Teaching my kids not to gamble is harder when their teachers encourage it

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images 

​I've never been a gambler. I hate to lose, and I like the money I have, so I know gambling is not for me. And I've seen enough people I care about get into some tight financial spots to drive home the fact that the house always wins. 

That's the lesson I've tried to teach my children over the years too. Gambling is a fool's game. Sure, you might have some wins, but the law of averages dictates your losses will most likely be much greater. 

At best, I've told my children, gambling is futile – and at worst, it can be unhealthy and addictive, leading to devastating results that create a ripple effect all around you. 

There's nothing earth-shattering about that messaging, really, but I thought the lessons my children were taught about gambling were mine to decide.   

So I was annoyed recently when my teenage son came home from school and told me his maths teacher likes to teach them about odds by taking them through the form guide and telling them all about the horses she likes in this weekend's races. 

At first, I thought perhaps the teacher was using herself as a cautionary tale. But nope, she just unashamedly likes the ponies, and takes her family out to the track any time she can. She had a big win a few weeks ago, which she excitedly shared with my son's class.

He relayed the story to me, excitedly sharing that she had won into the thousands. 

Good for her, I said, but what about all those times she didn't win?

My son said she's mentioned that too, but his enthusiasm for her good news story couldn't be dampened by that boring bit of info. 

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And, look, gambling is this person's choice, and more power to her. There's nothing wrong with gambling, I suppose, if it's done responsibly and knowingly. But glamorising a potentially addictive and destructive hobby to a bunch of impressionable teenagers?

That's where I say thanks but no thanks, and I'd like teachers to think about the messages they're sending our kids outside of the usual curriculum. 

Psychotherapist Julie Sweet says teachers can have a significant influence on our kids. 

"This influence may not only impact a child's life through unconditional positive reinforcement, it can also negatively impact a child as well," she says, although she quickly adds that family is more important.

"In saying that, teachers aren't responsible for the child itself per se, the blueprint originates from the family of origin, however their role is significant nonetheless."

So what can a parent do if they're not a fan of their child's teacher's life lessons?

"Simply put, behaviour over words," says Sweet, meaning that we should be leading by example. 

"With that, open clear communication is still required, along with transparency and consistency, creating a secure functioning parent-child relationship," she says.

"Parents can counteract external influences by maintaining trust, empathy, compassion, sensitivity, emotional availability and attunement with their kids."

I'm comforted by Sweet's suggestion that my solid relationship with my son should be able to trump any teacher's story of a big win at the track. But I also think it's important for teachers and others in a position of authority to think about the influence they may have on young and impressionable minds. 

Sweet says boundaries are important.

"It's my clinical opinion that a teacher can both educate and inform students through mindful, age-appropriate lived experiences and still maintain firm healthy boundaries by not oversharing," she says.

"Ultimately the question needs to be asked and used as a guide: what is in the best interest of the child?"