Child Gambles

If you think that gambling is still a “strictly for adults only” enterprise, you are sadly mistaken. Unfortunately, gambling is fast becoming an epidemic among children and adolescents, with kids as young as 9 years old getting hooked. The American Psychiatric Association estimates that around 4% of American children are already addicted to gambling, with an anti-compulsive gambling advocate calling the situation a “hidden epidemic.”

Gambling and Kids
Gambling refers to the betting of money or anything of value on a game with uncertain result. Traditional gambling mediums include card games, casino machines, and betting on the outcome of sporting activities like soccer, boxing or horse racing. Gambling used to be a highly regulated (albeit multi-billion dollar) adult industry. But because of the advent of the internet, the relaxation of some state’s gambling laws to accommodate children, and the proliferation of lotteries and gaming arcades open to the general public, gambling has reached the younger population. Loss of parental control and financial difficulty in the family also add to the phenomenon. The situation is so bad that some kids end up owing bookies hundreds of thousands of dollars long before they even step into high school!

Gambling in itself is not bad; many people enjoy social gambling as a past time, a way to relax and unwind. But children are particularly vulnerable to becoming pathological gamblers – gamblers who are unable to resist the urge to gamble despite the serious consequences of their behavior. This is because young children and teens have yet to develop skills in managing impulses, assessing risks and chances, and appreciating the financial value of money surrendered to gambling hosts. Most of the time, children (like adults with gambling disorders) are stuck in the excitement of risk-taking and the thrill of a winning streak, with no awareness of the long-term negative consequences.

What can Parents Do?
As a parent, it’s important that you are aware of the signs and symptoms of compulsive gambling in children. Remember, in this age of technology, gambling behavior can be easy to hide (there are even betting agencies that collect simply by cellphone texts!). But like any addiction, the more serious it becomes, the more difficult it is to conceal.

What should parents look out for? Be mindful of secretive internet or newspaper browsing; your child may be following the results of an event he has a stake on. Watch out as well for unexplained loss or gain of money and material possessions. Check for sudden or gradual drop in grades, absences in school or loss of interest in tasks and activities that used to interest them before. Monitor their language; see if they are more prone to using gambling terms during conversations. Be aware of the people they interact with everyday — they might already be setting regular appointments with bookies.

If you’ve discovered that your child has a gambling problem, it’s best to confront him or her about it right away. Impulse control disorders rarely go away on their own, as kids have lost the ability to regulate their own behavior. Parental control and intervention is necessary. If the problem is only recent and mild, parents may be able to handle it on their own. However, when gambling is already more entrenched, professional intervention will be necessary. In some cases, parents may directly contact the casinos or the bookies to ensure that a child will not be allowed to gamble anymore. Implements can also be confiscated, such as credit cards, computers and cellphones. A child may also be grounded for awhile, allowing the compulsion to “cool off.” For serious young gamblers, mandatory visits to a mental health professional must be included along with these types of restrictions and guidelines. It is also very helpful for parents to attend twelve-step programs for family members of addicts while the child him or herself, attends similar regular meetings for addicts. Often, family therapy will be a useful adjunct to other interventions. Doing everything possible as soon as possible can help young gamblers heal their compulsion. On the other hand, ignoring the behavior or simply telling a child to “stop it” may lead to a lifetime of debilitating, destructive gambling activities.

Refuses to Go to a Mental Health Professional

In an ideal world, consulting a mental health professional would be as easy as consulting a medical doctor – and as stigma-free. Unfortunately, many people still feel an element of shame, embarrassment or other type of awkwardness about going to a psychological professional. Some people still think that mental health professionals only deal with people who are “crazy” and understandably don’t want to be an identified member of such a population. In fact, in the “olden days” mental illness was poorly understood and derogatory terms such as “crazy” were used to describe people who we know know were suffering from various biological disorders such as schizophrenia, manic-depressive disorder or delusional disorders. Psychiatrists and clinical psychologists can now help mentally ill people feel and function better than ever before. Moreover, modern mental health professionals assist not only those who are suffering from true mental illness, but also those who are completely mentally healthy. They help almost everyone to function in less stressful, more productive and happier ways, helping  them achieve their full potential in every area. People who access mental health services in order to feel and achieve their best, tend to be more emotionally sophisticated, open-minded and growth-oriented than those who do not. In other words, it is often the most mentally healthy people who consult mental health pofessionals today.

