Understanding Teens and Caffeine: A National Poll Highlights Parental Awareness Gaps


A recent national poll by the University of Michigan Health C.S. Mott Children's Hospital reveals that caffeine consumption is a common part of many teens' daily routines, with a quarter of parents acknowledging this trend.

According to the poll, two-thirds of parents feel confident about their understanding of appropriate caffeine intake and identifying high-caffeine products. However, one-third of parents cannot identify the recommended caffeine limits for teens.

"Our report suggests parents may not always be aware of how much they should be limiting caffeine consumption for teens,” said Susan Woolford, MD, co-director of the poll and a pediatrician at Mott. “Even for parents who know the recommendations, estimating their teen’s caffeine intake can be challenging."

The poll, which included responses from 1,095 parents of teens, found that soda is the most popular caffeinated product among teens, followed by tea and coffee. Less than a fourth of parents reported that their teens consume energy drinks.

"Caffeine is a drug that stimulates the brain and nervous system, and too much of it can contribute to a variety of health problems in young people,” Dr. Woolford explained. “Teens’ brains are still developing, and excessive caffeine consumption can affect their mood, sleep, and school performance, along with other side effects."

The poll highlights that two in five parents of teens who consume caffeine regularly believe their teens do so because it’s in their favorite products, while fewer parents think their teens drink caffeine due to peer influence, the need to stay awake, or to help with studying.

“As parents appear to suggest that teens consume caffeine more for the taste than for the stimulant effect, it may be possible for parents to encourage the use of similar tasting options that are caffeine-free,” said Dr. Woolford.

The report also showed that the most common place for teens to consume caffeine is at home, followed by dining out. This makes it easier for parents to monitor and potentially reduce their teen's caffeine intake. Only a third of teens consume caffeine with friends, and a quarter do so while in school.

Dr. Woolford offers several tips for parents to manage their teen's caffeine consumption effectively:

  • Know Recommended Caffeine Limits: The FDA suggests that 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is safe for healthy adults but offers no guidance for teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine intake for children and adolescents, and other experts suggest a limit of 100 milligrams per day for teens. However, one in three parents polled overestimated this limit.
  • Monitor Caffeine Levels: Parents should check caffeine levels in their teen's favorite foods and beverages. An eight-ounce cup of coffee has about 100 milligrams of caffeine, but energy drinks and other products can contain significantly more.
  • Watch for Overconsumption Signs: Symptoms of overconsumption include insomnia, headaches, irritability, and nervousness. Teens may require higher amounts of caffeine over time to achieve the same effects, increasing the risk of negative side effects.
  • Model Healthy Caffeine Consumption: Many parents consume caffeine regularly, but those who have cut back can use their experiences to help their teens reduce intake gradually.
  • Talk to Your Teen: It's crucial for parents to discuss the risks of excessive caffeine with their teens and explore non-caffeinated alternatives together.

"Parents should consider talking with their teen about the negative impact of excessive caffeine and then explore non-caffeinated options they can try together at home, at school, or when out with friends,” said Dr. Woolford. “Parents may also enlist the teen’s healthcare provider in explaining the risks of caffeine and suggesting strategies to cut back."

For integrative practitioners, understanding and addressing caffeine consumption in teens is crucial for promoting overall health and well-being. This national poll highlights the importance of parental awareness and proactive management of caffeine intake to safeguard the health of adolescents.