My Child Drinks Energy Drinks – Should I Be Worried?
Many parents’ biggest fear is that their child is going to smoke cigarettes, take drugs or have risky sex. However, some of the most harmful habits can be those that are also marketed as beneficial by the media, such as energy drinks.
They are promoted as beverages that increase energy and mental focus but can negatively affect a young person’s health. Worryingly, up to a third of children in the UK consume energy drinks every week.  The good news is that energy drinks’ popularity is mainly due to misinformation about their effects; educating yourself and your child on the risks is often enough to help them lead a healthier lifestyle.
The Dangers of Energy Drinks
Energy drinks contain caffeine, sugar, and other stimulants such as ginseng. While they have been found to increase one’s physical and cognitive performance, their positive effects have not been well researched in children and adolescents. Instead, there is plenty of evidence that they are harmful to a young person’s health.
Data from the Analysis of Health Behaviour in School Children revealed that those who drank energy drinks at least weekly were likely to experience physical symptoms such as headaches and stomach problems, as well as difficulty sleeping. Findings from other studies show that it might be linked to depression, anxiety, stress and irritability, which can in turn decrease their academic performance. 
A child’s brain has many neural connections, which makes it extremely plastic and susceptible to change. For this reason, the biggest risk associated with energy drinks comes from their high caffeine content. When we drink caffeine, our brains release dopamine known as the ‘happy hormone’. Consuming energy drinks frequently might make your child constantly seek the reward and eventually make them physically and emotionally dependent on them.
What is more, during adolescence, some connecting points called synapses are eliminated to ensure that the brain functions more efficiently. Caffeine is said to interfere with brain development by having a negative effect on sleep slow wave, a phase of non-REM sleep, which has been linked to synaptic density. The evidence for this comes from numerous rat studies: in one of the research, rats that were administered water with caffeine exhibited higher sleep slow wave which normally declines during sleep, and less reduction in synapses. 
Additionally, adolescents have a lower body weight than adults, which means that the effect of caffeine will be stronger. As manufacturers are not required to list the exact amount of caffeine in the drink, in some cases it might even result in toxicity.
How to Limit Your Child’s Energy Drinks Consumption
1. Talk to your child about the potential risks of consuming too many energy drinks
In one study on energy drink consumption, it turned out that only about half of the children knew that energy drinks contained caffeine and those who were aware that it might be harmful drank less.  Since energy drinks are advertised as products that can help your child perform better, it is possible they are not familiar with their adverse effects.
2. Change your habits
If your child witnesses you consuming energy drinks, they might be simply mirroring your behaviour. Replace energy drinks with healthier alternatives or keep them out of your child’s sight.
3. Check the labels
If your child is used to drinking energy drinks, it is a good idea to cut back gradually and buy your child products that are not as high in caffeine content. For example, Red Bull has 30 mg and Monster Energy 36 mg of caffeine.
4. Educate yourself
Being able to recognise the signs of an overdose is as important as knowing the dangers of long-term use. For example, symptoms of caffeine overdose include dizziness, heart palpitations, nausea, irritability, diarrhoea and increased thirst.
5. Be present in your child’s life
A lot of children might turn to energy drinks because they believe it is a good way to deal with pressure at school. The International Journal of Eating Disorders also reports that some adolescents might use energy drinks to suppress appetite. Instead of just treating the symptoms, make sure that you also address the underlying problem and talk to your child about what is going on in their life.
If you are feeling pressured or need someone to speak to, contact My Family Psychologist for a confidential chat about how we may be able to help.
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