Stronger parental supervision during the preteen and early teen years can reduce the risk for gambling in young adulthood, according to research conducted at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
Specifically, teens with poor parental supervision at age 11, and whose supervision continued to decline over the next three years, were much more likely than their peers to be problem gamblers between ages 16-22.
Gambling among youth is a growing problem. Research has shown that more than 80 percent of youth have engaged in gambling, and as many as 13 percent meet the diagnostic criteria to be considered problem gamblers.
The study, titled “Parental Monitoring Trajectories and Gambling,” is the first to look at the link between parental monitoring during early adolescence and gambling behaviors in late adolescence and young adulthood.
The researchers surveyed 514 Baltimore youth with questions regarding parental supervision and gambling. Two distinct patterns came forth: 85 percent were considered in the “Stable group” with consistently high levels of parental monitoring; the remaining 15 percent were in a “Declining group” that reported slightly lower levels of parental monitoring at age 11 with declining rates to age 14.
The differences between the two groups were modest, yet statistically significant; both the Stable and Declining groups were fairly well-monitored during early adolescence. The Stable group was supervised approximately all of the time, and the Declining group was supervised most of the time.
“The finding that such a small difference in parental monitoring is associated with a significantly increased risk for problem gambling could be due to the current sample of predominantly African-American youth from urban, low SES environments in which parents tend to be more aware of the potential detrimental impact their environment has on their children and, thus, try to closely monitor the youth,” said co-author Silvia Martins, M.D., Ph.D., Mailman School of Public Health associate professor of epidemiology.
“As children grow older, it is normal for them to spend more time outside the home with friends, and for parents to give them the freedom to do so. But parents should be careful to stay engaged and be vigilant,” said Martins.
“Teenagers seek autonomy, but they may not yet have the maturity to keep them from engaging in risky behaviors.”
The study is the first to identify a way for parents to avoid future problems with gambling. Gender, race, socioeconomic status, impulsivity, aggression and hanging out with peers who engage in antisocial behavior are all known risk factors for gambling, but all are difficult to counteract.
Parental monitoring, however, is known to be an effective intervention throughout early adolescence. Although the actual intervention in this study lasted only one year and targeted academic achievement and aggression, the individuals were interviewed annually since the first grade.
“This study identifies a characteristic that future gambling prevention and intervention programs can target,” said Martins.
“The recent expansion of gambling outlets coupled with the growth of online gambling could increase gambling among young adults. For this reason, it is important to understand what makes a child vulnerable to problem gambling and ways to intervene,” she said.