Grades falling? How to spot pupils' gambling problems

We explore how to identify gambling among pupils – as campaigners warn it should be treated as 'a public health issue'

Tes Reporter

pupil gambling video games addiction

Are pupil grades plummeting due to gaming? 

That's the question being asked by Cam Adair, an international speaker and author who writes about video games addiction.

“Are they [pupils] far more isolated?" he says. "Have they lost interest in all other activities? Does their life revolve around gaming? If they do take a break, are they experiencing withdrawal symptoms – cravings, headaches, boredom, mood swings?”

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Mr Adair was quoted in The Daily Telegraph – as campaigners called for gambling among schoolchildren to be treated as a public health issue.

Campaigners Stewart Kenny, a founder of bookmaker Paddy Power, and Tracey Crouch MP, who resigned as sports minister over delays to a crackdown on maximum stakes for fixed-odds betting machine, told a recent BBC Radio 4 programme, The Teenage Gamblers, that gambling, like alcoholism, smoking or addiction to drugs, "should definitely be a public health issue".

The link between gambling and gaming among schoolchildren was highlighted to Tes earlier this year.

The campaigners cited examples such as survival adventure game Fortnite, with its in-game payments feature, as well as Candy Crush Saga and Bejeweled, which are said to create the same sensation as gambling.

Mr Kenny, who resigned from Paddy Power in frustration over the failure of senior management to properly tackle problem gambling, described video games addiction as "a huge problem". 

"It is normalising gambling for children and that is dangerous. It is a constant barrage of advertising and it was nearly part of the game," he said.

"It became normal for children to think 'Well, soccer and gambling are the same thing.' They are a lot more likely to get addicted early than an adult would be."

Symptoms of addiction in schoolchildren include lack of control over gaming, and placing it as a huge priority at the expense of other things, including studying for exams, relationships and social life, say experts.

A young person identified only as Sam, who became addicted to gambling as a teenager, told the BBC programme that he had planned to take his own life and said: "It totally changed my personality and my thought process, not just in my personality but in my everyday life."

According to the Gambling Commision's latest survey, around one in every 25 pupils is either a problem gambler or at risk of becoming one.

The NHS announced in June that children with a gaming addiction could get access to professional treatment via a dedicated gambling clinic as part of services provided by the Centre for Internet and Gaming Disorders.

NHS chief executive Simon Stevens said: “Gambling and internet firms have a responsibility to their users as well as their shareholders and should do their utmost to prevent rather than cash in on obsessive or harmful behaviour."

Meanwhile, in South Korea, the government has introduced a law banning access for children under 16 from online games between midnight and 6am.

And in Japan, players are alerted if they spend more than a certain amount of time each month playing games.

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