Teenage gambling is a behavior that can be addicting and very problematic for some teenagers. It has been reported that 70+ percent of all teenagers engage in some form of gambling and that up to 1/3 of those may develop and actual addiction to gambling. Gambling is often not considered as serious as other addictions such as alcohol or drug use, however, it can be very destructive to both the lives of teenagers as well as of their families. A gambling addiction is a very real problems and like other addictions, many teenagers are not able to stop despite the negative consequences of their behavior. Teenagers with gambling addictions spend money faster than they have it and often resort to stealing or selling items as a means of getting more money so that they can get the “next win”. Teens may engage in gambling online, in poker games with friends or by betting on sports games. I have seen situations where teenagers lost interest in other activities because they are so preoccupied with their gambling. They are always looking for the rush of the next win or dealing with the stress of trying to find money to pay for their latest losses.
As with any addiction, it is best to intervene early on so, as a parent, it is important for you to be aware of the potential warning signs that your teenager may have a gambling problem:
- Either debt that cannot be explained or lost of money that cannot be explained
- Stealing from friends of family
- Missing household or personal items (which they may have sold)
- Appears to get very upset when watching sports on TV if particular teams are losing (beyond normal emotions associated with sports)
- Often on the computer or phone checking scores of games
- Borrowing significant amounts of money from friends or family
- Drug or alcohol use
- Distracted and decreased performance in school
- Gambling sites in browser history
None of these warning signs alone means your teenager has a problem with gambling, however, they are red flags and if you see them, you should investigate further.
As is the case with any addiction, intervening early on and getting professional help will increase the change of successful treatment. Gambling in teenagers should not be minimized – it is serious and can have very serious consequences. Teens who gamble self destruct financially but also often place themselves at serious physical risk if they are not able to pay back their debts. If you are a parent and are concerned that your teenager is gambling, you should get support for yourself and your teenager so that you can address this behavior in the most effective way.