Face it, your kids are going to use the internet whether you like it or not, whether you give them permission or not. About a decade ago, parents and teachers alike have tried to restrict kids’ access to the internet, believing it was the best thing to do for the younger generation, and actually thinking it can be done.
It wasn’t long before they realised that internet availability was just too widespread and kids were too tech-savvy for parents and teachers to ever succeed in completely preventing them from using the internet. The best thing to do, therefore, is not to keep them from logging on to the internet, but make sure they use it in a positive manner. As parents and teachers, you have to set rules and monitor how your kids use technology.
The internet can be highly advantageous when it comes to your kids studies, as it can help them with research. It can also provide kids with entertainment right within the comfort of your home, thereby helping assure you that they aren’t getting into trouble somewhere else. However, the internet also has some not-so-good aspects you need to protect your kids from. For one thing, there are now a lot of predators lurking in the worldwide web, seeking their next victims.
Additionally, some games found on the internet can lead kids to enter the world of gambling. And while a little betting fun from time to time may not cause harm to your child, you have to be vigilant and make sure your kids do not ultimately develop a gambling problem. Just as you need to regulate your kids’ screen time, you also have to make sure any betting activities they may indulge in on the internet are kept at a reasonable and healthy level.
What Constitutes Gambling
Gambling means any activity which involves risking money or any valuable object, with the end result being highly dependent on chance. Gambling can take the form of lotteries, bingo, betting card games, private sports betting, casino games, video game terminals, online games, and dice games, among others.
If you’re still wondering whether your kids, especially teenage kids, are gambling or have ever gambled, you can bet a month’s salary that they probably have gambled at least once before. In fact, when asked, most teenagers say they have gambled at least once, and they have done this either at home or in school. It is therefore important for you to be alert to your kids’ online habits. Among other things, you need to be aware of the following:
- Most children start gambling with family members. Perhaps you bought lottery cards in their presence, which led to them buying tickets for themselves as well. Or they may have started playing cards with cousins or bingo at family reunions. Some of them may even have received lottery tickets or scratch cards as presents.
- Underage gambling has become more common in recent years and may start as early as 9 or 10 years old.
- Kids typically gamble more with friends and classmates as they grow older.
- Gambling problems are more common among boys.
When does gambling become a problem?
Problem gambling, or gambling addiction, is categorised as a process addiction. Until recently, people were reluctant to place them under the same category as substance abuse addictions. Gambling addiction, therefore, used to be placed in a completely different category from alcoholism and drug addiction. The thinking in the past was that gambling addiction wasn’t really as bad as ingesting an addictive substance.
However, people’s understanding of addiction has evolved over the years, and it is now more clearly understood that addiction is generally a brain-based disease. This means a drug addict isn’t really addicted to the drug, but to the way the drug makes their brain react. Studies have also found that gambling addiction makes the brain behave in exactly the same way as drug addiction does. This means drugs and gambling can actually be equally addicting.
The psychiatric community now recognises that gambling addiction is a real concern, particularly in a world where online betting activities are more accessible than ever. You, therefore, have every right to be concerned if you observe your kids starting to gamble online. Gambling is fine as a pastime, but you have to closely monitor your kids’ activities and realise that gambling can be categorised as a problem when:
- Your kids spend more money gambling than they intend to.
- Your kids play for much longer than originally planned.
- They choose to gamble rather than take care of responsibilities such as studying for exams or helping out with household chores.
- Your kids cannot stop thinking about gambling or games.
- They have difficulty ending a game or cutting down on their gambling time.
Signs of Problem Gambling
Now that you have an idea of when gambling can be considered a problem, the next important thing is to recognise the signs of problem gambling. Note that it does not matter how young your child is, it is always worth taking a closer look if you notice any sign of gambling addiction. According to a study conducted by the UK National Council on Problem Gambling, young problem gamblers started at around 8 years old. Here are some of the warning signs you need to be on the lookout for:
- Physical changes: being constantly tired, having trouble sleeping, having trouble focusing, becoming forgetful, eating significantly more or less than usual
- Emotional struggles: showing signs of anxiety, mood swings, showing signs of depression
- Money problems: borrowing money from family and friends, increased spending, asking for an allowance increase for no apparent reason, maybe even stealing money from you
- Problems in school: failing grades, attendance issues, behavioural issues
- Growing problems in relationships (perhaps withdrawing from family and friends)
- Suddenly hanging out with a new social group (often not introducing them to family)
- Gambling lingo creeping into casual conversations
- Consumption of alcohol or drug use
Protecting Your Kids
Naturally, you would want to protect your kids and keep them from developing a gambling problem. The good news is that there are things you can do and steps you can take to help ensure that your kids’ gambling activities remain a form of entertainment and do not turn into an addiction.
