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Aussie kids losing thousands gambling online

More of our lives are being spent online, a trend that has seen a surge in young people seeking help for gambling addictions.

A composite image of a young boy playing video games on his phone and a bank statement showing a number of withdrawals to represent gambling addictions.
A worrying number of Aussie kids are falling into gambling addiction. (Source: Getty) (Getty)

Video games, social media and devices for everything you could possibly need have merged the digital world and the real world in a way we have never seen - but it could also be turning Aussie kids into gambling addicts.

Child psychiatrist Dr Tanveer Ahmed told Yahoo Finance recent studies had shown a surge in young children and teenagers seeking help for gambling addictions, from pokies and video games to sports betting and social media.

Ahmed said tech and gambling were merging, making modern gambling addiction like being dependent on social media. It’s more social, there’s less time for reflection and, for brains that are still developing, it’s insidious and difficult to stop.

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“I have patients gambling in the waiting room while waiting for their appointment with me. One of the worst cases I saw was a child who had lost around $3,000,” Ahmed said.

“Whether it is social media or video games, they’re very engaging. They give you quick rewards. So, even before you get into gambling, [kids] are becoming much more impulsive. They’re much more sensitive to social belonging and rejection and they’re much more sensitive to cheap dopamine hits.”

How does playing video games lead to gambling addiction?

Ahmed said that, most of the time, the kids he treated didn’t even realise they were gambling - to them it is just another game.

“Gambling and tech are starting to merge. It's available on your device, it's on your phone or your laptop, so you can do it anywhere. It's social,” he said.

“Increasingly, gambling is embedded in parts of social media, or parts of video games. So it starts to become seamless, where you're not even seeing it as gambling. It just becomes an extension of gaming, or just socialising in general.”

Ahmed said things like microtransactions, or purchasing a new weapon or armour in games to get the edge on the competition was, in itself, a form of gambling. Kids are making a ‘bet’ that if they have this item, they will perform better.

Signs your child might have a gambling addiction

Ahmed said the signs of gambling addiction often reflected those of any other kind of addiction - things like:

  • Irritability

  • Isolating in rooms

  • Falling behind at school

“Then, obviously trying to find new ways of getting money, and they can reach levels of crime,” Ahmed said.

“I had one patient who was hitting up his friends, trying to get more money. So, it can start reaching those levels, which is similar to other types of addicts, where they start behaving in really problematic ways.”

Teaching kids the value of money could save them

Ahmed said any child under the age of 15 shouldn’t be allowed to spend money on social media or gaming at all. But, once they hit a certain age, it may be unavoidable.

He said the main thing parents should do is teach their child the value of money because many kids didn’t consider the money they were spending online to be ‘real’.

“It can become a bit normalised to spend small amounts of money, but then those small amounts of money, as they age, take on different forms. That's really when gambling just becomes an extension of that,” he said.

“It's just another way to play a game. And there's money involved. That's kind of how they get conditioned to see it, rather than ‘this a type of risk’.”

If gambling is a problem for you, go to Gambling Help Online or call 1800 858 858.

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