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How to help a young person who gambles

It can be difficult as a parent or guardian to know what to say to a young person who is gambling. Here you can find practical advice to help you have open and positive conversations with children and young people about gambling.

Understanding young people and gambling

Even though it’s not often spoken about, gambling behaviour is becoming more common amongst children and young people. Although children are less likely to develop a gambling disorder than adults, the younger someone starts gambling or gets used to gambling behaviour, the more likely they are to have a problem with gambling later in life.

By being aware of gambling behaviour and speaking to the young person earlier about the risks of gambling, you’ll be able to help prevent them from developing a problem with gambling in the future.

You can find out more about gambling behaviour here.

How to talk to a young person about gambling

If you’re thinking about speaking to a child or young person about their gambling, the following advice might help you to approach the topic with them:

Be aware that the child or young person might feel embarrassed or like they need to hide their gambling from you, through fear of getting into trouble. Approaching the topic with them might also cause them to get defensive or shut down, so it’s important to make sure you speak in a positive, calm and non-judgemental way.

You could start by asking the young person or child what they think about gambling before offering your opinion. This is a good way of finding out what they know, and it also gives you a chance to correct any misunderstandings which they might have.

Discussing the risks and consequences of gambling may be helpful, for example you might talk to them about how gambling could have a negative impact on their wellbeing and friendships. Be careful not to use 'scare tactics', as this may make them feel less comfortable with approaching the topic with you in the future.

Gambling advertising

Sometimes adverts and the media can make gambling seem cool and fun. Explain to the young person that gambling companies use these techniques to make gambling seem desirable, but the reality can be very different.

Speak to the young person about how they spend their money, and explain that gambling should never be seen as an easy way to make money or recover money they’ve lost. It may be helpful to explain the phrase “in the end, the house always wins”, meaning that anyone who gambles is more likely to lose than win because of the way many gambling games are set up.

Talking about your own gambling

If you gamble yourself, the child or young person might have learnt to see this behaviour as normal. Be aware of your own reasons for gambling and help the young person to understand what it means to gamble safely. For example, don’t chase your losses and make sure you set up affordable limits on the money you spend on gambling.

The link between gaming and gambling

Talk to the child or young person about how they game or use the internet. Some virtual games contain loot boxes, these are items which can be paid for with real-world money, but contain unknown rewards. Although paying for loot boxes isn’t currently considered as gambling, studies have identified a connection between some games and gambling.

Encourage the child or young person to agree and stick to limits around their screen time. It’s also a good idea to speak to them about what games or gambling websites they spend their time on. You could also consider installing gambling blocking software to restrict their access to certain websites.

Think about other ways that you might be able to support the child or young person. You could encourage them to take part in alternative activities or sports which support their wellbeing and promote their social and emotional development.

If you are worried about a young person

If you are worried about the child or young person, it’s important to tell them that you’re worried because you care. Explaining how you feel might help to lessen their defences and keep the conversation open. You could try using ‘I’ instead of ‘you’ to avoid sounding accusatory.

"I have noticed that you are spending more time on online games, and I am feeling a little worried. I want to offer to help. Can we talk about it together?"

Do your best to listen without interrupting. If they feel they’re understood by you, they are more likely to talk openly and honestly, which will allow you to develop and negotiate a plan with them.

If you notice that they are struggling with gambling behaviour, help them to seek professional support. It may also be a good idea to speak to their family members, teachers and their GP, so you can develop a plan to support the young person in the best way together.

Remember to look out for you too

If you’re worried about a young person’s gambling, you might be experiencing other difficult emotions. However you’re feeling it’s important that you don’t blame yourself, or feel like it’s completely up to you to change their behaviour. There are many support services available to help someone who gambles, and if you’re struggling, there’s help and support for you too.

Teachers and youth workers

If you’re a teacher or youth worker you can download helpful materials here.