Underage Gambling – What are they thinking?

In this blog we will explore the topic of underage gambling. As we conduct this exploration I think we will find that even with legal restrictions set in place, underage gambling is a serious challenge that should be addressed by parents, educators and the community at large.

Understanding Teen Behavior

The difficulty of understanding teenage behavior has been a longstanding stereotype. Just pool a group of parents, teachers or adults reminiscing on their past and you will likely hear some version of

“I can’t imagine what they (or “I”) was thinking

When we hear this type of comment, it almost always explicitly refers to teenager’s decision-making ability and, more specifically, to the type of risks they take. The fairly clear implication is these young minds have no real grasp of the dangerous consequences which seem so clear to their adult counterparts. And just as people recognize that there are exceptions to this generalization, they also recognize it to include some sense of relatable truth.

Logically we can speculate on the reasons for this pattern of behavior. One simple reason is that a teenager’s limited real-world experience—the factor which almost everyone recognizes as life’s greatest teacher.

Another significant factor is the effect of external influences such as a teen’s friends, peers and culture. And, in the modern world, no list of significant influences would be complete without mention of social and commercial media. From simple signs and electronic billboards to TV shows and big budget movies, to Facebook and Twitter where we announce and discuss it all—modern media can have an overwhelming influence on a young mind.

Insights of Modern Science

Today, modern science reveals another reason, which underlies all the others and gives helpful explanation: the mystery behind often-times puzzling teenage behavior is solved by an understanding of the teenage brain.  

With some reflection this seems almost obvious.

As in many other parts of nature, there is a developmental difference between adolescent and adult. That is, teenagers are at a different biological stage than adults and therefore at a different stage of brain development. And this, in turn, means they tend to think a little differently than their elders. 

Put oversimply, this stage of brain development pushes them to want to explore the world, test its boundaries and understand its workings by practical experience. This is literally hardwired into their minds.

And one of the main areas this is seen, is in the aforementioned area of decision-making. Prompted by the overwhelming impulses of their developing brains, teens tend to have an interest in low-effort, high-risk, high-reward activities.  

Dangerous Consequences

With these reasons as a context, the draw and dangers of underage gambling should be fairly clear. Gambling is a risky behavior by definition. And many modern forms of gambling require little effort, while offering high-reward—a formula which can offer tempting excitement, but also serious consequences.

These consequences occur at various levels.

The excitement of gambling exists because of the tension produced by winning versus losing. So, the most threatening consequence seems to be losing or losing significantly. But the truth is, winning can be just as harmful.

In part because the thrill of winning is the often what gambling addiction is built on, and also because, whether winning or losing, underage gambling is occurring in an underage, underdeveloped brain, and its effects can do long-term damage.  

When we consider these facts we see why underage gambling is its own special category of problem gambling and why informed prevention is a so important.  

In the next blog we will explore this importance in a bit more detail and talk about common trends in underage gambling, common warning signs, and what parents and other concerned adults can do.

Of course, if you are concerned about underage gambling or already convinced you need help, don’t hesitate to contact us. We can provide free resources and offer certified treatment, for developing brains and those that care about them. 

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