Get ready for what has become an annual marketing onslaught of gambling-related toys, books and paraphernalia as we approach the holiday shopping season. My current favorite example is the Pink Poker Night "It's A Chick Thing" Kit, where for $29.95 you can have "everything a chick needs to host a fabulous girls' night in."
So what's the fuss? I received this e-mail from a concerned mother of two:
"I want to know how much I should be worrying about gambling and the health of my kids. They watch poker tournaments on TV, their friends wear clothing with references to poker and I heard my son talk about playing poker with friends. …What is a mother to do?"
Today's generation is the first to grow up in a society where gambling is widely accepted, advertising is ubiquitous and gambling activities are commonplace.
I told the concerned mom that, although we don't know the ultimate effects of today's gambling popularity, we do know both children and adults can and do get caught up in gambling in a way that is harmful to themselves and others around them.
This is not to say that you need to panic if your child is gambling — most kids engage in some form of gambling, and most don't develop gambling problems. But you do need to recognize that gambling carries risk.
What do you look for if you're concerned your child might have a problem? Watch for signs such as lying about gambling; gambling superseding other activities; using money to gamble that's supposed to be used for other things; borrowing money to gamble; or stealing and letting schoolwork suffer.
Another suggestion I gave the concerned mom was to talk to her kids about gambling using these simple guidelines:
• Notice opportunities to discuss gambling.
• Discuss rules and expectations for behavior, and follow through with consequences.
• Be specific. When you talk about gambling, mention specific examples such as buying a lottery ticket, betting on a sports event or playing bingo.
• Be clear about your own values but avoid sweeping statements (all gambling is bad) or threats ("If I ever catch you betting money ..."). Kids feel immortal, so scaring them doesn't work; threats invite rebellion.
• Emphasize balance and choice.
As a parent, you play the most important role in preventing problem-gambling behaviors in your children.
Jeff Marotta is problem-gambling services manager in the Oregon Department of Human Services Addictions and Mental Health Division.