Drinking beverages that contain caffeine makes most people more alert and keeps them from falling asleep easily. “More alert” and “struggling to fall asleep” are not qualities most parents want in their small children. Yet, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, many young children and most older ones consume enough caffeine each day to interfere with both behavior and rest.
The study found that 75% of children aged 5 to 12 years old consume caffeine on a daily basis, mostly in caffeinated soda but also in tea, coffee, and, increasingly, in energy drinks. Parents of these children reported that some of the five-year-olds routinely drank as much caffeine as contained in a can of soda and children between 8 and 12 drank as much as contained in three cans. The more caffeine children in the study took in, the less they slept and the more erratic their behavior seemed.
While soda and other drinks form the most obvious source of caffeine for kids, the Food and Drug Administration points out that caffeine is added to many other foods in which parents might not suspect it. Gum, jelly beans, marshmallows, candy bars, and even potato chips all may contain caffeine. All this caffeine adds up. In fact, the study notes that soda consumption among children has fallen in recent years, suggesting that parents might be more aware of soda’s ill effects, but that caffeine consumption overall has increased.
What’s the solution for your child?
- Eliminate or sharply reduce obvious sources of caffeine for all children, even teens. Limit access to soda, tea, coffee and energy drinks and monitor how much your child is getting, both at home and away.
- Pay attention to labels of processed foods, including candy. Food manufacturers are required to list it if they add it to a food. It’s important to realize, though, that manufacturers do not need to list caffeine if it occurs in the food naturally. Those chocolate-covered espresso beans are full of caffeine but it won’t be on the label!
- Consider your child’s diet if he’s struggling to fall asleep or is much more bouncy than a child should be. You know from your own experience that caffeine can make you feel jittery, hyperactive, headachy, and unsettled. Remember that caffeine’s effects last for several hours.
The city of Los Angeles is considering by children because of the possible harm done by caffeine. Maybe you should consider restricting caffeine in your kids too.
© 2014, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Parenting: A Field Guide, at your favorite bookstore.