I’m convinced that parenting must be the most difficult task in life. Simply keeping our own lives on track is difficult enough without the added pressure to steer our kids towards a healthy path as well.
So, how the heck do we go about talking to kids about gambling? Here are five quick tips along with a bonus answer to a common question at the end.
1. Don’t Avoid It, Embrace It!
Yes, it feels like the best approach is to avoid these topics. However, simply kicking the can down the road only serves to increase our anxiety over the discussion while simultaneously leaving our kids vulnerable. So, don’t avoid it.
Kids are curious and they will likely open the door for the conversation. In my case, this happened at the grocery store checkout. Our lane was close to the lottery scratch-off ticket machine and the flashing neon lights caught the attention of my son.
“What is that machine?” he asked, likely because it closely resembled many of the machines at the local arcade.
Caught off guard, I responded, “That’s just a machine that takes peoples’ money.” Yes, I wasn’t prepared for this either. However, I quickly realized that wasn’t the best response and we had a chat on the way home about the odds of winning. He was quite young at the time, so we didn’t go deep into it, but our chat and his responses left me comfortable that he understood the basics.
The reality is that we don’t need to have all of the answers, so drop any fear you might have of the discussion and simply dive into it.
2. Respond to Questions with Questions
As mentioned above, I think we can overcomplicate the discussions by feeling like we need to have all of the answers. However, I’ve found the best approach is to respond to my kids’ questions about gambling with questions.
Just this past week, my son and I were making dinner while listening to the radio when a gambling ad came on. Lost in food prep, I didn’t even notice it until he asked “What does gamble responsibly mean?”.
“What do you think it might mean?” I responded.
“Don’t spend all of your money gambling?”
From there, I continued to ask him more questions about what doing something responsibly might mean. This led to a great discussion and I didn’t need to provide answers, just questions.
3. Avoid “Good/Bad” Labels
As highlighted in my response to the lottery machines, it’s easy for us to use our past experiences or views on gambling to influence the chats we have with our kids. However, I think we can run into problems if we place too much emphasis on gambling (or any other product) being labeled as “good” or “bad”.
Instead, I try to focus on leading our discussion towards the pros and cons. My hope is that in doing so, I’ll help to create a solid foundation of critical thinking that can be applied to all areas of my kids’ lives. This is a skill they can take ownership of and will hopefully make them more resilient as they won’t be reliant on their parents for all future decisions.
4. Focus on Healthy Use
In addition to avoiding good/bad labels, I try to steer the conversation towards what healthy use might look like. This often builds upon the pros and cons, but also creates plans that could be used in the future.
What would a healthy relationship with the product look like? What are some of the signs that would signal health/unhealthy use? What would be a good plan if it became unhealthy? Who would you talk to about it? How might they respond?
All of these questions continue to build upon best practices and can create an environment where our kids can feel comfortable coming to us (or someone else they trust) should they find themselves in a difficult spot. By having this discussion upfront, we lay the foundation for them to return to us without fear of judgment or excessive punishment.
5. Connect it to Their Current Interests
While all of the above are important, this is the one that I have found to be especially useful in these discussions. As we are talking through healthy use, I’ll try to incorporate and use examples from their current hobbies or interests. In our home, these are often video games or YouTube watching as they are favorites of my kids.
This does two things. First, it gives them context that is relevant to their current life. Second, it helps them understand and deploy healthy relationships and habits with products at a young age. After all, setting time and spending limits is just as important for video games as it is for gambling. And devoting all of their time to a single interest at the expense of time with family or friends isn’t a healthy approach, so highlighting healthy behaviors can help them build critical thinking and habits that can improve their current life and that might last a lifetime.
Answer to the Most Common Question
Finally, I want to answer what is likely to be the most common question: “When should I start talking to my kids about gambling?”
The answer to this is now. As I highlighted above, you can begin to discuss best practices for gambling without even talking about gambling. Begin to have the discussions with them about healthy use of the products they are currently consuming and you will simultaneously be providing them with insight that will help them with gambling as well.
I don’t believe we can or should attempt to protect our kids from the world, but rather should provide them with the critical thinking skills needed to be resilient.
I hope this helps and there will be many future posts on the topic.