Alcohol isn't the only beverage about which you should warn your teenagers. A little caffeine might not seem like such a big deal, but those brightly colored cans can mask dangerous levels of chemical energy.
Photo credit: ewg3D/ iStock/360/ Getty Images

Why teens turn to energy drinks

Moms look at their own to-do lists with tired eyes, but teenagers juggle sports, extracurricular activities, their social lives and academic schedules that would leave many adults scratching their heads. With natural biorhythms that work against the early start times at most high schools, it's no wonder that teens are turning to energy drinks to fuel their jam-packed days. Add in the sugary sweet flavors and eye-catching can designs, and the drinks loaded with caffeine appeal to teens even more than a bottle of soda.

Experts agree energy drinks and teens don't mix

Dr. Dyan Hes is an active advocate for pediatric and adolescent nutrition and weight management. In addition to her pediatric practice, Dr. Hes serves as the Director of the Pediatric Weight Management Program at New York Methodist Hospital. Dr. Lisa Lowery specializes in adolescent medicine at Helen DeVos Children's Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Dr. Hes and Dr. Lowery unilaterally agree that teens and energy drinks are a dangerous combination.

You cannot just assume that these stimulants will be safe in the same doses, just as you would not automatically give a child the same dose of medicine to a child as an adult.

"But they're legal!"

Energy drinks are absolutely legal for teenagers to purchase, but that doesn't make them a healthy choice. Dr. Hes talks about caffeine's nature as a stimulant, the way dosage affects teens and adults in different ways and the possibility caffeine can negatively impact teens' developing brains. She says, "Effects of caffeine and other stimulants are dose dependent — meaning if you weigh less, you will feel a greater effect of the stimulant. That's why pediatricians push for studies of all drugs in children and adolescents. You cannot just assume that these stimulants will be safe in the same doses, just as you would not automatically give a child the same dose of medicine as an adult. We also worry about the neurological effects of these stimulants on the developing brain. Caffeine is addictive and physicians are concerned about the long-term complications of its use." All of those possible complications are reasons teens should stay away from energy drinks — no matter their legal status.

Teens are putting their hearts at risk

One of the major dangers for teenagers replacing sleep with energy drinks is the stress it puts on their hearts. Dr. Lowery says, "Energy drinks contain large amounts of caffeine or caffeine-like substances that may cause the heart to race and elevated blood pressure." Teens may ignore their body's signals to slow down, which can be even scarier when combined with their busy days and pressure from sources like coaches or teachers to push themselves.

Don't ignore the "A" factor

The biggest problem of teens mixing alcohol and energy drinks is that they are impaired from alcohol and the caffeine gives them extra energy which leads to a false sense that they are not impaired.

Alcohol can be a game-changer for teens dabbling in over-caffeination. Combining energy drinks with alcohol can wreak havoc on a teen's judgment, even more so than alcohol use on its own. Dr. Hes talks about what happens when inhibition-lowering alcohol is combined with energy-raising beverages. She says, "The biggest problem of teens mixing alcohol and energy drinks is that they are impaired from alcohol and the caffeine gives them extra energy which leads to a false sense that they are not impaired. In adolescents studied, who use this combination, their risk taking was much higher. They had a false sense that they were not intoxicated or impaired from the alcohol." Teens who don't think they're drunk because they don't feel the relaxing, depressive effects that normally accompany alcohol are more likely to make bad choices.

Be proactive about curbing energy drink consumption

Talk to your teens about energy drinks the same way you talk to them about alcohol. Without the legal boundaries set by the 21-year-old drinking age, teens may not immediately understand their parents' issues with the caffeine drinks — and other energy-inducing substances. Keep the conversation alive anyway, talking about the physical effects it can have, including dependence and energy crashes. Encourage healthier methods for increasing energy: regular exercise, increasing water consumption, healthy food choices and — of course — actual sleep.

More about teen behavior

Teens and household drugs
Best birth control methods for teens
Parents debate whether to allow underage drinking

Topics: