Maternal gambling, parenting, and child behavioral functioning in native American families.

Author:Momper, Sandra L.

Using data from a sample of 150 Native American mothers of a child 6 to 15 years old, this study examined the relations between and among mothers' gambling, parenting in the home environment, social supports, and child behavior problems. Respondents were recruited from a tribal casino on a Great Lakes Indian reservation. Results indicate that behavior problems in Native American children in the context of maternal gambling were associated with greater financial strain, less adequate parenting in the home environment, and the child's age. However, these results were conditioned by frequency of mother's gambling, amount of social support from family available to the mother, and child's gender. Implications of these findings for policy, practice, and future research are discussed.

KEY WORDS: casino gambling; child behavior problems; children's development; Native American mothers; parenting


Since the passage of the 1988 Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Native American tribes have set up gaming operations in large numbers. Financial proceeds from these operations are enormous, reaching by some estimates as much as $14.5 billion (National Indian Gaming Association, 2005). Although increased revenues from gambling have benefited tribes (see, for example, Costello, Compton, Keeler, & Angold, 2003), problem gambling among Native Americans has increased, especially among Native American women (Volberg & Abbott, 1997).There is evidence that parental problem gambling has negative effects on children. For example, studies have shown that children of problem gamblers experience a loss of emotional and financial support and have inadequate coping skills, poor interpersonal relationship skills, and serious behavior problems (Custer & Milt, 1985; Darbyshire, Oster,& Carrig, 2001; Ladouceur, Boisvert, Pepin, Loranger, & Sylvain, 1994; Lorenz, 1987). However, because none of these studies included Native Americans in their samples, little is known about the associations between and among mothers' gambling, parenting in the home environment, and child outcomes in Native American families. Using data gathered at a tribal casino on a Great Lakes Indian reservation, this study attempts to reduce this deficit in the literature. Four questions were addressed:

  1. Is maternal gambling associated with Native American children's behavioral functioning?

  2. Are access to helpful social support and more adequate parenting in the home environment associated with children's behavioral functioning in Native American families in which mothers gamble?

  3. Is the effect of maternal gambling on children's behavioral functioning moderated by mothers' access to helpful social support and more adequate parenting in the home environment?

  4. Is the child's gender a factor in the relationships between maternal gambling and parenting and children's behavioral functioning?

We were also interested in the mothers' perceptions of financial strain because even though the casino has helped this Great Lakes tribe gain revenue, the tribe remains the poorest in the state (Jensen-DeHart, 1999).These issues were examined using the ecological theoretical perspective as an overarching framework.


Because Native Americans practice balance in their ecosystems and place a great deal of importance on human ecology through tribal structures, clan formation, and family interdependence (Good Tracks, 1973; Joe, 1989; Red Horse, 1980), the ecological theoretical perspective--encompassing microsystems, mesosystems, exosystems, and macrosystems (Bronfenbrenner & Ceci, 1994)--is particularly appropriate as an overarching framework for this investigation. More explicitly, some have posited that Native American children are born into two relational systems, a biological family and a kinship network such as a clan or band (Blanchard & Barsh, 1980). The first of these consists of a microsystem (for example, the home environment and family relationships); the second, a mesosystem consisting of processes between or among two or more microsystems, both of which contain the child (for example, the home environment and the kinship network). An exosystem consists of processes between or among two or more settings, only one of which contains the child (for example, the home environment is a microsystem involving both the child and the mother, whereas the gambling casino is a setting involving the mother, but not the child). In this study, influences of the broader cultural or socioeconomic environments--that is, the macrosystem--include the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the reservation casino, and economic conditions on the reservation (including mothers' income sources and perceptions of financial strain). Concerning the latter, the Bureau of Indian Affairs has reported that unemployment on reservations is high (approximately 80%). As a result, more than 600,000 Native Americans live below the poverty line (Trosper, 1996).A number of studies have reported associations between financial strain, less competent parenting, and poorer child outcomes (Conger et al., 1992; Elder, Eccles, Ardelt, & Lord, 1995; Jackson, Brooks-Gunn, Huang, & Glassman, 2000; McLoyd, 1998). In addition, a recent study of Native Americans found that those who moved out of poverty because of the opening of a reservation gambling casino scored significantly higher on a measure of parenting adequacy and had children with fewer behavior problems than their counterparts who remained poor (Costello et al., 2003).

There is also evidence demonstrating an association between maternal social support and better child developmental outcomes, especially in low income populations (Alesch, 1997; Jackson et al.; MacPhee, Fritz, & Miller-Heyl, 1996; McLoyd & Wilson, 1991). Indeed, in one of a few studies of Native Americans, MacPhee and colleagues found that frequent contact with an interconnected web of kin was significantly associated with more competent parenting. Others believe that such support can serve as a protective factor in difficult social contexts (see, for example, McLoyd, 1990).

Given the evidence on parenting, social support, and child outcomes, we expected that more adequate parenting in the home environment and greater access to helpful social support in a sample of Native American mothers who gamble might be associated with fewer child behavior problems. There is also considerable evidence demonstrating an association between financial strain and less nurturant parenting and, thereby, less optimal child outcomes (Conger et al., 1992; Jackson et al., 2000; McLoyd, 1990). Given this evidence, we expected that the socioeconomic circumstances of Native American mothers might predict child behavioral outcomes as well. Because the ecological theoretical perspective posits that individuals interact with their environments and individual characteristics filter the experience of risks (Bronfenbrenner & Morris, 1988; McLoyd), we included two child characteristics in our analyses: gender and age. We included gender because studies have suggested that family processes and particular external environments differentially influence boys and girls (for example, Elder & Caspi, 1988; Jackson, 2003; Jackson et al.), age because younger and older children have different parenting needs (see, for example, Conger et al., 1992, 1993; Deater-Deckard, Dodge, Bates, & Pettit, 1998). (In the discussion that follows, Native American mothers and caretakers are referred to as "mothers" and Native American children are referred to as "children.")


Sample and Procedure

Prospective respondents were 150 mothers with a child between six and 15 years of age who spent time (during May-June 2004) at a tribal casino on a Great Lakes Indian reservation. The tribe manages social services, natural resources, education, health, housing, legal issues, and the casino. Profits from the casino are used to fund tribal social services and educational programs. The first author (who is Native American) met with the tribal council and obtained permission to conduct this study. An elder tribal member was hired and trained as a research assistant to help in carrying out the structured interviews. We were stationed at a table near the casino entrance with flyers describing the study. Every woman who appeared to be older than 18 was approached. We introduced ourselves, described the study, and invited those who met selection criteria to participate. Informed consent was explained and questions were encouraged and answered. At the table near the casino door, respondents completed a questionnaire consisting of self-report measures and were paid $20 for their time. Inasmuch as Native American children are often part of two relational systems, a biological family and a kinship network (Blanchard & Barsh, 1980), the final sample included...

To continue reading