Caffeine and Teenagers: Why Your Teen Should Cut Back Now

Teenagers are the fastest growing population of caffeine consumers

by Nancy Reynolds

This post: Caffeine and Teenagers: Why Your Teen Should Cut Back Now

The next time you’re around a group of teenagers, take note of what they’re drinking. Chances are, more than a few of them are chugging drinks loaded with caffeine.

And, it’s easy to see why…

It’s become widely acceptable and even trendy for teens to grab a Monster or Red Bull energy drink before football or soccer practice or swing by a Starbucks for a Vanilla Latte, Caramel Macchiato or Cinnamon Roll Frappuccino before they hit the books for a long night of studying.

While you can’t discount the fact that a shot of caffeine does have its upsides, (research on caffeine has shown that small doses can improve mood, alertness, attention, and reaction time and a study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health found that endurance athletes can improve endurance by taking a moderate dose (3-6 mg/kg) of caffeine an hour before activity), few people – especially teenagers – don’t realize the downside and even the potential danger associated with excessive caffeine intake.

The bottom line is, experts agree, our teens are indulging in the sugary sweetness and power-packed caffeine kick of a variety of easy grab-and-go drinks without realizing how much caffeine they’re actually consuming.

Teenagers: The Fastest Growing Population of Caffeine Consumers

According to Medical News Today, today’s teenagers are consuming more caffeine than ever before. More than 83 percent of teenagers consume caffeinated beverages regularly and at least 96 percent consume them occasionally.

And, make no mistake about it, many brands are specifically luring teenagers in with targeted advertising, colorful packaging and celebrity endorsements which is upping the cool factor for teens.

Between the wildly popular flavored coffee drinks, caffeine-laden energy drinks and sodas including Coke, Pepsi and Mountain Dew, many teens today are living off a continual caffeine high to get them through the day.

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

The Mayo Clinic states that up to 400 mg of caffeine per day is likely safe for most healthy adults – that’s essentially the equivalent of four cups of coffee.

But for teenagers’ growing bodies and minds, it’s a completely different story.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average teen today is consuming far more caffeine than they probably should – upwards of 60-800 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is a far cry from the 100 mg per day maximum The Mayo Clinic recommends for kids and teens ages 12 to 18. (For children under 12, there isn’t a designated “safe” threshold.)

Because kids and adolescents can be more sensitive to the side effects of caffeine, even moderate doses of 100-400 mg can cause symptoms, including:

  • Insomnia
  • Jitteriness
  • Flushed Face
  • Increased Heart Rate
  • Stomach Issues
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Loss of Appetite

Although rare, excessive caffeine intake can even put teens’ lives at risk.

The Hidden Caffeine Culprits

As intriguing and “hip” as it is to grab one of the caffeinated drinks that are so popular with teens today, there’s a good chance your teen is giving little thought to the actual milligrams of caffeine they’re consuming when they down a Coke, Red Bull or Starbucks Coffee.

They only know they have a huge Algebra test first period and they need to be alert or they have a big game on Friday night and they want to ramp up their energy so they can perform their best.

So, what drinks are considered the biggest hidden caffeine culprits? Here’s a look at a few of the numbers:

  • 12-ounce Coke or Pepsi has  34-38 mg
  • 12-ounce Mountain Dew (Diet or Regular)  54 mg
  • 16-ounce Starbucks Coffee Frappuccino  95 mg
  • 16-ounce Starbucks Caffe’ Latte’ or Cappuccino  150 mg
  • 16-ounce Starbucks Caffe’ Mocha  175 mg
  • 20-ounce Starbucks, Pike Place Roast  410 mg
  • 20-ounce Starbucks, Blonde Roast  360 mg
  • 14-ounce Dunkin’ Donuts Latte or Cappuccino  166 mg
  • 16-ounce Monster Energy Drink  160 mg
  • 12-ounce Red Bull  111 mg
  • 9-ounce 5-Hour Energy Regular Strength  200 mg
  • 12-ounce Celsius Energy Drink   200 mg
  • 12-ounce Alani Energy Drink   200 mg
  • 20-ounce Water Joe Caffeinated Water  70 mg

It turns out that just one Monster Energy Drink, or Starbucks Latte’ or Cappuccino packs in more caffeine than the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends for an entire day for kids and teens. And, the ever-popular sparkling flavored water drinks like Alani and Celsius are double the recommended daily amount. 

While we may not be able to prevent our kids from consuming any caffeinated drinks, seeing the numbers in black and white begs the question: Shouldn’t we, at the very least, be taking the time to educate our teens and discouraging them from consuming such vast amounts of caffeine?

What You Need to Know About Energy Drinks

According to U.S. News Health, energy drinks are one of the fastest-growing beverage products on the global market. The worldwide market is expected to increase to $84.8 billion by 2025.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, alongside multivitamins, energy drinks are the most sought-after dietary supplement consumed by teens and young adults, with males between 18 and 34 drinking most energy drinks and about one-third of kids ages 12 to 17 consuming them regularly.

With the promise of boosting “healthy energy,” “accelerating metabolism,” and “burning body fat,” (all clearly stated on Celsius energy drink cans), it’s easy to see why teenagers are jumping on the energy drink bandwagon.

But are they as healthy as they claim to be?

