Emerging financial independence and the risks of gambling

Figurines standing on top of a wallet

When your child reaches their late teens they’re probably going to be financially independent for the first time. A job, internship, apprenticeship or student loan will bring money in the sort of sums they’ve probably never had to manage before. 

This can seem both exciting - all those things to buy! - and intimidating: all that budgeting, saving and paying bills. 

Being in charge of your own money is great, but it can also be challenging. Young people may want to try things they haven’t been able to do before, like gambling, which could potentially lead them to develop harmful habits. We look at the transition to financial independence and the risks that might come with it. Here’s a guide to what you need to know and how to spot signs of problems.

Spend, spend, spend!

Managing the transition to financial independence can be tricky. (It’s a good idea to give your child gradual responsibility for money beforehand - a part-time job, for example, or responsibility for some regular item of expenditure.)

Young people can make all sorts of early mistakes with their money - spending sprees, drinking too heavily - and they might also try gambling, especially if their friends are doing it, or if they think it’s a way to make money fast.

Gambling

Recent research found that 36 per cent of 11-16-year-olds in the UK have spent their own money on gambling in the last year. Most of this occurs via slot machines or private bets with friends. (The minimum age at which you can participate in most forms of gambling in the UK is 18, with a few exceptions such as the National Lottery - which you can play at 16 - and gaming machines, like crane grab machines or coin pushers, where the maximum stake is £1).

Meanwhile, new forms of gambling are gaining popularity. The number of 11-16-year-olds the UK who’ve gambled online in the last seven days has tripled since 2018. A 2019 parliamentary committee called for a total overhaul of the 2005 Gambling Act, saying it’s not working in a digital age. 

It’s also the case that there’s a lot more openness about gambling than there used to be when it mainly took place in betting shops. Now it’s online, it takes place in people’s homes, and it’s well-advertised. Recent research has found that: 

  • 58 per cent of children and young people in the UK have watched a gambling advert on TV.
  • 49 per cent of children and young people have seen gambling adverts on social media.
  • 50 per cent of children and young people have seen gambling adverts related to a sports event. 

Many people gamble safely and enjoy it. Most people who gamble don’t develop addictive behaviours. But gambling can become risky and obsessive, leading to a sense of loss of control. 

How can you tell when it’s becoming a problem?

Signs to watch out for

The trouble with problematic gambling behaviour is that it can look like a lot of other problems.

  • Becoming easily agitated and arguing with family members
  • Lying to cover up spending
  • Withdrawing from normal activities

These can all be signs that someone is struggling with gambling - or they might be signs of other problems. It’s helpful, though, to bear gambling in mind. You can find more information about what to look out for at BeGambleAware.org and the Know The Stakes hub, a collaboration between Parent Zone and GambleAware. 

How to approach the subject with your child if you’re worried

Seeing someone struggle with gambling can be upsetting. Encourage them to talk. Unless they come to you first, it can be hard to find a way to start the conversation. Don’t be afraid to begin in a small way. Maybe check in with a text. Or have a quick chat in the car when you’re mostly focusing on going somewhere else. 

If your child chooses to open up, listen while reassuring them that you care about their wellbeing and that you’re concerned about anything that puts them at risk. Of course, it’s possible your child may feel ashamed and be defensive. You can always come back to it. 

Ways to limit gambling

Studies have shown that the most effective way of stopping harmful gambling habits is stimulus control – in other words, getting rid of a young person’s means of gambling. If your child wants to change their habits but finds it hard to stop, you could suggest they try some self-exclusion tools.

Here are some services you can suggest if someone close to you wants to get on top of their spending:                    

  • GAMSTOP​:​ prevents users from accessing gambling websites for a period of either six months, one year, or five years: however long they think it’ll take to regain control.
  • Multi Operator Self Exclusion Scheme​:​ If they struggle with offline gambling, the Multi Operator Self Exclusion Scheme prevents them from gambling in the betting shops of their choice for 12 months.
  • Bank account gambling block: ​Banks like ​Monzo​, ​HSBC​, ​Starling​ and ​Barclays​ offer their users the option to block all spending on gambling websites and companies.
  • Squirrel​:​ Developed in partnership with GambleAware, Barclays’ Squirrel – a bank account with budgeting features – doesn’t allow same-day withdrawal, which can help to prevent spontaneous spending. 

You can find more tips and advice on the Know The Stakes hub.

Where to go for help

If you or your young person are looking for confidential advice and support, there are lots of free, professional services out there. It’s worth taking action because people who have an unhealthy relationship with gambling early in life are more likely to suffer from addiction in the future.

  • The National Gambling Helpline provides free support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is completely anonymous. The counsellors are able to help with everything gambling-related, from debt advice to crisis support. They also offer free face-to-face counselling sessions. The Helpline is open not only to people suffering from gambling disorder but also to those concerned about someone else’s gambling. You can also get in touch through their free ​live chat​ service.
  • The ​National Gambling Treatment Service​ – accessible through the National Gambling Helpline – provides safe, effective treatment for gambling problems through counselling, intervention and psychotherapy.
  • BeGambleAware.org​ for more information and resources related to safe gambling.
  • The ​CNWL NHS Foundation Trust runs the Young Persons' Problem Gambling Clinic and the Gaming Disorder Service. This now treats young people between the ages of 13 and 25 who are struggling with gambling or gaming. You can find out more and make a referral on their ​website​.
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