why it’s exciting to them and ask how you can support them.  Youth may experience healthy activities that will offer healthy levels of dopamine to make them feel good about their activities.

Celebrate youth.  Find any reason to celebrate their efforts.  If they’ve decided to take on a new endeavor, make it important.  When youth find success, find a way to celebrate the fruits of their labor.  If they find challenges, work with them to discover the great lessons they’ve learned along the way and make those the highlight of the chat.  

These activities can help steer youth away from risky choices, such as underage gambling.  Being supportive by taking the time to understand youth and celebrate with them will help inspire them to make healthier choices for themselves.  

Additional Resources

Even with our best efforts, youth may still choose to gamble and fall victim to the perils of problem gambling.  First, know that you are not alone in this struggle.  Second, know that there are resources available.

  • YOU(th) Decide offers a collection of resources and articles focused on the facts and consequences of underage gambling.  You’ll also find resources on how to take action to help reduce youth access to gambling by empowering them to make healthy choices for themselves. 
  • KnowTheOdds offers an ebook that focus on the Dangers of Youth Gambling Addiction and discusses warning signs and action steps to take to help prevent a youth from struggling.  
  • is the link to your local Problem Gambling Resource Center (PGRC).  Here, you’ll learn about services and contact information to connect with a trained professional dedicated to connecting you and your youth with resources and local help available.