There I sat in a popular coffee shop's drive through waiting to place my order. I really needed that extra surge of energy; it had been one of those days... There were several cars in front of me so I played around trying to find a tune on the radio. Looking around I noticed a group of teens sitting outside with their Grande's talking and laughing. Then I noticed the car in front of me had a couple of teens awaiting their fresh brew of java. Still not thinking too much about it, I went about my business eagerly awaiting my own personal pick me up. Actually it wasn't until I pulled into the gas station that I became fully aware teen's caffeine consumption.  As I was getting out of the car, I noticed group of adolescent boys walking out of the store popping cans to popularly advertised energy drinks. As they downed their drinks rather quickly and followed the action with loud belches, I couldn't help but think "WOW! That's a lot of caffeine!"

Holy Moly! Just how much caffeine are teens consuming? Hey, I am a lover of coffee and if you give me one negative fact, I produce ten more supporting its benefits. But there has to be a line, right? I mean, why do we need so much "energy"? Just look at the ads around you. There are brands promising to increase your energy, stamina, and alertness everywhere you look! In fact, these quick energy adds are dominating the beverage market. Did you know that according to the National Coffee Association, youth under the legal drinking age are one of the fastest-growing population of coffee drinkers? According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, when it comes to teenagers drinking caffeinated beverages, the number has tripled since the 1970's. Has this gotten out of hand?

If you've ever read many of my blogs or writings you'll notice that I try to stay centered on kids and teens. I guess I figure, or at least hope, that adults are old enough to make their own decisions and they've got to live it...but children, they're still growing and need our guidance. So for all of you adults reading this blog chugging a Monster (or other popular energy drink) or sipping your double espresso... this one's not for you. You're old enough to decide what to put into your body, but as for teens - that's an entirely different story.

It's a story of a developing brain, an ever changing body and a growing teen. Parents beware: your teen may just be over-caffeinated. Look at what's on the market. From coffee, caffeinated water, energy drinks, candy, sodas, waffles (yep) and even gum, caffeine is popping up in a lot of foods. In fact, Wrigley's recently released "Alert," a new caffeine gum, but due to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's concerns of the effects the gum will have on children and adolescents decided to stop production. So, what is caffeine any way and what's all the hype?

The Scoop on Caffeine

Caffeine is a stimulant. According to the National Institutes of Health, caffeine is a chemical compound found in various plants that acts as a central nervous system stimulant. Caffeine is found mainly in coffee, tea, soda, chocolate, energy drinks and some over-the-counter medications. As of now, the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t have specific recommendations for caffeine intake, although they are beginning to investigate caffeine being added to products.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents should not consume more than 100 mg of caffeine a day (adults 300-400 mg). Young children shouldn't drink caffeinated beverages on a regular basis.

Positives

We'll start with the benefits. There is some support that caffeine can help teens stay more alert as well as provide them with a quick pick me up for events and practices. Plus, Japanese researchers have found that caffeine helps memory performance. On the physical side of things caffeine may ward off Alzheimer's disease and cirrhosis of the liver. Additionally, coffee in general, contains antioxidants, polyphenols and other chemicals that are beneficial for the body.

Negatives

On the other hand, caffeine is known to produce physical dependence and to alter moods. Too much caffeine can cause:

  • nervousness
  • insomnia
  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • accelerated heartbeat
  • stomach upset
  • frequent urination
  • anxiety
  • muscle tremors
  • headaches
  • irritability
  • jitteriness

Okay let's put this whole caffeine thing into perspective.

A Grande coffee from Starbucks has about 330 mg of caffeine. A bottle of 5-Hour Energy has 208 mg compared to a soft drink that has 50 mg. Parents should be aware of the amount of caffeine in the products their teens are consuming. Remember it's recommended that adult consumption be between 300-400 mg (that's equivalent to 3-4 cups of coffee) and teens be around 100 mg. Where does your teen's intake stack up?

Here is a great site to see check out the caffeine content in foods and drugs...

Center for Science in the Public Interest:

http://www.cspinet.org/new/cafchart.htm

Conclusion

It's all about moderation. Plus, on the positive side, I personally think coffee houses provide an awesome hang out place for teens, cool entertainment, and a positive atmosphere. So, by no means am I downing coffee houses...just the amount of caffeine being consumed. Guess what? Many of those great drinks also come in decaf and yes, even 1/2 caf.

When all is said and done, there are both positives and negatives supporting and discounting teens' use of caffeine. Is it addicting? You bet! Is it life-threatening? Probably not. So in sum, keep an eye on how much caffeine your teen is consuming and teach him or her to drink moderately and responsibly. Cheers!

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