Will today's teenagers and young children be tomorrow's problem gamblers?
That's a fair question, and one America may need to answer sooner than later.
Research reported this week from the Center for Youth Gambling Problems at McGill University in Montreal shows people who start gambling at a young age are the most likely to become addicted to gambling. It also shows 8 percent of young gamblers display compulsive behavior compared with 3 percent of adult gamblers.
Considering those findings and that today's youths grow up in a culture where gambling flourishes, it's important to reach out to kids early and often to teach them about the dangers gambling can pose.
This is not to say all gambling is bad. Indeed, the majority of adults do gamble. The difference, though, is most adults understand the odds of winning are low. Teens and yes, even preteens, don't always grasp those ideas. All they see are those 1-in-1 million winners.
Look no further than the Recovery Plus gambling program at St. Cloud Hospital. About a fourth of its current patients are in their 20s, and teenagers have sought help as well, Jane Komarek-Pavkovich said. She has worked at the hospital for 25 years and is a licensed chemical dependency counselor and certified gambling counselor.
Obviously, the challenge for parents and all people connected with youths is to teach kids that gambling, much like alcohol, is risky. If not handled appropriately, it can lead to addictive behavior and a range of problems, including trouble in school, family problems and even criminal activity.
Fortunately, Minnesota is a leader in promoting such prevention. For more than a decade, the Minnesota Council on Compulsive Gambling has worked to reach out to kids. It has tapped parents, schools and most recently the Internet.
Executive Director Betty George said the council's first efforts targeted seniors in high school, but research showed that by that age up to 91 percent of students had gambled. So the council developed educational tools to reach third- through eighth-graders.
And most recently, efforts have focused on the Internet. Web site such as www.wannabet.org and www.probablynot.net provide peer-to-peer tips, anecdotes and lessons all designed to steer minors away from gambling.
Yet prevention does not always work.
... Overall, the key to helping today's young people avoid becoming problem gamblers is to view gambling on the same level as alcohol or drugs. Done with a clear understanding of its effects and consequences, it can be just as devastating as a substance abuse problem.
-- St. Cloud Times
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