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Life’s a Gamble

A small but worrying number of boys and girls start gambling before they turn 18, and some of them develop problems.

Between 0.2 and 4.4 per cent of Australian adolescents are already problem gamblers.

Research shows that problem gambling risk factors can be related to socio-demographic, personality, psychosocial, substance abuse, gambling, peer, school, and family factors.

Some of these common risk factors include being male, low socio-economic status, extraversion, non-conformity, impulsivity, sensation seeking, under controlled temperament, depressive symptoms, anxiety, impaired coping, life stress, ADHD, substance use, risk-taking, antisocial behaviour, violence, exposure to gambling, peer pressure, school difficulties and family problems.

Deakin University School of Psychology Lecturer Dr Stephanie Merkouris says parents and carers can reduce the risk by talking to young people, looking for problems, limiting internet use and thinking about family attitudes towards gambling and gambling-related activities.

Go to deakin.edu.au

Gamblers Help telephone line: 1800 858 858

Gamblers Help youth telephone line: 1800 262 376

Online support: www.gamblinghelponline.org.au 

Raising children: www.raisingchildren.net.au/articles/gambling.html

How Do I Spot Gambling Problems?

  • Sudden changes in the amount of money your child has
  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Changes in mood
  • School absences or falling marks at school
  • Decreased social activities and friends (or complete withdrawal)
  • Preoccupation with: sports, internet, odds, video arcades, simulated gambling apps and games
  • Secrecy about gambling or denial

Protective Factors for Youth Gambling Problems

  • Female gender
  • Adaptive coping strategies
  • Emotional Intelligence
  • Well-being
  • Self-monitoring
  • Personal competence
  • Resilience
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Social competence
  • Social support
  • Social bonding
  • School connnectedness
  • Understanding of randomness
  • Parental monitoring
  • Family cohesion

Young People & Gambling






Intelligent Gaming

Andrew Kinch is the founder of GameAware. He says video games – in the right measure – can help young people meet some important psychological needs.

“Gamers have been stigmatised over the years. There used to be a time when people wouldn’t admit to their friends that they played video games. Once an underground subculture, in 2017 these games were a $109 billion industry. 

“Gamers often feel the need to become defensive when they’re told that their passion is a waste of time. After that, anything that is true about the harms of excessive gaming is completely ignored. It’s a polarised debate between those who play and those who blame video games as the cause of gaming disorders. The truth lies somewhere in the middle and is often complex.

“Gaming is a great form of entertainment, but we must be on top of our self-regulation skills, especially when the motivation to play is to escape real life. When gaming becomes a coping mechanism to seek relief from pain, it can become excessive and problematic. People can choose gaming to attempt to meet their needs. When you combine this with easy access and the game mechanics that entice players to keep coming back, you can see how an individual might be motivated to live in the virtual world.

“In my experience, video games hit three motivational needs for young people: competence, autonomy and relatedness. 

“Competence is the feeling of mastery. Everyone wants to be good at something and video games allow you to become good at something quickly. If I want to be good at basketball it can take years – with video games, it takes months and you do it without breaking a sweat. 

“Secondly, teenagers and children don’t have a lot of autonomy in their lives. In a game, they have freedom over their own choices and can express themselves creatively. They can customise their characters and develop a second identity if they choose. 

“Every multi-player game meets the third need, which is relatedness or social connection. When you play with other people – in a competitive or collaborative way – you feel part of something bigger than yourself. You are part of a gamer community. Gaming can allow kids to build self-confidence because the community is accepting of people from all walks of life and any age.

“I’d argue that you can’t completely fulfill psychological needs through video games. Real life will always provide us with the opportunity to feel more fulfillment from competence, autonomy and social connection.”

3 Things You Can Try Now

1. Do a 10-day gaming challenge – go cold turkey and stay away from games and gaming culture.

But parents can’t just yank the Wi-Fi. It must be something the gamer decides to do to test the commonly spoken phrase – “I could stop if I wanted to, I just don’t want to”. The challenge is about helping a gamer help themselves. Even if they don’t reach 10 days, you get information as
to whether they can control themselves. However, three
or four days in to the challenge, gaming’s grip tends to
be loosened!

