Student betting concerns offer new education opportunity

Photo from

Danielle Brennan, Editorials Editor

Throwing 10 bucks on the Pats on a Monday night is harmless fun, right? How about 10 bucks again next Monday? And the next? With the help of fantasy football apps, that number can become hundreds. Even teens can end up gaining firsthand experience
with debt and the stress from gambling-gone-wrong, all under the guise of innocent, normalized fun.

Suddenly, many high schoolers, mostly boys, seem to have recently built a hobby and a Friday-night culture around gaining–and losing–money to spreads, players, or injuries. According to the National Center for Responsible Gaming (NCRG), 60% of teenage boys and 30% of teenage girls have gambled in the past year. Those numbers become 15% and 4% on a weekly basis, respectively, and the NCRG notes that regular teenage gambling usually precedes a need for intervention down the road.

Bigger organizations have already taken note of the targeted marketing some sports franchises direct towards children as young as elementary schoolers through ads on kids’ websites. The same franchises organize school-wide betting competitions during March Madness or other athletic internet sensations for colleges. The National Football League (NFL) works with Draft Kings and other platforms, whose billboards line the Pike along with Mohegan Sun, offering a deal to join with some lying quip about easy money. A quick internet search brings up dozens of headlines alerting people to kids’ recent incline in gambling activity due to online advertisements.

Although a law finally banned advertising gambling practices on children’s websites four years ago, kids–especially teens–aren’t always on designated children’s websites, so they still run into gambling ads. The corporations also continue to push this agenda through other advertising and a deep-rooted cultural platform. These factors can cause kids to venture further into other forms of betting after fantasy football’s training wheels come off, which can have lifelong repercussions if explored irresponsibly.

Gambling has always been somewhat of a cultural rite of passage: a display of coming of age or initiation into adulthood where risky behavior can bring glory or defeat. Through its accessible and youthful platform, app-based sports betting has escalated and normalized teenage gambling habits. However, the sentiment around gambling remains scalar to pre-digital-age catalysts like fantasy sports apps or other mediums.

All this new virtual youth gambling bait and the recreational culture that coalesces around it are cause for concern. The Upper School (US) prides itself in mindful education of its youth to equip them with real-world skill for success in life and not just in academics.

Students snicker about Sex and Relationships (S&R) due to its blunt diagrams and taboo topics but nonetheless it teaches essential information about gender, sexuality, sexual health, and healthy relationships. Even the Middle School (MS) advisories have a similar curriculum to educate kids on S&R topics. One notable gap in this impressive repertoire of mindful, relevant teenage education: financial literacy. Teens and tweens start to have their first jobs and paychecks in middle or high school. Whether it be babysitting, an allowance, bussing tables, or running a lemonade stand, students need to be taught how to navigate the profit and manage their money. Unless a student is one of a handful in the Investment Club, they aren’t learning–at least not in a trusted academic environment–how to handle cash. We shouldn’t be leaving the money lessons to exploitative gambling apps.

The US and MS pose the perfect environment to cover monetary concepts and logistics before they become bad habits. On top of that, the advent of digital money–whether it be bitcoin or credit cards–makes spending less tangible. Cash is less common now. Apple Pay prevails and desensitizes users to their spending; a report from consulting firm Bain & Co. reports that shoppers spend twice as much online as they would in person. The same is true when using a credit card instead of cash, Forbes has reported. The US has adjusted its curriculum and activities to current events and concerns before. Along this protocol, it’s past due to add financial education. A unit in S&R that gives students the tools they need to understand gambling’s risks and its effects would satisfy this glaring hole in an effective education. This unit could also cover strategies to manage, save, and spend money.

Considering the MS takes the exposure approach for S&R-related topics, these ideas could be introduced in MS advisory curricula to jumpstart critical thinking right as students start to see gambling ads or feel pressure from peers. The classic pink piggy bank is outdated, cybercoins are running amok, and online banking makes spending money effortless with the wave of a smartphone. Students are inheriting a world with an entirely different financial landscape. It’s only fitting that the US and MS update their extracurricular education–like they always have–to the modern youth’s experience and needs.