By Chris Davidson, Gamble Aware Northern Sydney & Central Coast
Online gaming can be compelling for kids, and every parent knows how difficult it can be to get their children to the dinner table when an exciting, virtual world is available on every device. Parents might be surprised to learn that online gaming is considered a sport, and e–sport is big business with millions in prize money for elite tournament players.
In Australia, around 80% of children and young people up to 17 years of age play online games. More than just an ‘electronic babysitter’, online games can help develop young people’s coordination skills, ability to multi–task, solve problems and even social skills. However, parents are right to be concerned about children playing online games unsupervised, where kids can be exposed to adult themes and violent gaming content.
In the last few years, the online gaming industry has also begun to blur the lines between gaming and gambling. Worrying enough is that the terms gaming and gambling are synonymous, and a quick google search for ‘gaming’ brings up ten times more websites exclusively dedicated to gambling than games for kids. Even more concerning is how gambling features, such as loot boxes, are embedded within online games, exposing young minds to gambling before they can fully understand the risks involved.
Parents may not be familiar with the online games their children are playing. A recent study found that even though online gaming mostly took place in the family home, around 86% of children had played games with gambling features by age ten. Alarmingly, parents also had the greatest influence on a child’s gambling behaviour, with most children using their parent’s online accounts.
These findings raise some important questions about kids’ gaming and gambling. Just how much gaming should kids be doing? And what are the chances of kids being ‘groomed’ into gambling? Can exposure to these games lead a young person to gambling problems in the future? Because e–sports and online gambling are recent phenomena, there aren’t a lot of answers from research. However, newer studies show that kids are at greater risk of harm from gambling when parents don’t take an interest in their online activities.
We need to discuss online safety with kids, setting reasonable limits and monitoring their behaviour. One of the best ways to safeguard children from harm is to get to know the games they are playing, play alongside them and join in their fun. Doing so gives insight into the nature and structure of games, informing us of the best time to interrupt or end a game, which may also help to ease conflict at dinner time.
One common sign of gaming or gambling problems is the display of anger or stress while playing. Excessive or compulsive playing is often about escapism and may indicate that something is worrying your child outside of gaming, and they may need your support. Knowing what to look out for and how to best intervene is essential.
To learn more about supporting a young person in your life, including tips to start a conversation around gaming and gambling, visit: www.gambleaware.nsw.gov.au/supporting-someone/supporting-young-people or you can call the free GambleAware helpline on 1800 858 858. Central Coast locals may also choose to connect with in–person support available at Tuggerah and Gosford. Source: NSW Office of Responsible Gambling, NSW Youth Gambling Study, 2020.