2. Parents need to play video games with their kids.

Get coached and get a better understanding of the nuance in the games your child plays. Be a spectator from time to time to show interest. If you take your child to soccer and watch them play, they feel valued and it’s the same if they see you are taking their gaming seriously. Take down defensive walls by getting involved. The conversation about gaming changes when parents are not considered the opposition.

3. Set up social gaming sessions to be shoulder-to-shoulder with friends.

When we game in the same room and play the same game, the dynamic is more exciting and provides a level of connection that online gaming isn’t quite able to provide.

The Psychologist

Paula Ross helps clients and their families with issues related to substance use, addiction or ‘substance-use disorder’.

In the field of drug and alcohol treatment and intervention there are lots of different terms – addiction, problematic drug use, or substance dependence. Addiction as a word has gone a little out of favour and from a psychology perspective we tend to now use ‘substance-use disorder’, but the criteria for substance use disorder are mostly the factors people consider when talking about addiction.

“Some young people use substances experimentally, some recreationally and some become substance-use dependent, but they are the minority. Substance use and therefore dependency can be related to internal and external factors. 

“External factors are things like peer-group behaviour and what might be going on in the young person’s family and circumstances at the time. Internal factors include the fact that some kids are more naturally risk takers, and there is a group of young people who start taking drugs as self-medication for depression, anxiety and because they don’t feel good about themselves. I think it’s possible we’ll discover that certain brain chemistry makes you more predisposed to addiction, too. 

“There are a complex number of factors that are involved here and so it’s not as simple as young people who develop substance-use disorders being from ‘bad’ families or from ‘bad’ parents. Parents and family members often feel they have failed or done something wrong and also need support. 

“The things that start heading into substance-use disorder territory are when young people start spending increasing amounts of time using, obtaining, planning or sorting out their drug use or recovering from drug use. 

“We are concerned if young people start not meeting their commitments in other areas of their life as a result of their drug use. So they don’t get homework done, they can’t get to school and they don’t do their normal social and family activities. So things start to ‘go’. 

“It can be helpful if parents and family members don’t jump to conclusions but instead start a conversation with their child about what might be happening – ‘I notice this, this and this, what is going on?’ Rather than ‘I’ve noticed this, this and this – I think you’re using drugs’. 

“Stay calm and don’t overwhelm your teenager. So don’t sit down with your whole family and talk at them. Think about who is the best person to talk to the young person, who has the best communication with them, who is most likely to not get angry or emotional? And approach the conversation with warm curiosity – ‘I’m interested in what is going on, how are you…’

“You won’t have one conversation and find that your young person says ‘you’re right, I’ll stop’.”

“Parents need to have realistic expectations. You won’t have one conversation and find that your young person says ‘you’re right, I’ll stop’. Approach each conversation with an aim to start a dialogue and to keep communication channels open.

“If the conversation starts to go badly and you or your child gets angry or emotional, stop it. Don’t pressure yourself to have the whole conversation in that one moment. Sometimes the first conversation is about flagging the issue and sending the message that your child can talk about anything with you and that they can come to you. It is an ongoing conversation.

“There is some debate around whether you disclose your own past (or present) drug use. Parents need to walk the line between disclosure with the aim of letting a child know that you understand versus how much of your disclosure will your child hear as permission giving. If you do disclose, don’t turn it into a speech about every drug you’ve taken in your life – disclose a certain amount. 

“Parents can talk to a professional to discuss what they are dealing with and to get advice on how they can support their child. Consistency in the family is important. Family members should talk among themselves about how they as a family are going to respond to this issue. So are you giving your child
money or not? Are you letting them stay out all night or not?
What do you tell your other children if they ask questions about what is happening? 

“Above all, as a starting point, stay calm, get help and keep focusing on having conversations.”

