The anti-addiction charity Fast Forward is running training sessions across Scotland over the next month to help teachers get to grips with the issue of teenage gambling. The programme comes amid fears that technology is making underage betting more accessible than ever.
Here, TESS explores a problem that is often hidden and poorly understood by both pupils and teachers.
How serious is the problem of underage gambling in Scotland today?
It’s hard to say exactly. Anti-addiction and financial education organisations are worried that more pupils are being sucked into gambling as it migrates online. But their evidence is largely anecdotal. There has been no comprehensive attempt to quantify the problem in Scotland since the explosion in online gambling and the deregulation of gambling advertising on television in 2007.
A 2006 study of 11- to 16-year olds in Glasgow and North Lanarkshire found that 9 per cent were “problem gamblers”, with another 15 per cent “at risk” from gambling. Fruit machines were the most popular form of gambling.
What about evidence from outside Scotland?
An Ipsos MORI survey of nearly 3,000 adolescents in England and Wales, published in December 2014 for the Gambling Commission, found that 16 per cent of 11- to 15-year-olds had gambled in the previous seven days, with boys (20 per cent) more susceptible than girls (12 per cent). But problem gambling, and gambling in general, had dropped in the previous years. The survey found that use of gambling websites was “notably low” – those questioned were far more likely to play the National Lottery.
What do schools say?
Gambling addiction “appears to be a problem facing a rising number of older teenagers”, according to Scottish Secondary Teachers’ Association president Euan Duncan. There is “no doubt that some online gambling games are designed to be seriously addictive”, he adds, and gambling companies, like the tobacco industry in the past, are creating colourful, animation-based advertising designed to appeal to the young. A straw poll of pupils by Mr Duncan showed that young people could easily identify the names of gambling websites.
How aware are teachers of pupils’ problems with gambling?
The Youth Problem Gambling Initiative, which went national in January after a trial that took place in and around Edinburgh, will include training for teachers and other professionals over the coming weeks, run by Fast Forward (bit.ly/PupilGambling).
Chiara Marin, senior development officer at the charity, says: “Problem gambling is not a new phenomenon – however, with young people it’s often hidden and it may go unrecognised. Our training may help teachers become aware of a growing social issue.”
And how aware are pupils?
Many fail to understand that you will almost certainly lose money if you bet over a long period, according to Ms Marin. Paul Heward, project manager of the Stewart Ivory Financial Education Trust, says that pupils are often overconfident about their ability to maintain control of gambling, leaving them vulnerable to websites that have connections to short-term loan companies.
Mr Duncan adds: “Teenagers tend to have very low incomes…and the lure of a big win could lead vulnerable young people to become mired in debt and indulge in further risky behaviour.” A 2010 Australian survey found that few teenagers recognised when gambling was problematic (bit.ly/YoungGambling).
What are the implications for education?
Problem gambling is extremely draining in terms of “mental energy”, explains Ms Marin, and it has clear ramifications for success in education. A 2014 NHS Scotland review into the harm caused by gambling showed that adolescent problem gamblers had less “school connectedness” than their peers did (bit.ly/GamblingHarm). International research, meanwhile, has shown that people who drop out of school are more likely to be affected by problem gambling.
What can teachers do?
Avoid “just say no” approaches to the problem, according to Ms Marin. As when confronting other forms of addiction, this tends to be ineffectual. Instead, teachers should help pupils to make “informed choices…to protect themselves”, she says.
Critically important, she adds, is a better understanding of the maths of gambling, such as averages and the difference in odds between free introductory games online (which are relatively easy to win) and real games on the same website.
Working on critical-thinking skills more generally would also help. For advice on counselling, Fast Forward recommends the Paisley-based RCA Trust (bit.ly/RCATrust).