Football Pools and Other Teen Gambling

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain

We’re in the middle of football season, which means kids (and adults) are betting on football pools. Some are getting involved in fantasy football, which can be a fun game but can turn into gambling if money starts changing hands. Many adults do it. So, what’s the big deal about kids gambling? Read on to become a better informed parent >

Fact: Kids have different brains than adults. These differences make kids prone to lifelong trouble if they start doing adult things while their brains are still developing. The child brain develops rapidly, and those changes make kids impulsive, moody, and more likely to keep going with a risky behavior, even if they know it’s wrong.

What’s clear from research is that gambling is a risky behavior for kids. Search Institute researchers identify gambling as a high-risk behavior in the same list as kids having sexual intercourse, using drugs, and getting into trouble with the police.

Learn more about other high-risk behaviors >

Part of the problem, however, is that gambling has become such a big part of our society. The football pools I mentioned above are a yearly ritual for many kids and adults. Lotteries are everywhere. Schools and organizations do fundraisers where people bet to win prizes, and ESPN has made poker as much as a sport as football, soccer, and basketball! Gambling is also widely considered a social activity, and many teens like to get together to play poker and have fun.

If gambling is of concern to you as a parent, it can be helpful to set boundaries and express your own values about gambling. Some parents think that if kids are playing poker and betting on M&M candies (or only pennies), and they learn that when they run out of candy (or money) that then they’re done with the game, that’s a good thing. Other parents prefer that if kids are playing poker that they’re only using chips and no money is exchanging hands. Still other parents frown on their kids getting involved in any type of poker or gambling until they’re adults. Let your kids know what’s acceptable behavior and what’s not.

Learn more about setting boundaries >

It’s also important to note that gambling prevention experts also point out the difference between social gambling and pathological gambling. Social gambling is more about getting together and socializing while gambling. Pathological gambling is when gambling becomes a problem and grows into an addiction.

So, how do you know when it’s a problem? Watch for these troubling signs of teen gambling:

• Falling grades at school
• Borrowing and not repaying money
• Is anxious, preoccupied, and distracted
• Spends lots of time with online gaming sites
• Becoming obsessed with sports scores and sport outcomes
• At times gets large amounts of cash without a good explanation
• At times is desperate for money and has money problems
• Breaks curfew regularly
• Has a shift in friendships

Teen gambling is only a big problem when parents aren’t keeping tabs on what their kids are doing. Set expectations and continue to monitor your child to ensure your child doesn’t get caught up in this type of risky behavior.

1. American Academy of Pediatrics, “Teen Gambling,”, June 17, 2010.

2. Beth Levine, “Teens + Gambling = Trouble,” Health Center Today, University of Connecticut Health Center, June 10, 2005.

3. Peter L. Benson, All Kids Are Our Kids: What Communities Must Do to Raise Caring and Responsible Children and Adolescents (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 80-82.

4. David Walsh, Why Do They Act That Way: A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen (New York: Free Press, 2004).

5. Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets, ParentFurther.

6. Image via on Flick’r.

Wow, I had no idea that kids were getting into gambling so much. This can be a disturbing trend if parents do not get involved and teach their kids about gambling responsibly or maybe no gambling at all.


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