Respect Tips

Encouraging Respectful Behaviour in Teenagers

  • Take time to actively listen.
  • Set clear rules about behaviour.
  • Follow up broken rules calmly, firmly and consistently. 
  • Encourage self-reflection.
  • Try to be a positive role model.
  • Choose your battles.
  • Take your child seriously.
  • Let go of the wheel sometimes.
  • Tackle problems in a positive way.
  • Praise your child.
  • Plan ahead for difficult conversations.
  • Keep “topping up” your relationship with fun times and support.
  • Share your feelings and be honest.
  • Learn to live with mistakes.
  • Look for ways to stay connected
  • Respect your child’s need for privacy.
  • Encourage a sense of belonging.
  • Keep promises.
  • Have realistic expectations.
  • Look for the funny side of things.

For more  information visit raisingchildren.net.au, the Australian parenting website

Signs Someone is Being Cyber-Bullied

  • Abnormal withdrawal from social activities, friends and/or family
  • Sudden lack of interest in using their mobile phone, computer or other devices
  • Disinterest or avoidance in attending school, sports, or other recreational activities
  • Nervous or jumpy when a text message or email is received
  • Extreme sleeping behaviour (sleeping a lot more or staying awake all night)
  • Self-harming behaviours
  • Moodiness and abnormal changes in behaviour

*Source: ‘Rosie’, a Dugdale Trust for Women & Girls national harm prevention initiative. www.rosie.org.au

The Behaviour Interventionist

Clinical psychotherapist Frank Zoumboulis says ‘helicopter’ or ‘tow-truck’ parenting affects the emotional development and well-being of young people.

Helicopter parents take an overactive and excessive interest in their child’s life. All parents want the best for their child but they can become over-involved, smothering, overbearing, interfering and over-controlling. I also call them tow-truck parents because they wait for an accident to happen and then steam in and clear up the mess.

“They have clear opinions about who is the right teacher for their child, what sport they should play, they want their child to be in the popular group and they offer disproportionate assistance, rather than allowing their teenager space. These parents don’t enjoy uncertainty, so they over-prepare and supervise intensely and interfere with their child’s opportunity to do something for themselves and to deal with the natural consequences of their actions. 

“In the 1940s and 1950s the approach to parenting was not to smother or spoil a child. John Bowlby was a contemporary British psychiatrist and child-development specialist who saw attachment as complementary to exploration. He said a child needed to feel secure enough and good enough about themselves to explore, but helicopter parents shut down exploration. They dampen a child’s confidence and interfere with their ability to develop resilience and to find their own feet. Kids end up ill-equipped to deal with basic day-to-day stuff, they can’t manage emotional responses and they are super-dependent on the parent. In my practice, I’ll see a 16-year-old with their parent and the parent completes the child’s sentences and answers their questions for them. 

“Some parents don’t risk a child participating in something because they feel their child may fail, but children need to experience failure to thrive.”

“Helicopter parenting isn’t to be confused with parents who are present – young people need a present parent. That’s a parent who can manage their own anxiety so when their child challenges their authority or questions them, that parent doesn’t go into a meltdown. A present parent is one who listens to their child because when your child talks, it encourages them to develop independent thoughts and they begin to have some critical thinking skills. Give your child some time with a problem so they can try and solve it themselves while making it clear you are available and allow them to come to you when they need help. 

“Some parents don’t risk a child participating in something because they feel their child may fail, but children need to experience failure to thrive. They need to sit with the burden of upset. Helicopter parenting alleviates that burden of suffering, but this interferes with a child’s ability to develop their own experience of struggle and success, or struggle and trauma and then recovery. 

“When your child feels hurt or defeated, sit with them and let them feel it and then your child will move on. Parents think that when a child is hurt and they fail at something that it is the beginning of a downhill slide and that their child will keep going downhill – they don’t. A child sits with it for a while and then moves on to the next thing. Parents are more likely to be the ones who catastrophise, but that’s about their anxiety of being a good enough mother or father.

“Ask yourself ‘how much am I hovering?’. Ask someone who knows you and who is prepared to tell you the truth. Often parents don’t realise they’re stifling their child’s potential for greater development. So be more of an observer rather than a doer and remember that your child needs to master the ordinary to be extraordinary.”


While anxiety is normal, it can develop into a disorder.