Although YOU may know all this, your child may not. In fact, your child may have the old misconception that going to a mental health professional means that there is something wrong with you. As a result, he or she may not want to see a mental health professional, even though you know that this is exactly what is needed.

If your child refuses to go to a mental health professional, consider the following tips:

Explain to your Child what Mental Health is and what Mental Health Professionals Do
As previously mentioned, there are many misconceptions that float around regarding the mental health profession — and even young children could have heard of them through playmates and peers. It’s important then that you explain carefully that mental health is just one aspect of our health. Emphasize that healthy people access mental health services in order to learn new skills, improve relationships, reduce stress and emotional discomfort, feel better physically, and achieve more in school or life. Be specific too – talk about the various tasks that mental health professionals perform such as psycho-educational assessments, mental health assessments, family counseling (to reduce conflict or help cope with stress), remove and/or manage fear, anger or sadness, and much more.

Your child may not recognize or agree that he or she has an issue that requires intervention. As a parent, you are in charge of your child’s well-being. If your child had an infection, you would insist on medical attention. Similarly, if your child needs help for an emotional problem, it is up to you to arrange it. If the child in question is a teenager, you might have to deal with resistance – be prepared. First try to motivate the youngster with reason – explain the possible benefits of assessment and treatment. If the child still refuses to cooperate, let him or her know that, privileges will be removed. For example, “No you don’t have to go to see Dr. Haber, but if you decide not to come, you will  not have the use of my car until you change your mind.” Think of whatever consequences might help motivate your adolescent to cooperate.

Tell children what to expect at their first session. If there will be art or music or toys, let your child know that the session should be very enjoyable, even while the therapist is learning about the child’s issues and learning how to be help. If it will be a talking therapy, tell the child how the therapist might open the conversation, what sort of questions might be asked and how the child might approach the conversation. Tell the child how to handle tricky situations like not wanting to talk or open up too much or feeling not understood or being fearful. In other words, prepare for everything!

Gently but Clearly Explain Why you are Referring Them to a Mental Health Practitioner
Tell your child why you have scheduled a mental health consultation. Explain that the consultation is meant to help the child and is not some sort of negative consequence! Kids who are caught breaking the law, or even family rules, are often scheduled for counseling in order to find out the reason for the misbehavior. Children who do not do well in school are referred to educational psychologists for assessment of learning disorders or other causes. Depressed or anxious teens may be sent to psychiatrists or psychologists for treatment. If you are having relationship difficulties with your youngster, make sure to participate in the counseling process in some way, either having joint sessions with the child or having individuals sessions just like the child is having, or both.

Negotiate Confidentiality Boundaries Beforehand
A tricky issue for children in therapy is confidentiality. It’s common for some kids to have hesitation talking to a mental health professional. For them, counselors are just their parents’ spies — a way parents can gather information about them. It’s important that parents (and maybe the mental health professional him or herself) clarify beforehand that all issues discussed within sessions are confidential, and that only the generic nature of issues discussed would be revealed to parents. Similarly, the mental health practitioner can specify what will remain confidential and what sorts of information cannot remain confidential, giving the child the opportunity to share or withhold information knowing the limits of confidentiality.

Tell your Kids that They can Terminate a Consultation Anytime
It’s important that kids actually enjoy their therapy experiences. Negative therapy experiences may affect them negatively throughout life as they refuse to get much needed help because of traumatic memories of therapy in childhood! Therefore, make sure that your child LIKES going to therapy or change the therapist, or the type of therapy, or even consider stopping therapy for the time being and trying again later. Usually, mental health professionals are good at establishing rapport with their clients and child and adolescent specialists are particularly skilled at making kids feel comfortable. Nonetheless, if your child remains uncomfortable after a couple of meetings, end the therapy. Adults also need to feel comfortable in therapy in order to benefit and they, too, have the right to “shop around” for a compatible therapist or therapy approach. Since there are so many different types of treatments and so many therapists, there; they will do their best to get your child feeling at ease before they start an actual intervention. But many factors can cause your child to be uncomfortable with a mental health professional. It’s helpful then that your child knows that you are at least willing to consider enlisting a different professional, or terminating sessions if there are significant concerns.

