Oct 13, 2021

What are loot boxes? And how harmful are they to your kids?

Qustodio Team

Qustodio Team

Experts in digital safety

Tips to help your child stay safe during the back to school period
If your child plays online video games, chances are they will run into loot boxes – a video game feature used by 40% of children. So it is important that parents know what loot boxes are, do whatever they can to reduce their child’s exposure to them, and know how to identify the symptoms of gambling addiction in their children. Here’s what parents need to know about the link between video game loot boxes and gambling addiction in children.

What are loot boxes?

Loot boxes are virtual, mystery boxes, chests, crates or card packs, filled with a collection of randomized items such as weapons, skins, special abilities or coins that video game players can only open by completing a task or paying money – real money. Some loot box contents are merely for cosmetic purposes, but others are sometimes required to be able to advance in a game, or allow players to advance faster. 

Are loot boxes harmful to your kids?

Mounting research, such as that done by the universities of Plymouth and Wolverhampton, indicates that loot boxes are linked to problem gambling, and are “structurally and psychologically akin to gambling.”  Of 13 studies into the behavior of gamers who spend on loot boxes, 12 showed a clear correlation between the use of loot boxes and problem gambling behaviour, under the Problem Gambling Severity Index (PGSI) measure.

According to a study conducted by the Royal Society, “loot boxes either cause problem gambling among older adolescents, allow game companies to profit from adolescents with gambling problems for massive monetary rewards, or both of the above.” According to the Mayo Clinic, gambling during childhood or the teenage years increases the risk of developing compulsive gambling as an adult. In short, when parents allow adolescents to buy loot boxes, they may be exposing them to lifelong negative consequences.

Are loot boxes dangerous for kids?

Why are kids more susceptible to gambling behavior than adults?

Compulsive or problem gambling may be stronger in younger people than it is in the adult population for various reasons:


  • Kids’ brain structure and function are less developed and linked to increased impulsivity.
  • Kids may lack effective ways to cope with turbulent and stressful situations and may turn to gambling activities as a way to escape.

Loot boxes: a growing concern

As research results bring increased clarity on the link between loot boxes and gambling addiction, pressure on governments to regulate the gaming industry to protect vulnerable populations is increasing. Nevertheless, due to pushback from the enormous gaming industry with 11-digit annual profits, $30 billion of that from loot boxes, it will likely take a long time before broad legislation is passed. Even in countries such as the UK, Australia and Germany where proposed laws to make loot boxes fall under gambling regulation or to  rate games with loot boxes 18+ are more advanced, games companies have been quick to find loopholes. Until enough governments make loot boxes impractical for games makers, the job of keeping kids safe is still largely in the hands of parents.

How to protect your child from loot boxes

1. Disable in-app purchases.

2. Set up passwords for in-game purchases and make sure your kids have to ask for permission before spending money. Change those passwords frequently.

3. Set up parental controls such as Qustodio to block games with loot boxes you think are inappropriate or risky or if your child exhibits any form of digital, gaming or gambling addiction.

4. Disable pop-ups.

5. Spend time playing games with your child to familiarize yourself with the games they play and the kinds of virtual items they offer.

6. Have a conversation with your child about the loot boxes, the power and tricks of advertising and decide together if the purchase is worth it. Having them spend their own money, or a percentage of it, can help them start to understand better the value of money. But set a firm monthly limit on how much they can spend.

Signs your child may have a gambling problem

Gambling is the fastest-growing addiction among teens, according to David Robertson of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling. While video games themselves are not a form of gambling, the Gambling Commission says loot boxes can be a route into betting. Here are some gambling symptoms to look out for.

  • Anxiousness, moodiness or irritability. Your child can’t think about anything else but getting home to play a game with a loot box or to get online and gets overly upset when they can’t connect.
  • Hiding and denying the problem. Your child lies or has an unrealistic perception about the amount of time they spend playing games with loot boxes on a  gambling activity.  You can use parental control software like Qustodio to monitor how often your child actually connects to games or gambling sites.
  • Stealing. Your child may be caught for stealing money, or using your password to support their gambling habit.
  • Isolating. Your child may spend a lot of time alone and do less of the activities they used to love. Problem gamblers tend to isolate themselves from family and friends.
  • Poor grades and neglected responsibilities. Your child may start to have poor grades, skip doing homework or going to class. At home they may stop helping out around the house or taking care of their own physical appearance.

What to do if you think your child has a gambling problem

A gambling addiction requires treatment. Even long remissions usually aren’t permanent. Parents should contact a child psychologist to get professional help for their child or teen as soon as possible.

How can Qustodio help protect your family?

Qustodio is the best way to keep your kids safe online and help them create healthy digital habits. Our parental control tools ensure they don't access inappropriate content or spend too much time in front of their screens.