Most of us feel anxious at times. But for some people the anxiety is serious enough to negatively affect their enjoyment of life. Almost 7 per cent of Australian children and adolescents – or 278,000 – have an anxiety disorder. Most are considered mild.

Anxiety disorders generally include social phobia, separation anxiety, generalised anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. A major Australian study* found that these affected 6.9 per cent of those aged four to 17. There was little difference in prevalence between girls and boys.

Young people in the most-disadvantaged socioeconomic group (10.4 per cent) were twice as likely to have an anxiety disorder than those in the least-disadvantaged group (5.3 per cent). 

Young people with an anxiety issue need support to cope with the challenges they face, such as doing well in year 12, taking on leadership roles at a younger age and pressure to feel accepted on social media. Parents must be alert for signs that they are not coping and seek professional help if needed.

Risk Factors

  • A family history of anxiety;
  • Having a perfectionistic personality;
  • Lack of confidence or self-esteem;
  • Family and relationship problems;
  • Having a controlling or over-protective parent, or parents who are often critical or negative in their parenting style;
  • Death or loss of a loved one;
  • A traumatic or negative life experience;
  • Verbal, sexual, physical or emotional abuse or trauma;
  • Serious physical illness; and
  • Girls, or women, are more likely to develop anxiety disorders.

Anxiety Disorders

Social Phobia

Intense anxiety caused by social situations leading up to and during the event, such as going out with friends or giving a speech.

Separation Anxiety

An overwhelming fear of being parted from parents, carers or those to whom someone has a strong attachment.

Generalised Anxiety

Excessive anxiety and worry about common issues, such as family or friends, health, work, money or forgetting important appointments.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

An obsessive compulsion to do something, such as checking doors and windows to see if they are locked, or ensuring everything is orderly in cupboards and drawers.

Tips for Parents

  • Anxiety is normal. Excessive anxiety is not.
  • Young people with genuine anxiety disorders are not naughty or defiant.
  • Look for persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach aches, vomiting, tiredness as well
    as missing school and avoiding social activities.
  • If the anxiety relates to a mental-health disorder such as generalised anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, social anxiety and panic attacks, seek professional help.
  • Teaching and modelling resilience can help young people cope with anxiety.
  • Admit when you are anxious; no one is perfect.

Talking About Depression | Parent Tips

  • Choose a time when the young person is relaxed and unlikely to be distracted. 
  • Be natural and don’t overthink it. Start by sharing your concern. 
  • Be prepared for rejection. If they don’t want to talk, try again later. 
  • Check your emotions and be realistic, while telling them you care and want to help. 
  • Discuss what you have noticed and why you are concerned. 
  • Ask questions about how they feel. 
  • Let them guide the conversation.  
  • Tell them it is important to discuss their feelings. 
  • Try to understand their reaction and help them to feel at ease. Let them know that crying is OK.
  • Seek a balance between helping and encouraging their independence. 
  • Provide information about depression and the types of help available.
  • Respect their privacy but explain the benefits of telling trusted people. Let them know that professional help is confidential and easy to access.

Other Helpful Tips:


Realistic Ways to Talk to Teens About Alcohol

With everything parents worry about, it may surprise you to learn than Australian teenagers generally drink less alcohol today than previous generations did.

Even so, many of us struggle to hit the right note when talking about alcohol with teenage children.

We’ve put together some basic information to help you find the right words.

How much is too much alcohol?

National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) guidelines, which are under review, recommend that no alcohol is the best option for those under 18. Experts also advise parents and carers to model safe behaviours at home and while socialising.

Many don’t realise the influence their own habits can have. It is also important to be informed about the possible risks and be aware that your child is learning from your behaviour.

What if there’s a problem?

Psychologist Paula Ross says if you suspect your child may have a drug or alcohol problem, don’t make accusations but subtly note any behaviour changes.

“It can be helpful if parents and family members don’t jump to conclusions but instead start a conversation with their child about what might be happening — ‘I notice this, this and this. What is going on?'” she says.

Ms Ross says to stay calm and think about who is best placed to approach your teen empathetically. Expectations must also be realistic.

