Young teens who gamble are at greater risk of struggling in school, according to a new Canadian study published in Springer’s Journal of Gambling Studies.
The study was led by Frank Vitaro of the University of Montreal, Sainte-Justine Hospital Research Center and the Research Unit on Children’s Psychosocial Maladjustment in Canada.
The long-term population-based study involved 766 Canadian teens who were assessed at the ages of 14 and 17 through self-reports and responses from their parents who answered questions about their gambling habits and academic performance.
The researchers chose to focus on how many different types of gambling activities the teens participated in, rather than how often they gambled. This is because more diverse gambling habits have been found to better predict whether a person will develop gambling problems.
Data on the social status and structure of the families in which the teens were raised was also gathered from their parents. This took account of the level of education that the children’s parents had reached, and the jobs they held.
A significant, albeit modest, correlation was found between a teenager who gambled at the age of 14 and 17 and his or her subsequent academic performance. Teens who were already gambling regularly by the time they were 14 years old saw the greatest drop in their academic performance in the years following.
For one thing, teenagers’ gambling activities after school hours often take up much of the time they might otherwise have spent on school-related work, said Vitaro. Many gamblers are also known to skip classes.
In addition, when adolescents are in the gambling scene, they are often exposed to antisocial peer groups, which in turn might diminish school engagement and school performance, either directly or through an increase in behavioral and social problems.
“Our results also confirm the pervasive role of socio-familial risk, which has been related to both elevated levels of gambling involvement and low academic performance among adolescents in previous studies,” said Vitaro, who adds that personal factors such as impulsivity also play a role.
“From a clinical perspective, these findings suggest that children living in an unfavorable environment and manifesting high levels of impulsivity should be targeted for early prevention purposes,” said Vitaro. “Failing early prevention, reducing gambling involvement may also curb to some extent the decline in academic performance.”