There is a growing number of parents and community leaders with curiosities and worries about young gamers. Many people are asking if their youth is just playing a game, or actively gambling. This can feel troubling, but we’ll break it down and offer some tips.
Youth and Gaming
Youth who enjoy gaming do so for a variety of reasons. They may play because:
- of the fantasy aspect of being something spectacular like a war hero or an intergalactic celebrity;
- they’re tired and want to enjoy an activity that doesn’t take much physical effort;
- the communal aspect of playing a game with like-minded individuals makes competitive game of choice more fun;
- they may see gaming as a way to fit in with a crowd of youth who wouldn’t normally accept them;
- they use gaming as a way to escape their troubles from their daily lives;
- gaming is a way to be better than they view themselves in real life;
- they may be gambling in their chosen game.
There are a wide variety of reasons why a youth may choose to enjoy gaming. Some are healthy pieces of a well-rounded life. Some are not so healthy ways to avoid or cope with adversity. Either way, if they’re gambling in their gaming, they’re putting themselves at risk.
Youth Gambling in Gaming
Gambling opportunities in gaming are abundant, some of which are discussed in our previous blog post titled Gaming and Gambling: What Is It? While there are different ways that youth can gamble in a game, many times youth may not even know that they’re gambling. Other times, youth are very aware of their activities and need some guidance on healthier alternatives.
The reason we urge parents and community leaders to work with youth to reduce youth gambling is because there can be severe consequences. Youth who choose to start gambling run the risk of a list of consequences that include an increased risk of:
- Damaged or struggling relationships with loved ones and friends.
- Poor or suffering academic performance.
- Struggling with depression and/or anxiety.
- Delinquency and crime.
- Substance use, abuse, and possible addiction.
- Poor general health.
Youth at an Increased Risk
Youth are at an increased risk for problems from gambling because of the human brain’s development. The human brain develops from back to front with the last part of the brain being the pre-frontal cortex fully develops at around age 24, which is the part of the brain responsible for making good decisions. Before this part of the brain is fully developed, the brain does not have the biomechanics to make the best decisions for itself. This means that youth don’t have the full capacity to weigh the pros and cons of decisions. And, that their brains are not yet built to look into the distant future to consider possible negative consequences. Therefore, until around the age of 24, youth cannot always make the best choices for themselves.
This is very evident to those who have youth. As a society, we know that youth tend to follow a crowd or do things that bring them immediate enjoyment. Many times, things that bring us immediate enjoyment may not be the best things for us. This is why parents, loved ones and community leaders must work together to help guide youth to make healthy choices.
How to Help Youth
Talk to kids. Parents have a very strong influence on their kids, especially if they’ve nurtured a positive relationship. Talking to kids helps build the relationship and support regular dialogues about their lives, their troubles and their dreams. During these talks, pay attention for gambling language like betting, wagering, money, win back, or anything else that could elude to gambling. Ask them about their gaming and gambling habits and tell kids out right that you disapprove of youth gambling.
Support and promote healthy life skills. Youth can gain these skills by performing activities such as regular house chores, participation in team sports, volunteering in the community and enjoying outdoor activities. Performing activities like chores helps youth feel a stronger attachment to their home, feel like a participating member of the household, and gain a sense of pride when completed. Activities like helping others, team sports and volunteering teach time management and can help offer opportunities to learn how to deal with stress. Other skills like building relationships and appreciating the outdoors helps work on self-confidence, independence and a passion for life.
Set technology limits. Limit the number of minutes that a game can be played and the number of days that games can be played. Limit access to technology, such as smart phones, during homework and dinner time. These devices are a distraction from the important activity in the moment, such as doing well on their homework or nurturing family ties. Also limit access to gaming before and during bedtime. These limitations can help youth stay on track with the things that are important, and view gaming as a leisure side activity instead of the goal of their day.
Use Self-Screening tools. Gaming self-screening tools used by Online Gamers Anonymous can help those in question identify if they’re struggling with a problem. The simplest way to identify a problem is to ask if the activity of gaming is causing problems in the gamer’s life at school or work, and negatively affecting their relationships with people. If so, there may be a problem. The same is true about gambling problems. One self-screening tool for problem gambling is the 3-question Brief Biosocial Gambling Screen.
Leave with Confidence
While some kids use video games for a healthy recreational activity and socialization, some may be using video games to escape stress in their daily lives or to avoid face-to-face interaction. Additionally, youth may be participating in gambling activities within the games they play. We all want kids to be happy, healthy and safe. There are several things that we can do to support youth to develop other healthy activities and to keep kids safe from the consequences associated with youth gambling and excessive gaming. Let’s join together to keep kids safe!