A lesson plan based on “Please, Dad, don’t gamble” from the September-October 2002 issue of L.A. Youth, in which the writer describes her struggle with her father’s compulsive gambling.

By Libby Hartigan, Managing Editor

Grades: 6-12
Subjects: Language arts, social studies, and psychology
Suggested time allowance: 45 min.-1 hr.

Overview of lesson plan: In this lesson, students discuss gambling and other addictions.

Students will:
1. Define addiction.
2. Analyze how an addict is affected, along with family and friends.
3. Develop reading comprehension.
4. Discuss ways to deal with addictions.

Resources and materials:
— pens, paper
— copies of LA Youth article “Please, Dad, don’t gamble” (one per student)
— blackboard

1. WARM-UP: On the board write: What is an addiction? Ask students to define the word addiction. The Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary calls it “a compulsive physiological need for a habit-forming drug.” To be addicted is “to devote or surrender oneself to something habitually or obsessively.”

Ask students to give some examples of drugs to which people become addicted and write down some responses on the board. Answers might include alcohol, heroin, cocaine, ecstacy, marijuana and cigarettes.

Remind students that some people become addicted to destructive behaviors. Some people are addicted to sex, gambling, even to cluttering. What do your students think of that idea? Could a gambling addiction be as “serious” as alcoholism?

Mental health experts tell us that an addiction is a mental illness just like depression, schizophrenia or an anxiety disorder. People with addictions suffer from a debilitating illness, not from a flaw in their character or a moral shortcoming. That doesn’t mean they’re not responsible for their actions. It means they’re entitled to respect and deserve help to deal with their addiction.

2. As a class, read and discuss the LA Youth article “Please, Dad, don’t gamble.” You may want to ask these questions:
a. The writer says her family used to be “normal.” What are some of the normal activities she mentions?
— They went to the beach and amusement parks.
— They took family portraits.
— Her dad gave the kids piggy-back rides.
— They saw him more often.
b. Once his gambling became a problem, what was his behavior like?
— He missed his daughter’s graduation mass.
— He didn’t come home at night.
— He slept and watched TV during the day.
— He was in a bad mood.
— He took money from the mom and the kids.
c. How did his behavior affect everyone else in the family?
— The mom was tired and stressed.
— The kids fought with each other.
— Everyone was angry with the father.
— The kids missed their dad.
— Bank officials called to speak with the parents.
— The father’s business partner argued with him.
— Checks started bouncing and the mother began calling the bank to find out if there was money in the bank account.

3. Discussion: Why did the writer ask the father not to gamble anymore? How was the family being affected by his gambling? Whose fault was it—the kids’? the father’s?

4. Solutions: Gambling experts remind teens that they may not be able to change someone else’s gambling. What solutions do students see to gambling? Answers might include paying attention to signs of problem gambling; encouraging gamblers to get help with professionals; and telling an adult when students think there is a problem.

A free 24-page booklet is available from the California Council on Problem Gambling. Broken into short, easily readable chapters, it includes the true stories of gamblers who started betting in high school and became addicted. To order call (760) 320-0234 or toll free 1(800) 322-8748 and the council will ship them for free.