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Parents must remain ever-vigilant so that seemly innocuous video games don’t serve as a gateway to destructive adult behavior for their children.

According to watchdogs, a growing number of children face the risk of gambling addiction. The online gaming industry—fueled by in-app purchases— shapes children’s spending habits which will likely last well into adulthood.

However, parents can protect their children from the increasing risk of gambling addiction by keeping a watchful eye on their kids’ behavior. By remaining watchful for addictive behavior, parents can protect their kids from becoming lost in the world of online gambling.

Get in Front of the Problem

Studies show that 70% of teens check their cell phones as soon as they wake up. So, what’s a parent to do in a world where kids do everything on their phone? The answer is to guide kids in developing habits that reduce their chances of developing addictive behavior.

Today, it’s challenging to separate kids from their mobile devices. Many parents introduce children to smartphones at an early age because it’s an easy way to track their kids’ location. However, it’s not as easy to control what kids do with those devices.

Parents can set an example for their kids by limiting their own screen time. For example, you can specify non-digital periods, where no family members use digital devices and participate in group activities. Shari Harding, an expert in mental and psychiatric health and professor within the online master of nursing program at Regis College says, “The key here is to look at the big picture: how much time is being spent on video games and is it excessive? Is it to the exclusion of other important things, like homework, socialization, exercise, family time together?

Are there other signs that your child might have mental health symptoms they are struggling to cope with such as anxiety, social anxiety, or depression or stressors such as poor school performance for which they are seeking an escape through gaming,” says Harding.

Children learn by watching their parents. Even when they don’t realize it, kids are developing their smartphone habits by observing how their parents use their devices.

Accordingly, parents shouldn’t check their phones while driving, exhibit poor digital citizenship—such as cyberbullying—or let their devices distract them from human interaction.

Parents should also evaluate how much time they spend on their devices. They should also consider whether what they do with their devices is beneficial for themselves and their family.

The Thin Line Between Gaming and Gambling

Gambling is everywhere. It’s in tourist destinations and, in some states, even local convenience stores—and it’s been growing increasingly popular online.

Gambling addiction is a severe problem. Financial ruin due to gambling addiction can lead some people to commit suicide.

In the United Kingdom, the number of 11 to 16-year-olds that physicians diagnose as problem gamblers have quadrupled over the last two years to 55,000 youths. Also, researchers estimate that 70,000 11 to 16-year-olds are high-risk candidates for developing a gambling addiction.

The UK Gambling Commission estimates that nearly half a million 11 to 16-year-olds spend approximately $20 gambling every week. Also, gambling enterprises in the United Kingdom have exposed 60% of 11 to 16-year-olds to advertisements through social media as well as 66% through television.

Still, parents are responsible for protecting their kids from gambling addiction. Accordingly, they must talk to their children about the risk of gambling. It’s better to talk about it now—before it becomes a problem.

What Are the Risks?

Gambling addiction can lead to a range of adverse outcomes. For instance, studies show that 90% of gambling addicts use cash advances to fuel their habit.

For some, gambling is a safe, enjoyable activity. For others, however, the insatiable need to wager irresponsible amounts of money in hopes of winning more leads to severe adverse outcomes. Also, people who suffer from gambling addiction typically feel anxious when they’re not betting.

In the United States, 2 million adults meet the criteria for gambling addiction, according to the National Council on Problem Gaming. Gambling can affect anyone, regardless of age, sex or socioeconomic status. Not all gambling addicts exhibit external signs of a problem, and 71% of people with a gambling problem do not seek help, according to the Journal of Gambling Studies.

Researchers link compulsive gambling with conditions such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and attention deficit disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic. Gambling doesn’t cause these conditions, but it can make them worse.

“In any addictive-type behaviors, there can be a ‘transfer’ of the addiction from one thing to another, such as from video games to overeating to alcohol or vice versa,” says Harding.

With each generation, people become more entrenched in technology. In a world where wagering is the only difference between video games and gambling, parents must help children find a balance between the digital realm and the real world.

Of course, gambling operations should assume the responsibly of mitigating gambling addiction. Academics should also make an effort to discuss the risk of gambling with students. Ultimately, however, the responsibility is on parents to protect their kids from the dangers of the world.

Gambling is a serious but often hidden, social ill. For parents who want the best for their children, now is the time to speak up to prevent kids from making bad decisions that can follow them for a lifetime.