by Krystal Hawks, ETC blog contributor

It’s understandable that you need a little boost in the mornings to get everyone on the bus, to prepare school lunches, to make sure they packed their soccer cleats. Going the day without caffeine is like going the day without oxygen. Your morning cup of coffee helps wake you up, harnesses your focus, and increases your concentration…but is the same for kids?

The Word on Caffeine

Research is showing that for them, this is simply not true. Overall, caffeine is not recommended for kids; it affects every tissue in the body. High caffeine consumption increases their heart rate and blood pressure, changes their body temperature and gastric juices, and decreases their reaction time and attention. In addition, caffeine can exacerbate kids’ anxiety, even if it is normally well-controlled.

For some, caffeine enhances their mood, but for others, it actually worsens it. You have to remember caffeine is a drug…caffeine is a stimulant…caffeine is an addictive substance. With that, their appetite may change, which may affect their growth. Kids are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than adults are, and can feel those affects for up to six hours. The smaller the person, the less caffeine necessary to produce those side effects as well. For instance, someone who is 60 pounds can handle about 60 mg of caffeine in a 24-hour period. This also depends on their daily caffeine intake. Keep in mind, we still don’t know the true affects caffeine has on their brains either, but we do know they are more sensitive to it!

Kids get the majority of their caffeine intake from soda and energy drinks. That generally means, they are consuming less water and milk, resulting in consuming more empty calories, and less vitamins and minerals. There is a scary statistic out there as well that states that kids who drink one or more sweetened beverages a day are 60% more likely to be obese.

Overall, caffeine has no health benefits, it is a not a nutrient, so we need to be aware of not only how much we are consuming, but also how much are kids are consuming. Under 12 years, no caffeine at all is strongly recommended, 12 years and above can generally have 85-100 mg a day. This equates to one-8 oz. cup of home-brewed coffee (a tall from Starbucks is still 8 oz., but the caffeine content is generally higher at any coffee shop). For you, up to 400-500 mg a day is safe, which is about 4-5 cups of coffee.

To cut back on caffeine, try these 3 simple guidelines:

Eliminate the soda and energy drinks! These are nothing more than sugar sanctuaries. If you’re feeling tired drink some water (mild dehydration of just 1-2% causes fatigue).

 

Moderation! Under special circumstances the occasional cup won’t do much harm, but don’t let it become a habit.

 

Start slow! Kids will feel the same withdrawal affects you do, so slowly ween them off the hard stuff. Otherwise, they will feel tired and achy, and have those pounding headaches.

Talk to your kids about caffeine like you would about smoking, and be sure to set a good example! It’s crazy the little bad habits they can pick up by watching us. The more educated they are on caffeine and their side-effects, the less curious they will be when it comes to dinner at friend’s houses’. Get the caffeine conversation started! At the end of the day, we are all doing our best. Don’t give up. Love yourself. And #eatthechocolate.

Krystal is an undergraduate student at Kent State University studying Nutrition and Exercise Science. She has a passion for working out and making healthier alternatives to her family’s recipes. Her ultimate career goal is to become a Sports Dietitian and show active individuals the importance of a balanced diet, that it doesn’t have to be boring, and all the benefits of well-being and health!