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Coffee, Soda and Energy Drinks: Is Caffeine Bad for Kids?

For all of us java lovers, coffee is life. For what is life without that jolt of caffeine in your veins to kickstart your day? With your ‘Bucks, Dunkin’, Timmies or (insert your fave caffeinated bevvy here) in hand, you’re ready to face the world and rock your day.

Caffeine has many perks. It can give you that much-needed boost of energy in the morning or during a midday slump and has some added health benefits as well.

[P.S. Did you know that a study found that all type of coffee are protective against chronic liver disease or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease? More reasons to at least drink coffee, right?!]

But like any good thing, caffeine has its downsides as well. For some, it can also cause dizziness and headaches, increased anxiety and dehydration, just to name a few.

While you’re an adult and can carefully weigh (or ignore) the pros and cons of caffeine, what about your children? Knowing what you know about how caffeine affects adults, is caffeine bad for kids? Is coffee better for them than soda and energy drinks? Or should they lay off caffeine altogether?

With the help of Brenda Kronborg, DO, a pediatrician with Banner Children's, we spill the beans on caffeine and its effects on youth.

Kids are drinking more caffeine

At one time the mall was the “cool” place to hang out after school and window shop. Today, pass any coffee shop and you’re bound to see tweens and teens anxiously waiting in line together for their afterschool pick-me-up.

Blame it on having a Starbucks on every corner or the downfall of the wee old shopping mall, but children and adolescents are consuming more caffeine. Many have shifted from Coca-Colas and other caffeinated sodas to coffee and energy drinks.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 73% of children consume caffeinated products on any given day. More alarming is that about half of children worldwide consume energy drinks every week.

This trend is worrisome not only for parents but for health care providers as well.

“The widespread acceptance and regular consumption of these drinks, especially energy drinks, can have harmful effects on developing minds,” Dr. Kronborg said. “This is why the AAP takes the position that caffeine and stimulant-containing energy drinks have no place in the diets of children and adolescents.”

The effects of caffeine on children

While most adults can handle some caffeine, kids are extra sensitive to it.

“Children are generally more sensitive to caffeine than adults and can feel the adverse effects for nearly six hours,” Dr. Kronborg said. “This is because the smaller the person, the lesser the amount of caffeine they need to consume to produce the adverse effect of caffeine sensitivity.”

These problems can cause:

  • Poor sleep or restlessness. This can interrupt your child’s sleep cycles, which can stunt growth in their brain and body.
  • Moodiness and irritability.
  • Nervousness and jitters (shakiness or tremors).
  • Headaches.
  • Upset stomach and nausea.
  • Dependency on caffeine. Long-term use of caffeine can lead to addiction and withdrawal.

“Studies show that consuming large amounts of caffeine is associated with higher levels of stress, depression and anxiety in kids,” Dr. Kronborg said. “Add in sleep issues and other symptoms, and it’s a recipe for disaster.”

Excessive caffeine use can lead to an overdose. Yes! You can, in fact, overdose on caffeine! Sadly, a teen in South Carolina died from a “caffeine-induced cardiac event” after a latte, Mountain Dew and energy drink. He had no pre-existing heart problems.

“Symptoms of caffeine overdose can include vomiting, elevated insulin levels, high blood pressure, racing heart, heart rhythm issues – even in children who may not be at risk for heart disease, seizures or diabetes,” Dr. Kronborg said.

Is one type of caffeine better than another?

“No amount of caffeine is proven safe for kids under the age of 12,” Dr. Kronborg said.

In small amounts here and there, coffee isn’t particularly bad for kids, but there aren’t many kids out there who’d have their coffee straight up.

Most of the caffeinated beverages kids order are the frou-frou drinks laden with sugar, heavy cream, whipped cream and additives like caramel drizzle and chocolate chips. Energy drinks aren’t any better. They can have double the amount of caffeine and sugar, plus tons of artificial flavors and additives.

The American Heart Association recommends children and teens consume less than 25 grams, or six teaspoons, of added sugar a day. Many caffeinated drinks exceed this recommendation, which can lead to a variety of health problems.

“These types of drinks can limit your child’s desire for healthy foods and beverages and lead to dental issues and an increased risk for obesity, kidney disease, heart disease and type 2 diabetes,” Dr. Kronborg said.

Safer ways for kids to drink

There is one beverage that you can never go wrong with: water! It’s hydrating and healthy.

If your child has a hankering for something sweet, it’s better for your kids to get natural sugar from actual foods. Fruits are an excellent source of natural sugar and also provide necessary vitamins, minerals and fiber, which their bodies need.

Instead of a soda, sugary coffee drink or energy drink, a sweet and healthy alternative could be some strawberries, peaches or blueberries.

But of course, you don’t want your child to be left out when you hit the coffee shop drive-thru. You can try an unsweetened tea, water with fruit inclusions or a babyccino (steamed milk!). This will eliminate any unnecessary added sugars or too much caffeine.


There is no amount of caffeine that is safe for kids under the age of 12. Caffeine can affect your little one’s body and health in negative ways. Not only that, but many of these caffeinated beverages also include twice the daily amount of sugar they should have in a day.

It’s a good idea to be mindful of how much caffeine and sugar your children are consuming. If your child is struggling with low energy levels or you have any questions or concerns, reach out to your child’s health care provider.

To find a Banner Health specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

For other pediatric advice, check out:

Children's Health Parenting