Teen Stress and Addictions

Everyone has stress, tadalafil including teenagers. In fact, teenagers face many of the same stressors that adults face. For instance, they tend to have money issues (on a smaller scale), relationship issues, health issues and sometimes work issues. However, they have more issues than adults have to deal with: self-concept issues (trying to establish an identity, dealing with body image), intense peer pressure, academic pressure, family pressure (including the pressure of their parents’ marriage, issues with siblings, dysfunctional family dynamics) and the physical pressure of their changing bodies. Although teenagers have additional stress, they actually face extra challenges in managing stress. For instance, they lack life experience and will therefore be prone to errors in judgment that lead to increased stress. Their problem-solving style is impulsive, their world view is egocentric (self-focused) and they feel a grandiose sense of invulnerability—all of which further contributes to errors in judgment that increase stress. As a result of these characteristics, teenagers will be learning a lot of lessons “the hard way.” They will experience higher levels of pain as a result. Unfortunately, most teenagers lack healthy stress-management strategies. This is why they are so vulnerable to addictive behavior.

Addiction and Stress
Addictive behavior occurs in all of us, although we do not always identify it as such. When we think of the word “addictions” we tend to think of the major unhealthy addictions such as drugs, alcohol, cigarettes and caffeine (the latter being considered a harmless social addiction). However, people can also be addicted to shows of rage, judging people, eating, not eating, exercising, watching T.V., reading books, playing video games, surfing the net, relationships, sex, work and crossword puzzles! In fact, people can become addicted to almost anything. Addictions provide intense distraction from inner feelings. When people don’t know how to relieve the distress of internal emotional pain and stress, they can distract themselves by indulging in their favorite addictive activity. All of us do this to a certain extent. However, when our favorite activity involves and illegal substance or a life-threatening activity or when they take so much time that they block out other necessary activities, others usually step in to help. Unfortunately, the help often focuses on curing the addiction and treating all of its harmful effects. The underlying feelings that triggered the addiction are usually ignored! For this reason, the addiction (either the same one or another one) will most likely return.

Helping Teens Manage Stress
Rather than focusing attention on curing and preventing addictions, we must help teenagers to better manage their stress. Consider teaching your teen to follow these tips to reduce stress:

  • Talk to a counselor or guidance counselor once a week about whatever is happening – social scene, academics, parents, family life, work or any issue of concern. A trusted adult or a very wise mature friend can also be used for this purpose.
  • Exercise daily. Including stretching and/or yoga in exercise routine.
  • Have a relaxation period each day: use imagery, visualization, progressive relaxation or meditation as a DAILY time-out for at least 10 minutes and preferably much more than that.
  • Get enough sleep every night (6-8 hours).
  • Use the hour before sleep to unwind.
  • Keep a journal.
  • Only keep healthy friends; stay away from toxic people.
  • Read psychology self-help books for teens.
  • Balance social time with private time: have a little of each during each week.
  • Search the net for information on the situations you are facing.
  • Read the book “Focusing” and learn how to use this technique to calm feelings.
  • Learn EFT (emotional freedom technique); look up www.emofree.com
  • Use Bach Flower Therapy instead of substances to calm your nerves (see www.bachflowers.com).

Parents Can Help Too
When parents master the art of Emotional Coaching (see Raise Your Kids without Raising Your Voice by Sarah Chana Radcliffe) they can be almost as effective as professional counselors for their adolescents. The skill involves an empathetic naming of and accepting of the teenager’s feelings. No criticism, no reaction, no upset, no lecture—no corrective information—can be offered. The parent simply listens and acknowledges what the youngster seems to be experiencing. When conversations happen this way, teenagers will actually speak to their parents. Parents can then help teens process pain related to social problems, school problems, personal appearance issues, feelings of loneliness, feelings of anxiety and so on. In fact, as long as the parent remains a calm, non-judgmental listener, the child can talk about the most personal, frightening or overwhelming subjects. This isn’t easy for parents, of course, because parents themselves get scared and upset when listening to their teenagers describe their thoughts, feelings and actions. However, the technique can be learned and practiced by anyone who really wants to be a part of his or her teenager’s stress management program.