Is your teen over-dosing on caffeine?
Caffeine is well-known for increasing energy levels and it’s easily available, so many teens look to it for a boost when they’re flagging. It’s fast-acting, meaning most of us can feel the effects within half-an-hour of having caffeine, and for some in less than five minutes!
Caffeine affects us all in different ways, and whilst initially the impact can be positive (feeling more awake and able to concentrate), caffeine stays in the system for up to twelve hours, and can have negative side-effects such as preventing sleep, and causing restlessness and anxiety. Some people are more sensitive to it than others. On average, adults shouldn’t consume more than 400mg of caffeine a day and adolescents should have much less. Like most things, in large doses caffeine can be harmful.
Does coffee-free mean caffeine-free?
We all know there’s caffeine in coffee, but it’s also in tea, energy drinks and chocolate, so keep an eye on how much of these your child consumes. Drinks with high caffeine (more than 150mg per litre) need to show this on the label, although it is not always clear – and it doesn’t apply to drinks bought in coffee shops.
If your teen regularly drinks one or two cups of coffee each day, it’s absolutely fine to continue this, even during exam time, as their body will be used to it. What’s not good is introducing changes, so they shouldn’t start drinking a cup of coffee or two during revision periods to help keep them alert if this is not something they do regularly. It’s more likely to make them jittery, hyper and unable to concentrate.
Lots of products high in caffeine are available in health food shops which can give the impression that they’re good for wellbeing, but that's not always the case if consumed in large quantities.
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Energy shots and drinks
Energy shots are often very high in caffeine and a firm favourite with teens. They can be deceptive as they are tiny in quantity but often packed with caffeine – for example a 60 ml shot can contain around 200mg of caffeine. Likewise, many energy drinks don’t necessarily have huge percentages of caffeine, but they are served in large volumes (half litre bottles) so the amount of caffeine your child is drinking is a lot (160mg of caffeine in a can of Monster), whereas a small glass of the same product would be fine.
Most supermarkets and high street stores have banned sales of energy drinks to under 16s.
Teens often love isotonic gels, some of which contain as much as 75 mg of caffeine per pack. These are fine consumed in moderation but watch out that your child isn’t having too many or substituting an energy rush when they are thirsty and should be drinking water.
Less obvious sources of caffeine are foods. Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting or cup cakes with chocolate topping are likely to be very high in caffeine (as well as sugar) so this is not ideal to eat as a dessert after dinner. Likewise coffee flavoured products can also contain lots of caffeine, so keep an eye on the ingredients in ice-creams, frozen yogurts and milkshakes.
Effects of caffeine
Too much caffeine can result in loss of sleep, loss of energy, low mood and low concentration – the opposite of what’s needed to study and revise well. Caffeine is also long lasting, so drinking caffeine-high
drinks in the afternoon can still impact on your child’s ability to sleep that night. It’s an absolute no to drinking coffee (or other caffeine fuelled drinks) late in the evening to try and overcome tiredness so they can revise into the night.
Keep an eye on their caffeine intake and, if possible, get them to avoid it completely from lunchtime as a year round rule.
Walk your talk!
If you’re reaching for a strong coffee several times daily to try and keep your energy levels up, you’re
impacting your own ability to sleep at night, as well as sending the wrong message to your teen on how to manage tiredness.
Protecting mental wellbeing
There are many things that can affect teenage mental wellbeing. You can’t stop your teen experiencing stress; however, you can help them develop systems to deal with it more effectively. Find out how in The Parents' Guide to Teenage anxiety and stress.