By Matt Serlin, families counsellor at Action on Addiction

When a child has a problem with gambling it can be extremely frightening, confusing and traumatic for parents. Communication may break down so individual needs do not get met and as consequence relationships fall apart.


There is usually conflict present where you may find yourself being worried about challenging unacceptable behaviour due to fear that it might make the situation worse. Feeling judged or blaming yourself can lead to stigma; which in turn can lead to isolation whereby you become detached from extended family, friends and the community.


With overwhelming feelings of responsibility or despair psychological or physical health may deteriorate – it can be exhausting and stressful. The gambling may become the organising principal in family.


What are the signs your child is gambling?


Some signs your child might have a gambling problem:


  • Unexplained absences from school or college
  • Sudden deterioration in grades or failure to complete assignments on time
  • Unaccountable explanation for new items of value in possession
  • Borrowing or stealing money
  • Selling personal belongings
  • Change or uncharacteristic shows of personality or behaviour
  • Unusual interest in newspapers, magazines, sports scores etc.
  • Withdrawing from family and friends


How can you combat problem gambling in your child?


Talk to your child about gambling, even if that feels difficult. Show children that you are willing to talk to them openly and hear what they have to say. Give them the facts, ideally before they are exposed to the fantasy. They deserve honest answers and explanations; this will ultimately strengthen their ability to trust what you are saying.


You should educate yourself about gambling addiction; what types of gambling might your child be involved in and what the effect of a gambling addiction might be. Set a good example to your children, giving clear boundaries that can help them to feel safe. Importantly, always keep lines of communication open and ensure it is a two way process.

If you believe your child has a serious problem then professional support should be sought and remember, if your child is gambling, it is not always a reflection on your ability to parent.


Experience tells me that there are three main elements that can really help families and friends that find themselves in the position of being affected by a loved one’s gambling - Increased awareness and understanding, a connection with other people who have been through similar experiences and good support networks.


Is it okay to let your child gamble if they are doing so responsibly/are not a problem gambler?


Due to the brain not being fully formed in the regions of impulse and motivation it can be concluded that young people are more susceptible to developing an addiction and the risk is increased the earlier in age a child starts to gamble. However it is important to remember that if a child gambles it does not automatically mean they are going to get addicted.


In today’s society, with the ease of availability and with new games and different ways to gamble being introduced constantly, all children can find themselves at risk from gambling no matter how strong a parent’s relationship is with them.

Find out more about our family support.