Positioned as a “healthy alternative” to other drinks, some energy drinks advertise as having no preservatives, no artificial flavoring, and zero calories (a big draw for teens who are either watching their caloric intake or trying to lose weight). They even pack in extra vitamins like B6, B12, Biotin, Magnesium, Niacin, and others – all good things, right?

Not so fast…

It’s important to remember that the main ingredient in energy drinks is caffeine and, for some, sugar doesn’t fall far behind. In fact, some (not all) energy drinks like Monster energy drink top the charts at 28g of sugar – that’s nearly 6 teaspoons of sugar according to Healthline.

If you read the label, you’ll also find a variety of other “energy inducers,” including guarana (a common ingredient found in energy drinks – a plant native to the Amazon that contains caffeine and, according to WebMD is unsafe in large amounts), ginseng, green tea and Taurine (an amino acid important in several of the body’s metabolic processes – little is known about the effects of long-term supplemental use).

To the average teen, these energy drinks aren’t simply a healthy alternative to soda, they’re “cool” to drink. After all, everyone is drinking them and how bad can they be if they contain vitamins and claim to boost your metabolism?

However, the truth is, according to experts, energy drinks can be downright dangerous for teens.

In a study conducted by Chapman University, nearly 40 percent of teenagers reported adverse side effects when consuming energy drinks, including abdominal pain, breathing difficulties, chest pains, heightened anxiety, insomnia, feeling jittery, and even seizures. And, considering the study also found that 15 percent of teens mix energy drinks with alcohol, it makes for a potentially deadly combination.

Plus, the large amount of caffeine found in energy drinks messes with teens’ sleep-wake cycles, causes blood pressure to rise, and increases stress hormones, which raises the risk of heart damage.

As a result, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids and teens do not consume energy drinks. Excessive energy drink intake has been linked to a plethora of health risks, including, in some rare cases – death.

Help Your Teen Cut Back on Caffeine

By making a few minor tweaks in their daily routine, you can help your teen curb their caffeine habit and find healthier ways to get the energy kick they’re looking for. 

Spot the Side Effects of Overuse

Pay attention to your teen. If they seem jittery, overly anxious, or if they’re complaining of frequent headaches, a rapid heart rate, stomach issues, or they have difficulty sleeping, it’s probably time to take a closer look at how much caffeine they’re consuming.

Cut Back Gradually

Caffeine withdrawal can be intense causing symptoms like a pounding headache, fatigue and foggy brain (inability to concentrate.) Rather than cutting out caffeine cold turkey, cut back slowly. Have your teen mix caffeinated coffee with half decaf or drink two Cokes a day versus three or four which will allow their body a chance to adjust to the new intake of caffeine.

Keep Biggest Culprits Out of the House

You may not be able to fully control your teen’s intake of caffeine since their favorite caffeine-loaded drinks are readily available on nearly every street corner, but what you can do is keep high caffeine drinks out of the house. Don’t make it quite so easy for your teen to open a can of soda or chug a Monster energy drink.

Read Labels Before You Buy

Before you add drinks to your shopping cart, take a quick glance at the label to see what the caffeine content is. If you can’t find it on the label, do a quick search on your phone.

Cut Out Afternoon & Evening Consumption

Considering the fact that their circadian rhythm shifts when kids hit the teen years making them tired much later and the fact that most teens are already sleep-deprived, the last thing they need is an added kick of caffeine in the afternoon or evening to make it even harder for them to fall asleep at night. If they want to indulge in their favorite caffeinated beverage, their best bet is to consume it in the morning or early afternoon.

Make Healthy Swaps

Rather than chugging a coffee or soda when they wake up in the morning or when they hit that afternoon slump, encourage your teen to choose healthier alternatives. Water, of course, is the best option, but a berry-flavored seltzer, juice, milk, caffeine-free tea or a fruit or veggie smoothie are also tasty, healthier options.

Model What Your Preach

Your kids watching. If you’re an all-day coffee drinker or you’re drinking five sodas a day, you can be sure your kids will assume it’s completely fine and acceptable. Model what you preach. If you want your teen to keep their caffeine intake at a healthy level, you’ll need to do the same.

Your Teen is Relying On You to Protect Their Health

The next time you see your teen walk in the door after school holding a Starbucks or Monster Energy Drink, talk to them, educate them about the amount of caffeine they’re consuming, the effect it’s having on their body, and the potential danger. Caffeine doesn’t need to be avoided altogether – after all, who can resist a delicious flavored coffee that tastes more like a dessert – you simply need to ensure that your teen is keeping their caffeine intake at a healthy level based on their age and stage of development. 


Science Direct: Caffeine Use in Children. What We Know, What We Have Left to Learn, and Why We Should Worry

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: Caffeine and Children

Very Well: The Effects of Caffeine on Teenagers

Healthline: How You Can Die From a Caffeine Overdose

Michigan Health: Parents, Perk Up to the Dangers of Caffeine for Teens

Springer Link: Caffeine Improves Reaction Time, Vigilance, and Logical Reasoning During Extended Periods with Restricted Opportunities for Sleep

U.S. News Health: Teens and Energy Drinks: A Potentially Dangerous Combination

WebMD: Energy Drinks: Pick Me Up or Health Hazzard

U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health: Caffeine and Exercise

Asking A Lot: What Energy Drinks Have the Most Sugar?


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