When it comes to online safety, there are many considerations as we prepare pupils to navigate their way sensibly and safely: connecting with strangers, the risks of sexual exploitation and protecting their own online identity. One that has never really crossed my mind is online gambling. But looking at recent headlines, perhaps we’re missing a significant problem facing young people today.
It turns out that almost half a million children between 11 and 15 are gambling online each week in the UK, according to a recent study by the Gambling Commission. This astonishing figure is much higher than the equivalent for problems that usually get the limelight, such as smoking, drug and alcohol misuse.
Almost half a million children between 11 and 15 are gambling online each week
Now, not all this activity revolves around online gambling; fruit machines are more popular than ever, as are scratch cards, but technology is playing its part: 3 per cent of the children who responded to the survey spent their own money to gamble online and, even more worryingly, 6 per cent used their parents’ accounts to have a go – with or without permission.
So, what can we do about this in an already crowded curriculum?
The impact of advertising
The first thing is to be aware of the impact that online advertising is having in terms of attracting young people to gambling in the first place – 63 per cent of the children questioned had seen adverts on social media. Perhaps, when teaching pupils how to evaluate online content, we need to explicitly talk about ads and sponsored content.
We also need to include scenarios such as children using their parents’ online gambling accounts and the impact of that.
The proportion of the children gambling who are doing so via apps has also increased to 73 per cent from 64 per cent last year. So perhaps this also needs to be an explicit part of teaching about evaluating digital content and making choices online.
But would this have the required impact? Experience tells me that even when young people know how not to behave online, it doesn’t always stop them from doing just that.
There is help beyond the classroom. GamCare, which operates the National Gambling Helpline, has set up bigdeal.org.uk, an online portal for 12-18s that dishes out advice and information on gambling. It also has an education and prevention team dedicated to outreach for young people and professionals working with them.
Let’s not ignore the power of parental conversation
Let’s not ignore the power of parental conversation, either. This is a huge factor in addressing other online risks such as talking to strangers.
School alone won’t solve this issue, but raising awareness of the risks of gambling addiction as part of our online safety curriculums would be a good starting point.