Advice Column, Parenting

Help for underage gamblers

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Traditionally considered an ‘adults only’ issue, a growing number of children are affected by problem gambling.

With this in mind, the South African Responsible Gambling Foundation (SARGF) is striving to address the issue with a number of initiatives. Chief among these is the National Schools Programme. As part of this, SARGF has developed a learning pillar called Taking Risks Wisely (TRW), which is incorporated into school curricula. The course material has been developed around the reality that children are exposed to gaming and that it may seem attractive; and with this insight in mind, it aims to help them make wiser choices about risky behaviour.

SARGF also provides assistance through its toll free support line at 0800 006 008. This hotline offers free, professional counselling for problem gamblers – important, because as Dr Heidi Sinclair, treatment and counselling manager at SARGF explains, a professional counsellor will be able to help both parents and children understand they dynamics that have pushed the child to seek distraction or solace in gaming. “Often, the issue is created by poor self-esteem, and the counsellor will be able to provide suggestions to help families address this in a more constructive manner,” Sinclair says.

While parents may not like to think that their children are gambling, the reality is that they are. In fact, according to research cited by, 2.1% of US residents aged between 14 and 21 are problem gamblers. “No similar statistics are available in South Africa, but it’s clear that extensive exposure to gambling puts children and teens at risk: while the media glamorises casinos and gambling, family exposure – occurring every time parents purchase a lottery ticket or host a social game of poker, for example – make gambling an everyday part of life for youth. The Internet makes online gambling readily accessible, and the games children play on their tablets often groom them for real-world gaming.”

She urges parents to look out for signs that their children may have become involved in gaming. These include the classic symptoms associated with risky behaviour, including sudden mood swings, a lack of interest in activities that have previously brought pleasure, a drop in school marks and absenteeism from school. Other, more specific signs that a child may have started gaming include buying items that they wouldn’t be able to afford on their usual allowance, or running out of money and asking for financial assistance. A sudden and intense interest in sport may also be a warning sign, especially if the child displays a disproportionate response to a team’s win or loss. This may indicate that they are placing bets on the teams. Visits to online betting sites are a red flag.

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