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DEAR COUNSELLOR: Teens and gambling

Dr Karelle Hytlon, PhD Counselling Psychologist

Dear Counsellor:
I AM a 13-year-old male and I am concerned for my friend. I have been trying to tell him that his gambling is getting out of hand. He insists that he has it covered. I know that he steals from other students, misleads his grandmother, and asks for more money for projects than he needs so he can have money to use for gambling. I recently found out that he is not attending school some days, as he uses the lunch money to gamble. He has started lying to his family and the teachers, and his grades have fallen in such a way that it is pathetic. How can I help my friend?
– G.H.

Dear G.H.,
Your query on behalf of your friend indicates that there is promise, empathy and hope for the future of Jamaica and the world. Teenage gambling is one of the fastest-rising addictions today. Persons sometimes think that the obvious reason for gambling is to make money. However, that’s only a part of the story. For many teenage gamblers, it is as much about the fun and excitement – the adrenaline rush and high from winning (or thinking of gambling) – as it is about winning money. Sometimes people start gambling because their friends are into it or they have a family member who gambles. In fact, the main thing that puts teens at risk for gambling problems is influence from family members and friends.

Gambling is always against the law for minors, and because gamblers can be driven to crime to fund their addictions, teen
gamblers can develop serious legal problems.

Gambling becomes a problem when a teenager/person displays the following behaviours (or a combination of behaviours):
• Truancy – skipping class in order to go to the gambling establishments.
• Being untruthful to family members, teachers, etc.
• Stealing to support the addiction.
• Gambling instead of taking care of other responsibilities (doing things that will help them develop as teenagers).
• Inability to stop thinking about gambling.
• Displaying difficulty in cutting down or stopping the gambling.
• Being in denial.
• Declining in academic performance.

GH, you have started the process of helping your friend … talking to him about your observations and letting him know about your concern are ways of helping him become aware of this unhealthy habit. You may want to talk about the behaviours you have noticed and how they will affect him as a person and as a student. There are some things you may be able to assist with. Distraction can work well in breaking a gambling habit. You may try to encourage your friend to accompany you to an extra- curricular activity at school. Finding a new hobby or something better to do may just help your friend to have something to take his mind off gambling.

Being his friend also means that you ought to talk with your guidance counsellor about your concerns for your friend. He or she will let you know how to guide/counsel your friend. Here in Jamaica, there is ‘Reaching Individuals through Skills and Education – RISE – an addiction recovery – programmes that includes group therapy and counselling sessions. It has helped many teen gamblers overcome their addiction.

I hope that there is a peer counselling club at your school, in order that you and your friend may volunteer as advocates against addictions – gambling, alcohol and substances. If there is no peer counselling group, might I suggest that you begin the process of organising one at your school, along with a teacher facilitator.

I appreciate your courage. Remember that you are a friend indeed!

Dr Karelle Hytlon, PhD Counselling Psychologist karelle_hylton@yahoo.com

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