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Back to School: Have the Conversations

Back to school is a time for numerous conversations between parents and their children. The discussion topics include: clothing (what is the outfit you are going to wear on your first day),most popular book bags, class schedules (do you know what time and where you need to be on the first day) and are you packing lunch or not packing lunch.

Back to school is also an opportunity to have a conversation about the more serious issues the student might be facing including: their safety before, during and after school; expectations about school conduct and attendance; and, what the student is anticipating in regards to their peers – some of whom they may have spent a lot of time with over the summer and/or had trouble with over the summer.

Back to school is a time to for the parent(s) to acknowledge that ATODG is a reality in the student’s life and environment. Alcohol, Tobacco, Other Drugs AND Gambling exist in the student’s world, school and communities.   There are dangers: physical, emotional and psychological that is associated with ATODG. Some students are curious, some students are risk takers and a small percentage of students are at-risk of or are on the path to addictive behavior. Parents should acknowledge that this is the world in which their students live every day.  For example: every two years a student health survey (Youth Risk Behavior Survey –YRBS is conducted). The last survey in Maryland was conducted in 2013. Some data about ATOD from the survey indicates:

Alcohol: the percentage of youth who have ever had a drink of alcohol before age 13 and are current drinkers did decrease between 2005-2013

Tobacco: the percentage of youth who currently use smokeless tobacco increased between 2005-2013

Other Drugs: the percentage of youth who used a needle to inject drugs into their body did increase significantly between 2005-2013

Unfortunately, Gambling is not currently included in the YRBS in Maryland. However, we know from National Data that 4% to 6% of students between the ages of 12-17 fit into a category called Gambling Disorder. In Maryland, it is estimated that at least 50,000 students have a gambling addiction.

Parents should keep in mind that the period of brain development as it relates to decision making is not fully mature or complete in most people until around the age of 24. Therefore, if a parent asks their children: “What were you thinking?”…it is perhaps not a question that they could answer – since they probably are not thinking rationally. It is often said that youth know where the “Gas is…they do not know where the Brake is”.

The Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling is now in its fourth year of operation. The Center along with the School of Mental Health at the University of Maryland offer a Gambling Prevention Program called: Smart Choices. Smart Choices is a school/community based program that offers training on youth problem gambling prevention. This coming school year the Smart Choices program will be offered in 8 Baltimore City schools and various jurisdictions where a Maryland Casino is located.

Gambling is increasing in availability in Maryland. The various ways youth gamble (ages 12-17) are; lottery tickets; sports betting; dice; and skill games like poker or card games to mention a few. Parents should caution their children that gambling is an adult activity and for most of the ways mentioned above it is illegal for someone under 18 years of age in Maryland to gamble. Have a Conversation with your student as they return to School this year.

Back to School is a time to talk about the dangers of: gambling, betting, wagering or whatever you want to call it with students who are not legally allowed to gamble. This is a public health issue not just a gambling issue. Money lost by parents impact their children’s lives, wellbeing and education.

Make the Smart Choice!   We can Help: 1-800-Gambler (24/7 Confidential Helpline)

For more help and resources go to The Center of Excellence on Problem Gambling: mdproblemgambling.com