Should Teenagers Play Poker and Learn How to Gamble?

During the 1980s, the biggest concern was whether playing Dungeons & Dragons led to the worship of the devil and other antisocial behavior. But today, D&D isn’t controversial at all anymore.

Now, parents are asking if teenagers should play poker. For them, I examine the pros and cons of teens playing poker (and engaging in other gambling activities) below.

Poker Sends the Wrong Message to Teenagers

Teenagers are more attracted to poker, especially Texas holdem, now more than ever. You can trace this trend to the rise in popularity in TV shows featuring celebrity poker players.

And, if you’re a regular reader of our gambling blogs, you probably understand the attraction to poker. It’s an exciting game. It’s a fun game. And it seems glamorous, especially on television.

The most attractive aspect of poker is probably that it’s arguably a game of skill. In the long run, that’s true. But most teenagers are short-term thinkers. That’s part and parcel of being a teen. I’ll examine why later in this post.

As a result, it becomes easy for a teen who’s winning at poker to overestimate how skilled he is at the game. A winning streak that seems long-term for a teen might be far from it.

Most parents don’t want their teenagers to mistake luck for skill and lose a lot of money because of it.

Most Teenagers Are Playing for Low Stakes

When we played penny ante poker at my buddy’s house, we literally just showed up with whatever change we had on hand and played with that. And, if you were broke, someone else would spot you some money.

We’d never even heard of Texas holdem at that time, but there’s nothing about Texas holdem that prevents it from being played for low stakes or microstakes. Depending on where you live, most younger poker players probably don’t have enough money to buy in for much more than $10 or $20, anyway.

If they’re lucky, their parents or older siblings explain to them that they should consider that buy-in the entry fee for an evening’s entertainment. If these teenagers are ever going to visit a live casino in the future, and most of them will, they need to get used to the idea of only gambling with money they can afford to lose.

On the other hand, I was in the dorms with some guys who played poker for real money, funds that were high enough that the resident assistants had meetings to discuss how much money the students were losing.

Poker Can Improve Teenagers’ Ability to Reason, Use Math, and Read People

The perks of learning how to play poker are the same for teenagers as they are for adults.

Critical thinking, for example, has become frowned upon in this age where everyone seems to think that common sense and faith are enough to solve any problem. But you cannot succeed in poker without learning how to think critically about situations that you find yourself in.

And, since we live in a democracy, we need to encourage teenagers to learn critical thinking at a young age. Maybe even more importantly, learning how to assess risks and probability is critical to success in life.

You’ll find no better microcosm for learning how to reason than a game of poker. Not all teen players are going to take advantage of this opportunity, but many of them don’t take advantage of a high school education either. We still send them to high school, though, don’t we?

Finally, learning how to read people and pay attention to their tendencies is a critical life skill that teens can learn from playing poker. I don’t expect teenagers to become human lie detectors. But if I were teaching a teen to play poker, I’d explain to him how you can analyze an opponent’s playing tendencies.

Are your opponents loose or tight? Aggressive or passive? This requires attention and insight. It’s the the kind of attention and insight that helps people of all ages succeed in business and social situations.

If Teens Are Going to Gamble Anyway, Poker Is Better Than Most Alternatives

There’s a school of thought that gambling is integral to our behavior as humans. I present the following quote:

“If we consider games of chance immoral, then every pursuit of human industry is immoral; for there is not a single one that is not subject to chance, not one wherein you do not risk a loss for the chance of some gain.”

You know who said that? Thomas Jefferson.

He was talking about lotteries at the time, but I can tell you this as a parent… I’d rather my kids learn how to play poker than start buying lottery tickets. I want them to play the games with better odds.

I also want them to learn how to analyze risk and reward ratios and be able to apply that analysis to other areas of their lives.

Poker Can Be an Alternative to Athletics

A friend of mine grew up in Texas. Apparently, in most high schools in Texas, football players are legends. Academic kids were usually ignored or bullied.

Poker gives the studious kids an opportunity to compete on an equal footing with the athletes in a way that other games don’t.

None of the football-playing buddies would sit down at a table to play Dungeons and Dragons. It just wasn’t cool. That might have changed some, but I suspect with the demographics in question, it hasn’t changed much.

On the other hand, there were still some football players who would join the poker table. Sure, they might get lucky once in a while, but at least it’s an arena where the small, skinny kid can compete.

Teenage Gamblers Might Be More at Risk Than Other Gamblers

I read a news piece that discussed a University of Pennsylvania researcher, Dan Romer, who suggests that teens are more likely to become out-of-control gamblers. This is a valid concern.

He would know, as he’s the research director at the Adolescent Risk Communications Institute at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2003, he supervised a survey which found that 8% of teens already had a gambling problem.

His suggestion is that schools should provide education about gambling in the same way that they provide education about alcohol and drugs. You could easily argue that if someone isn’t old enough to drink responsibly, they’re probably not old enough to gamble responsibly either.

But I also know parents who allow their teenagers to drink the occasional beer as long as they stay home. These parents tend to prefer that option over having their teens drinking in secret and possibly driving impaired.

Maybe the same logic could apply to poker? Perhaps, it might be better to play poker under parental supervision.

Conclusion

I don’t have a firm conclusion about whether teens should play poker. Every teenager is different, and the value systems of families differ from one household to another.

Parents should think carefully about the ramifications of allowing or encouraging their teenagers to play poker or engage in any other kind of gambling.

Because you’re aware of your child’s environment, their habits, and their attitude, whether it’s safe for your child to learn about poker and gambling is ultimately up to your judgment.

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Michael Stevens

Michael Stevens has been researching and writing topics involving the gambling industry for well over a decade now and is considered an expert on all things casino and sports betting. Michael has been writing for GamblingSites.org since early 2016.

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