Young People and Gambling in the UK
According to the Gambling Commission, there are an estimated 55,000 young people (age 11 - 16) that have a problem with gambling in the UK, with a further 85,000 thought to currently be at risk.
Gambling among children and adolescents is on the rise and the stats are alarming. What is even more worrying is that many parents of these young people will have no clue that the change in their child’s behaviour is due to gambling. Instead, they may be attributing their mood swings and anxiety to teenage angst and hormones.
In this article, we take a look at the prevalence of young people and gambling. We also look at how gambling at a young age can prime the brain for addiction, and the harms involved. Further on we provide expert advice from one of our partners at Anonymind, on how to speak to your child about gambling. We hope this information will prove helpful for anyone who is concerned.
YOUNG PEOPLE AND GAMBLING IN NUMBERS
Each year, The Gambling Commission conducts research with participants in England, Wales and Scotland aged 11-16 to ascertain the number of young people who gamble.
The stats for young people and gambling in the UK:
- 31% of young people aged 11 to 16 spent their own money on gambling in the past year
- 23% spent their own money on regulated forms of gambling
- 78% spent their money on gambling as they regarded it as a fun thing to do
- 12% have played an online gambling-style game. Nearly half played the game via an app
- 52% have heard of in-game items and 44% of those paid money to open ‘loot boxes’ (mystery prizes) to get them
- 11% said that gambling by a family member had helped to pay for things at home for example holidays, trips or clubs.
- 50% said someone had spoken to them about the problems gambling can lead to
Source: Young People and Gambling 2019-2022, Gambling Commission
Why young people are gambling more
During the Covid pandemic, the number of young people and gambling increased across the UK. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised at this.
Overnight, children found themselves isolated and at home for lengthy periods of time. With little else to occupy their young minds many turned to gaming, social media and screen time. Add to this the financial pressures, job insecurity and well-being of family members, is it any wonder they sought a virtual escape?
Since the pandemic, more young people are accessing mental health services than ever before. The pandemic has left its mark in more complex ways than anyone could ever have foreseen.
Additionally, young people use gaming, gambling and substances to cope with traumatic life events, such as being bullied (online or at school), bereavement or a dysfunctional home environment.
Children's brains are not the same as adult brains. The average human brain does not reach full maturity until the age of 25.
Children’s brains primarily rely on sensory experience for processing and acquiring knowledge. They understand things directly, through audio-visual aids or other sensory inputs. This explains why children are so attracted to activities like gaming.
Children are also inherently impulsive due to that area of their brain still developing. They are far less likely to consider the wider ramifications of their actions than an adult would.
The vast majority of people who suffer from an addiction will have started substance use or excitement-inducing behaviours during their teenage years.
Whilst the brain is still developing and maturing, every area of the brain is vulnerable.
Young people engaging in substance use or activities such as gambling and gaming frequently creates a cycle of euphoria and excitement, followed by anxiety, agitation and depression.
Rather than seeking to feel good through healthy activities such as quality family time, education, friendships and play, a young person's brain opts for instant and exaggerated gratification. If this is not promptly addressed, the brain starts to change and becomes primed for addiction.
The link between gambling and gaming
For children and adolescents, gambling and gaming are often closely linked. There are many ‘free’ games online that make money through in-app purchases.
Games that are frequently purchased for around the £40 mark, also have add-ons that can be bought to make progress within the game. Additionally, a child or adolescent may be playing the same game with friends and make a bet on who wins.
“Loot boxes”, where players are encouraged to purchase mystery prizes within a game, are also attractive to teenagers and children.
The problem with gaming and in-app purchases are that there is no authority to oversee activity or check age. There is no kind of intervention or protective factor discouraging these purchases. In this sense, gambling is very much normalised for a young person.
There is clearly a link between gaming and gambling through the associated behaviours. However, children simply do not see it in this way due to the way these activities are presented and how their brain interprets them.
Signs of gambling-related harm in young people
If you are worried that a young person may be gambling, there are some signs to watch out for. Spotting these signs early and getting them the help they need can be lifesaving.
Mood and behaviour
- Becoming withdrawn from family and friends
- School performance is negatively affected
- Frequently appearing agitated, worried or anxious
- Feeling hopeless, anxious or depressed
- Changes to sleep patterns, eating and self-care (hygiene)
- Money or valuables going missing from the home
- Never having any spending money despite getting income through pocket money, birthdays or a part-time job
- Borrowing money from family or friends on a regular basis
- Being secretive about money
- Spending increasingly more time gambling or gaming
- Running late for commitments
- Less time spent in school
- Taking excessive time to complete a simple task
- Less time is spent on hobbies or healthy activities that they enjoy
According to the Awareness and Understanding of Gambling report/Qualitative research with young people for the Gambling Commission Dec 2021, most young people see gambling as a matter of skill rather than chance. This would indicate that they feel they can beat the system.
Furthermore, young people who participated felt that gambling-related activity, where the primary intention was to have fun, was not considered gambling.
In the past week, the majority of participants aged 11-17 had gambled at least once a week.
Gambling activities that young people participate in include:
- Playing arcade games such as claw grab machines or penny pushers
- Playing scratch cards, notably bought for them by parents
- Making private bets with family members and friends
- Playing bingo with grandparents, usually whilst on holiday
- Making bets whilst playing card games
Tips on talking to children about the dangers of gambling
Research shows that 1 in 5 adults with gambling problems started to gamble before the legal age of 18. Because of this, it is important to have an open conversation with children about the harms that are associated with gambling.
Regardless of what you do or don't know about gambling, it is helpful to discuss the matter with your child. It may help prevent a serious problem from developing further down the line. Additionally, it gives young people the opportunity to discuss any concerns they may have regarding gambling.
Anonymind’s advice on speaking to young people about gambling as a parent or caregiver:
- Sharing your concerns with your child is the first step to supporting them with a gambling problem. Choosing the right time for this conversation, and calmly focusing on your own concerns and feelings, rather than their behaviour, might help you come together to discuss things openly
- Agreeing on rules and expectations - Once you have agreed there is a concern around your child’s gambling, agree to the new rules and expectations. Recognise how hard this might be for them, and explain how you will help with the plan. Agree on the next steps if the new plan doesn’t work (for example, getting professional help to manage the problem).
- Discuss your concerns in a non-blaming, non-critical way
- Monitor the use of phones and computers and their spending
- This isn’t always easy with older teenagers, but figuring out how your child is spending their time online or spending their money might be a really important way to identify a gambling problem
The main thing with young people is to keep an open dialogue and remain helpful and understanding of their concerns. This way they are more likely to be open and honest with you.
Anonymind provides a great resource of online recovery tools that can be used to help overcome a gambling problem. Additionally, they also provide free professional therapy for anyone affected by gambling, which extends to affected family members.
- Gambling regulation: problem gambling and protecting vulnerable people - https://www.nao.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/Gambling-regulation-problem-gambling-and-protecting-vulnerable-people.pdf
- Brain Maturity Extends Well Beyond Teen Years -https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=141164708
- Why Teens Are Impulsive, Addiction-Prone And Should Protect Their Brains- https://www.npr.org/2016/04/15/474348291/why-teens-are-impulsive-addiction-prone-and-should-protect-their-brains
- Child brain is not just an adult brain in a smaller size - https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-12-child-brain-adult-smaller-size.html
- Awareness and Understanding of Gambling report/Qualitative research with young people for the Gambling Commission Dec 2021