Caffeine consumption has become a social norm- and it really is a delicious pastime. Especially when you’re talking about fancy latte cups filled with foam and drizzled with caramel syrup. Or tall cans filled with extra-caffeinated drinks that are promised to “give you wings.”
The socially-acceptable age for caffeine consumption seems to have been in decline the past few years. Twenty years ago you wouldn’t hear of many high school kids who drank coffee- now you can overhear middle school’ers gush over how much they love Starbucks. What happened? And is this ok?
On the surface, over-consumption of caffeine is credited with causing problems such as dehydration, heart problems, anxiety disorders, and concentration problems- and those are all valid concerns. Also problematic is the fact that caffeine addiction is a very real thing; anyone who has ever gone “cold turkey” on their daily caffeine boost can tell you about withdrawal symptoms including headaches, irritability, muscle aches, etc.
What is it about caffeine that makes it especially problematic for kids? Dr. Nicole Caldwell with the Nationwide Children’s Hospital is quoted as saying “Caffeine affects the central nervous system as a stimulant. The brains of a child tend to be a little bit more sensitive to caffeine’s effects than the brains of adults. Caffeine can cause them to be hyperactive, which is obvious. But it also can make them nervous, anxious, worsen stomach problems and create sleep problems.”
The American Academy of Pediatricians has this to say: “According to self-report surveys, energy drinks are consumed by 30% to 50% of adolescents and young adults. Frequently containing high and unregulated amounts of caffeine, these drinks have been reported in association with serious adverse effects, especially in children, adolescents, and young adults.” The study goes on to say “heavy caffeine consumption, such as drinking energy drinks, has been associated with serious consequences such as seizures, mania, stroke, and sudden death.”
The National Capital Poison Center (Poison Control) says “We know less about the effects of caffeine on developing brains. We don’t know how much – or how little – caffeine is safe for children and adolescents.”
We’re going to side with the doctors on this one- when it comes to caffeine and kids, it’s best to play it safe. Energy drinks, caffeinated soft drinks, caffeinated tea, and coffee really don’t belong in a child’s diet.
Teaching kids to reach for a water bottle when they’re thirsty is a great first step. Helping kids get adequate sleep, so they don’t feel the need for stimulants, is also an important piece of the puzzle. It’s helpful to talk to your kids about the effects of caffeine- which makes them part of the decision making process. Bad habits are always easier to prevent than to fix.
We wish you good health,
Columbia Basin Racquet Club
Photo Credit: Mohamed Hayibor via Flickr