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Slowing Down Your Teen’s Caffeine Intake
Down Your Teen’s Caffeine Intake
Parents have been asking me a cup full of questions about whether it’s a good idea for their teenager to be drinking coffee and if caffeinated beverages are generally safe for children to drink. Well, let me see if I can pour out a few tips for everyone to sip on.
Although we know that caffeine contained in coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and even chocolate can certainly be a stimulant to keep children and adults awake and more focused, studies have shown other effects of caffeine in children may include nervousness, irritability, anxiety, headaches, sleep problems, high blood pressure and rapid heart rates. Caffeine is also a diuretic that increases urination, which may contribute to dehydration if ingested after exercise or in hot weather. It can also cause the body to lose calcium in urine and can thus contribute to bone loss over time.
Caffeine can be addictive and even as little as one cup of coffee can lead to a daily need for this substance. Breaking the coffee drinking habit can be just as rough for teens as adults and may lead to fatigue or bad headaches if caffeine is cut too abruptly from a child or teen’s diet. Those who want to stop might find that they cannot do so easily and will need to gradually wean themselves, which is easier said than done.
So what can be done? First, don’t absolutely forbid caffeine in your older child or teen’s diet as that will likely increase their desire for caffeinated beverages and they will seek the beverages when they are not with you from places like convenience stores or from their friends. Instead, allow some caffeine if they really want to drink a caffeinated beverage but limit the amount of caffeine your child takes in each day to no more than 100 mg per day, which is the equivalent of a cup of coffee or one or two soft drinks. If your teenager really enjoys the taste of coffee or tea, encourage them to drink decaf instead.
If you want to reward your child with a carbonated beverage, buy lower caffeine or caffeine-free drinks or sodas for your children and remember that if you limit your child to one soda a day, make sure it’s not a supersized one, which can have more caffeine than one might find in one or two cups of coffee. In addition, diet colas often contain even more caffeine than non-diet sodas.
If your child wants some chocolate, give them chocolate milk, which usually contains only 25 percent of the caffeine load of the average chocolate candy bar.
Finally, be a good role model for your child. If you drink lots of coffee or caffeinated soda, your child will, too. Why not cut back so your child cuts back?
Hopefully, tips like this will make your cup runneth over with good health when it comes to cutting or at last reducing the amount of caffeine in your older child or teenager’s daily diet and maybe your own as well.
Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at Vermont Children's Hospital at Fletcher Allen Health Care and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Vermont College of Medicine. You can also catch "First with Kids" weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and WPTZ Channel 5, or visit the First with Kids video archives at www.FletcherAllen.org/firstwithkids.