“You won’t have one conversation and find that your young person says, ‘You’re right, I’ll stop,'” she says.

Ms Ross says there is some debate around whether you disclose your own past (or present) substance use.

“Parents need to walk the line between disclosure with the aim of letting a child know that you understand, versus how much of your disclosure will your child hear as permission-giving,” she says.

Keeping it open and honest

Writer Cheryl Critchley has always spoken openly about alcohol with her children Jess, 21, Bec, 19, and Ben, 17.

“I don’t drink but my husband loves his beer,” she says.

“Our kids know about the pros and cons of drinking and we’ve discussed what we did at their age. We’ve talked about why people feel the need to drink, the dangers of overdoing it, and how alcohol is socially acceptable despite the harm it can cause.

“We also discuss the importance of looking out for each other around alcohol, which Jess and her friends do. She likes to drink but hasn’t had any issues.

“This year has been strange for Bec as she — and others her age — have had their socialising curtailed by COVID-19 restrictions. She has had a few drinks but decided it’s not much fun doing it by Facetime.

“By Ben’s age, most of our generation was drinking. He hasn’t had much if any alcohol yet. Ben likes energy drinks, so we’ve discussed them not having alcohol but being full of caffeine and sugar.”

Signs of misuse

There are no definitive warning signs of alcohol misuse. But a range of signs and behaviours that, combined, may indicate excessive drinking include:

  • Repeated health complaints
  • Changes in sleeping patterns
  • Changes in mood, especially irritability
  • Starting arguments, withdrawing from the family or breaking family rules
  • Dropping grades, frequent school absences or discipline problems at school
  • Changes in social activities and social groups

Learning good habits

When your children are old enough to drink, encourage them to do so responsibly.

The Australian Government’s alcohol and young people page has practical advice around the law, risks and finding help if needed. For example, to avoid or reduce alcohol intake while out you can:

  • Say no to drinks — prepare and practise your responses before you head out
  • Drink something non-alcoholic like a mocktail
  • Choose low-strength alcohol
  • Count standard drinks to keep track
  • Set a limit for yourself

Starting that conversation

Headspace early psychosis services manager Kirsten Cleland says kids can feel uncomfortable speaking about tricky issues, so parents and carers should make themselves available.

“It’s important that you take this opportunity to engage with your young person, as this is the moment when they have come to you for help,” she says.

Ms Cleland says we should ask whether our child wants us to listen or fix something for them, with the aim of enabling them to have a degree of responsibility around decision-making.

“The decision might not be the one we would like, and it might blow up in their face, but as long as it’s not going to do harm then it’s a learning opportunity,” she says.

If you or a family member need help with alcohol issues:

Teens 101 Q&A

How is parenting a teen different from parenting a younger child?

Parenting children of all ages can be hard, but teenagers are often particularly challenging. As well as issues surrounding physical and emotional development, today’s teens must also navigate the online world. The more parents understand about adolescence, the better chance they have of successfully communicating with and guiding their teens through this important time in their lives.

What are the top five biggest mistakes parents make when parenting a teen?

All parents make mistakes and that’s to be expected – none of us are perfect. With teenagers, these may include:

  • Trying to be their friend
  • Too much or not enough discipline
  • Pressuring them to perform
  • Assuming that they don’t want to talk
  • Banning technology as  punishment

How can parents alter their parenting approach to be more effective?

Each child is different, so parents need to learn about their needs and educate themselves about what has worked for others over many years. The advice of qualified experts can be useful in guiding your approach, but your gut feeling and knowledge of your own child are also crucial. For example, an introverted teenager needs a different approach to one who is extroverted.

What do teenagers need most from their parents during their teen years?

Above all else, unconditional love, empathy and support. But teenagers also need and seek boundaries and guidance as they naturally try to assert their independence. The key is balancing these elements and encouraging honest and open communication.

How would Teens 101 help parents?

Modern parenting is a combination of instinct and education. In a fast-changing world, most parents and carers want some help with the many challenges parenting presents, such as deciding how much technology is too much. Teens 101 is full of expert advice, the latest research and case studies that are designed to help educate parents and start important conversations with their teenagers.