- Be involved. Talk with your kids regularly and listen attentively when they tell you about how their day went or how they feel about certain things. Allow then to tell you about what they do with their friends and what kind of places they visit regularly. This will give you an idea of whether your kids are hanging out with the right kind of people or not.
- Set clear rules. Make sure your kids understand the rules of your household and the corresponding consequences. Make sure as well that they understand the reason for the rules. Most importantly, be firm in implementing your household rules.
- Try to eliminate gambling activities from your kids online repertoire, and replace them with other fun activities, preferably ones that promote family bonding. If you cannot completely cut off gambling from your kids’ activities, at least find a way to limit it so you can make sure your kids do not become addicted.
- On one of your conversations, explain to your kids why you are limiting their gambling activities. Do your best to make them understand the risks and the possible consequences of gambling addiction.
- Lead by example. Most kids learn to gamble because they see their parents engage in gambling activities. If you talk to your kids about responsible gambling habits, such as setting limits and gambling in moderation, then make sure you set limits for yourself and gambling in moderation as well. When your kids see you being a responsible gambler, then they will be more likely to act responsibly towards gambling as well.
- Monitor your kids’ computer and tablet or phone to see how many gambling apps they have and how much time and money they’re spending on gambling activities.
What if it’s too late and your child is already exhibiting signs of gambling addiction? Is there anything you can still do? Well, the good news is that help is available for both you and your kids. Talk to your health professional, as they are the best people to point you in the right direction towards getting treatment for your child. Many communities now have gambling hotlines and support programs for the youth. There are also resources available to help you be informed.
Helping Your Kids Use the Internet Positively
As you probably know by now, you can’t just expect kids to do something because you told them to. So if you want them to use the internet in a positive and productive manner, there are things you will have to do to make sure that happens.
1. Mould the Attitude
Focus first on developing the right attitude in your kids. Ask them if they like being tricked, cheated, or being called names. Emphasize why it isn’t right to use foul language or treat other people in a negative manner. Bear in mind that as they grow, they will be influenced by other kids in school or other adults outside your home. Prepare them by building their character as early as possible before letting them use the internet.
2. Cover the Basics
If your kids are relatively young, it’s a good idea to restrict internet usage until the age of 8 or 9. This is generally deemed the ideal age to start granting basic internet use. What’s important is for you to be the one to introduce your kids to the internet and not their friends. This way, you will be your kids’ go-to person when they run into net-related problems.
3. Set Internet Rules
Do not allow your kids to share personal information on the net. Explain to them how predators use this information to stalk and harm people. Give them a rundown of the kind of sites they are allowed to visit and the ones they need to avoid. Try to make your kids realise as well that once they upload content, they are relinquishing total control over it use. Explain how content can be misused and set specific rules about uploading, viewing, and viewer access.
4. Set Behaviour Rules
Do not allow your kids to meet online friends in person on their own. If they really want to meet someone, you or another adult you trust should be with them when the meeting happens. Make them understand the dangers of meeting online friends in person by sharing with them news items on internet-based harassment and crimes that began with online connections. Draw up an ‘approval list’ with your kids and make sure the list includes all scenarios where your kids need to seek your approval.
5. Monitor and Mentor
Yes, it is important to make your kids feel that you trust them. But it is also important for you to monitor their online interactions. Make sure you have their passwords and check their online accounts from time to time to observe what is happening; not only what your kids are doing, but also what their online friends are posting, doing, and talking about. Remember, though, that you should avoid monitoring their accounts in secret. Your right to monitor should be a condition of them being allowed to use certain websites.
Try to put yourself in your children’s shoes and view the internet and gambling through their eyes. If you’re confident that they see the internet as a learning tool and gambling as a casual form of entertainment, then try to keep it that way. If your child seems overly curious about certain sites or sly about their internet usage, then be more watchful.
The good thing about the internet is that the positives still outweigh the negatives. And gambling, just like most other things in life, is simply a tool that can help or harm depending on how you handle it. Keep the above tips in mind, and you and your kids should do just fine.