How does your gambling problem affect your child?

Most parents want the best for their children and hope that when times are tough or when there are problems within the family children are protected or don’t even notice there is a problem. Unfortunately this is rarely the case.

There is no doubt that children whose parents are problem gamblers are affected in many ways by their parent’s gambling. The saddest part is perhaps that the parent who is a problem gambler is sometimes unaware of the harm that their problem gambling is causing their child or teenager.

As a gambling counsellor, it is not unusual to hear that a client’s son or daughter is working with a counsellor on depression or anxiety issues. In this situation, the parent with problem gambling and the non-gambling parent, usually believe that their child is unaware of any gambling problem and is simply depressed because of the pressures of school, relationships and so on. Rarely does the parent with the problem gambling think that their son or daughter’s depression or anxiety could be due in part or full to their own problem gambling.

It is very important to say at this point that children may know far more than what their parents give them credit for.

A child or teenager who is thought to be asleep often hears a fight between parents about gambling such as ‘now there is no money to pay bills’.  Alternatively, they may hear a phone conversation about their parent’s gambling behaviour or have simply put all the pieces together for themselves.

Clues your child may be affected by your gambling

Some of the emotional, physical and behavioural clues that your child may be affected by your problem gambling could include the following:

  • Emotional: hopelessness, anxiety, depression, confusion, hurt, guilt, loneliness, insecurity and or inadequacy and anger
  • Physical: Exhibit stress-related illnesses such as asthma, allergies, chronic headaches and or chronic gastrointestinal problems
  • Behavioural: running away, alcohol abuse, drug use, smoking, over-eating, lower academic school performance, criminal activity and/or attempted suicide.

Research ‘tells’ us that families where the mother is the parent with the problem gambling are more likely to be engaged in constant family arguments.  In this scenario, children may not be properly organized for school and other activities and may arrive at school without breakfast.

Children whose fathers have a problem with gambling often experience financial deprivation particularly around food, school and accommodation.

Family life suffers as a result of problem gambling. Parental neglect and withdrawal, loss of trust, loss of security and stability are common. Inconsistent discipline, emotional deprivation, physical isolation, and a strong emphasis on money or material possessions are also negative outcomes of life affected by problem gambling.

Children whose parents are problem gamblers experience feelings of pervasive loss, including the loss of the parent in both the physical and emotional sense, the loss of a relationship with their extended family, loss of savings and other assets and sometimes the loss of the family home.

Children who grow up in families with problem gambling also may experience high rates of parental violence, abuse and separation and are twice as likely to attempt suicide themselves.

Finally, research indicates that children growing up in families affected by problem gambling were more likely to develop gambling problems themselves than children raised in non problem gambling families even after controlling for other factors.

Some young people have told me that they first started gambling because they simply wanted to understand what was in gambling for their mother or their father, who were absent from their lives in many different ways.

If you’re concerned that gambling is affecting your family, remember that it is not too late to stop gambling and rebuild your relationships with your son and or daughter. Phone the Gambling Help Line on 1800 858 858 or go online now and talk to a gambling counselor at Gambling Help Online.

The Kids Helpline 1800 55 1800 is a source of support for young people.

More information about the impact of your problem gambling on your child is available by clicking on this link. 

This blog is based on studies undertaken by the Problem Gambling Research & Treatment Centre for Gambling Research Australia in the Children at Risk of Developing Problem Gambling Project. For more information click here.

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