Energy Drinks: Dangerous For Kids

Jade Moon
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Wednesday - April 01, 2009
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Recently my son’s school, Assets, sent home a letter, basically asking parents, “Do you know what your kids are drinking?” The letter was targeting those so-called “energy drinks” with names like “Rockstar,” “Monster,” “Red Bull, “Amp” and “Full Throttle.”

“The drinks are heavily sugared and caffeinated,” according to the letter, “Rapid heartbeat, numbness or tingling in hands and feet have been reported, and poison control centers have reported teens and 20-year-olds becoming sick from too much caffeine. In combination with dieting, medication or skipping of meals, lightheadedness and fainting have occurred.”

Patti Jenks, principal of Assets High School, says they’re seeing more students carrying their energy drinks around early in the morning before the start of class, and “We actually had a student last year who fainted after lunch.”


 

When they talked to her about what happened, they discovered the drink was all she’d had that day. And it’s something that’s creating concern across the country. According to the New York Times, “About a third of 12- to 24-year-olds say they regularly down energy drinks, which account for more than $3 billion in annual sales in the United States.”

The drinks have been linked to reports of abnormal heart rhythms and emergency room visits. They’ve been banned from campuses. In Tigard, Ore., according to the Times, teachers sent parents an e-mail alerting them that students who brought energy drinks to school were “literally drunk on a caffeine buzz or falling off a caffeine crash.”

And it’s not just the high school kids. Jyo Bridgewater Borg, principal of the K-8 school at Assets, says she’s concerned about the upper elementary kids, the fourth- through sixth-graders. Children at that age are just starting to explore the boundaries, she says, and that’s a good thing.

“It makes good sense, developmentally, to let children of this age experience more independence and take on more responsibility. Many children become bus riders or have time alone at home, for example.”

That means, however, that they now have the time and opportunity to buy whatever they want to drink. “I do see students this age drinking these energy drinks, or, more concerningly still, SlimFast.”

Is that it? Are our children and teens driven to drink because they want to be cool and thin and “supercharged?”

It would seem so. And increasingly they’re becoming hooked not just on energy drinks, but also on those ubiquitous, sugary coffee drinks. Check out any Starbucks and you’ll see throngs of teens and tweens standing in line with the adults. It’s become socially acceptable for everyone, even the kids, to hang out at coffee shops. The young ‘uns have become enfolded into our caffeine culture.

How did that happen? Well, look in the mirror. Jenks points out that the kids are simply modeling their parents’behavior.

“How many of us admit to our children how we can’t get started without our morning cup of coffee?” she says. “They see us sluggish and slow as we get up in the morning, and then they watch us have our coffee and charge out of the house. It’s not better after lunch, when we admit to needing a boost and grab a cup of coffee or a can of Jolt. It’s no wonder our children emulate our behavior, especially when our behavior is validated by crafty television advertising and images in print. Our kids don’t think twice about having a Monster drink when they feel tired or don’t think they can get through a full day at school without a boost.”


Back when I was a kid, my parents told me coffee would stunt my growth. That scared me enough to keep me away from the stuff until I was well into adulthood. Modern kids are smarter. They know there’s no medical proof that downing a Red Bull or sipping a mocha frappucino will turn them into height-challenged adults.

But you can tell them how caffeine will interfere with their sleep and exacerbate hyperactivity, and how it can dehydrate them and cause dizziness and anxiety.

You could point out that the excessive sugar in these drinks can contribute to weight problems.

And you can explain about caffeine addiction. After all, you probably know from experience all about the headaches, irritability and fatigue you suffer when you try to stop.

Let’s face it: You can’t cut caffeine completely out of your children’s diet. But you can limit their intake by not buying the drinks for your home, by setting limits and by talking to your kids about

nutrition - the earlier the better. As Borg points out, the best time to shape life-long habits is when they’re still in grade school.

“The good news is that children this age do usually respond more positively to parent conversation than they might at the next developmental level. In any case, they are listening and are likely to be more easily supervised.”

And, of course, the best way to encourage their good habits is by setting a better example yourself.

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