Energy drinks are everywhere and many kids and teens drink them. They’re promoted by social media stars, are sold at grocery and convenience stores, and are even available in some school cafeterias. But what seems like a sweet treat for kids, a harmless “pick-me-up” for tired teens, or a boost for young athletes has risks. Energy drinks contain caffeine and other stimulants — sometimes in amounts that can cause harm.
Learn the risks of energy drinks for kids and some good alternatives.
What’s in Energy Drinks?
Energy drinks typically contain caffeine, sugar, and other additives such as flavors, colors, and guarana (another source of caffeine). Popular brands like Monster, Red Bull, and Mountain Dew Kick Start all contain between 90 and 160 mg of caffeine. Other brands, such as Bang, have 300 mg of caffeine! This doesn’t take into account any other added stimulants.
For comparison, if you drink 12 ounces (a typical mug) of home-brewed coffee, you’re getting about 100–180 mg of caffeine. A 12-oz cup at your favorite coffee shop can have about 235 mg (or more) of caffeine. Most adults feel the effects of a mug of coffee, so imagine the impact of even more caffeine on a child or teen.
What Are the Risks of Energy Drinks?
It’s important to talk with your kids about the risks of energy drinks. Their playful colors, flavors, and names give the impression that they’re safe. But there are risks. Doctors advise against kids drinking energy drinks and here’s why.
- Caffeine can cause side effects. These can include:
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Problems with concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Faster heart rate
- Upset stomach
- Kids can become dependent on caffeine and go through withdrawal when they quit. People who drink caffeine regularly can rely on it to get through their day. Over time, they may need more caffeine to get the same effect. Suddenly quitting caffeine-containing drinks can lead to headaches, trouble concentrating, crankiness, and low energy.
- Energy drinks usually contain a lot of sugar. These extra calories lack vitamins and minerals that growing kids need. And they can lead to cavities and weight gain.
- Other ingredients may have unknown effects. Along with guarana, many energy drinks have other ingredients whose safety and effectiveness haven’t been tested in children.
What Are Alternatives to Energy Drinks?
Help your kids find alternatives to energy drinks such as:
- Plain water. If your child isn’t a fan of plain water, add a splash of 100% juice. You can also put any of these directly in the water or freeze them in ice cubes, then add them:
- Fresh berries or citrus fruit
- Seltzer water. The bubbles can definitely feel like a special treat. Let kids pick out their favorite flavor at the grocery store.
- Low-fat or nonfat milk.
Let kids choose a fun, reusable water bottle so they can always have a healthy drink with them.
What Else Can Parents Do?
Energy drinks are part of a culture of caffeine that extends past high school and into adulthood. Helping your kids stay away from these beverages can feel like an uphill battle. If they have energy drinks, ask them why. Does it help them manage their busy schedule? Do they feel like it helps them in sports? Are they tired during the day from not sleeping enough? Once you understand why your kids drink them, you can help your kids find other ways to get more energy. For example, they could cut back on afterschool activities and take steps to sleep better.
If your child is having energy drinks regularly and wants to cut back or stop, help them do it slowly. This can help lessen the effects of withdrawal like headaches and tiredness.
Think about what you drink, too. If you model balance and opt for healthy, natural beverages, your child is more likely to follow your lead.
Keep talking with your kids. They may act like they aren’t listening and will go against what you say sometimes. But trust that your loving voice is getting through and will help them make good choices as they mature.
Reviewed by: Amy W. Anzilotti, MD
Date reviewed: June 2023