teens

Teenagers and sports betting: The conversation I had to have at 16.

Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation
Thanks to our brand partner, Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation

The saying goes, “If you don’t think your teen is drinking, they’re probably drinking”. And it’s an accurate one, for the most part.

It only makes sense, growing up in a culture defined as much by enjoying a glass of Chardonnay with dinner four nights a week as it is by mateship.

It only follows, then, that parents are fairly unfazed when they inevitably catch their 15 or 16 year olds swapping vodka from the family liquor cabinet for water, bit-by-bit. Or unsurprised, at least.

How could they claim to be, when underage drinking is portrayed and normalised in every other teen movie and television series that’s aired since the turn of the century.

At 16 years old, when I confronted my own mum with a similar question around a different issue, it was one she was by no means ready for, nor, at the time, could quite wrap her head around.

Sportsbet was the app most of my friends used to place bets online. I’ve never figured out how they managed to create accounts considering they were underage, but I suppose it doesn’t matter.

Nor were they alone. According the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation (VRGF), research shows 12.2 percent of teens under 18 have placed a bet on the internet.

So, it was those enthusiastic friends around me, paired with my own dedication to AFL – two factors which, I would argue, are present in the lives of many young Australian boys – which eventually led me to download my first betting app.

teenager-sport-couch
Betting and sport: How young is too young? Image source: Getty.

I asked my mum if she could set up an account I could use in her name.

"Can I borrow your ID to set it up," I pleaded. "I'll put all the money on there. You won't need to spend a cent."

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She refused. And while I was devastated at the time, missing out on the undeniably thrilling peaks and pitfalls of gambling with my comrades, I'm incredibly relieved, in hindsight, that she did.

Boys are raised with a belief ingrained that gambling and sport go hand-in-hand; that there's little point in a competitive match being played if their dad, their uncle, their older cousin can't pull out a mobile phone and bet on it.

With research showing that 75 percent of kids aged eight to 16 can name at least one sports betting company, it's remarkable how easily the advertising seeps through during sports matches, on unrelated apps kids use, and throughout social media. The VRGF's Love The Game initiative helps parents, schools, and sports clubs both big and small to teach young people about these issues.

For parents, it's critical to have "the talk" sooner rather than later. Perhaps before they even reach a stage at which they're comfortable asking you about gambling up front.

Video: How to have "the talk" about sports and gambling... post continues below

That is easier said than done, of course. A lecture-like approach is likely the fastest way to get young guys - like myself just a few years ago - to switch off. But broaching the topic speaking casually, and from personal experience is a different story.

My own father, for example, broached the topic with me in a car ride soon after I'd asked my mum to assist me in opening an account.

He shared with me that a close family member had struggled with a gambling addiction from a young age. He spoke candidly, as if explaining what he'd had for lunch. It was friendly. Non-confrontational.

Sitting side-by-side in the car removed the awkwardness most teens feel when forced to look their parents in the eye. It also meant I couldn't escape. It didn't come across as a lecture and I engaged far more because of it.

At a time when age restrictions online and in venues are doing little to stop teens from gambling, we need to remember - even if we aren't beaten over the head with this issue in popular culture, as we are with underage drinking -  this is still a conversation worth having.

And perhaps the old adage needs amending: If you don't think your teen's gambling... they probably are.

It follows once again then, that there's never been a more important time to speak to teens about gambling than now. We need to help them fully understand how incredible sport is - that while betting is integrated into Australian culture, it isn't all smiles and money. And that competition can still be thrilling when money isn't on the line at all.

This content was created with thanks to our brand partner the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

In 2018, all 10 Victorian AFL clubs signed up to the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation's Love The Game Charter, pledging to reduce exposure of their fans and members to sports betting. More than 300 local and elite sporting clubs are part of the program. Visit Love The Game to see what they're doing.

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