Risky Business: Boys and Online Gambling

Teenage boy on his cell phone | The Boys Education Series

When asking boys about their favorite things, popular responses include sports, gaming, and competitions of any kind. Whether it’s March Madness, fantasy football, or a friendly card game night, it’s not surprising that games of chance, betting, especially about sports, has become increasingly popular with boys and young men. Add the convenience of online betting through apps and websites, easily available on a phone, and you have a recipe for some real challenges with helping boys understand the pull, power, and potential pitfalls of gambling.

There is a trend of states across the nation in making betting easier and more convenient through online gambling. The near constant access to gambling opportunities has had a definite impact on teenagers. According to McGill University’s International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors, between 60%-80% of high schoolers say they have gambled for money in the past year and up to 6% are addicted to gambling. Of those adolescents, boys are more likely to exhibit problem gambling behavior than girls and many report starting gambling around 10 years old. In a recent ABC news article, Dr. Timothy Fong, co-director of the UCLA Gambling Studies Program stated that "young people are significantly at higher risk of developing gambling disorder than adults, in part because their brains are not fully developed. Their ability to evaluate risk, their ability to handle loss, isn't as secure as an adult” (Weintraub). 

While major online betting sites require verification that a user is over 21, students have reported using the accounts of friends or family members who are over 21 or they are using unregulated, offshore, illegal websites. Popular gambling activities include online poker and slots, and especially sports betting.

Many sites have special platforms for fantasy sports betting that don’t require money or age restrictions. For example, a new social sportsbook uses “virtual currency” and is being marketed in some places as “suitable for ages 13 and up” and easily downloaded by even younger users. While these activities may seem harmless at first glance, they can quickly escalate into problematic behaviors with long-lasting consequences.

Despite their widespread popularity, fantasy sports and sports betting can have detrimental effects on teenagers' well-being. Research has shown that adolescent gambling is associated with a range of negative outcomes, including an increased risk of developing gambling disorders, financial problems, academic difficulties, and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety (Rizzo).


Advice for Parents

As parents, it's essential to educate ourselves about the dangers of gambling, particularly online gambling, and have open, honest conversations with our sons about responsible online behavior. Here are some tips for talking to your boys about online gambling:

Start the conversation early.

Begin discussing the risks and consequences of gambling with your sons before they are exposed to online platforms.

Listen without judgment.

Create a supportive environment where your sons feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and experiences related to gambling.

Set clear boundaries.

Establish guidelines regarding screen time, online activities, and financial management to help prevent excessive gambling behavior.

Teach critical thinking skills.

Encourage your sons to critically evaluate the information presented in online gambling advertisements and promotions.

Model balance.

Whether you go to bingo night, weekend trips to Vegas, or participate in a fantasy football league, talk to your son about how you manage the feeling of needing to keep betting and how you pull yourself away when the app or the house encourages you to keep going.

Monitor online activity:

Keep an eye on your sons' online behavior and intervene if you notice signs of excessive gambling or distress.

Seek professional help if needed:

If your son shows signs of problematic gambling behavior, don't hesitate to seek assistance from a qualified mental health professional or counselor.


Playing cards and watching sports should be fun for the sake of competition and skills, not for the outcome or payout. Helping boys to focus on enjoying the game more than the outcome is a life lesson that translates to many situations, not just competition. By being proactive and vigilant, parents can help mitigate the risks associated with online gambling and empower their sons to make informed, responsible choices, and create balance in a world where the house always wins.

If you think your son might be struggling with problem gambling, go to the McGill University International Centre for Youth Gambling Problems and High-Risk Behaviors


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Weintraub, Allie, et al. “Online Gambling among Youth Worries Experts, One Teen Says Sports Betting Was an ‘Escape.’” ABC News, ABC News Network, 8 Dec.
2022, abcnews.go.com/US/online-gambling-youth-worries-experts-teen-sports-betting/story?id=94577595. 

Rizzo, Amelia, et al. “Wanna bet? investigating the factors related to adolescent and young adult gambling.” European Journal of Investigation in Health, Psychology and Education, vol. 13, no. 10, 8 Oct. 2023, pp. 2202–2213, https://doi.org/10.3390/ejihpe13100155.

Lisa Ulery, Director of Technology and Libraries at University School

Lisa Ulery, the Director of Technology and Libraries at University School, has over 15 years of teaching and library experience in both public and independent schools. With a master's degree Instructional Technology, she is passionate about helping teachers and students balance their technology-rich lives.