Educate Our Children About Unhealthy Substances

We know energy drinks aren’t healthy because of the amount of caffeine and the sugar added to mask the bitterness of the caffeine. Research has shown that energy drinks are consumed by 31 percent of 12-17 year-olds–One third of teenagers!  Teenagers say they think  of energy drinks as a healthy switch from soda. If it has all these vitamins added it can’t be too bad for them, right? Scientists  say that this switch to energy drinks can be extremely toxic to teens because of the amount of caffeine, and sugar. Plus,  the Journal of the American Heart Association has  also cautioned  that little has been researched about some of the ingredients. Forty  percent of teens drinking energy drinks have reported unpleasant side effects like abominable pain, feeling jittery, and insomnia, among others. 

In 2021, six middle schoolers from  Connecticut went  with their science  teacher to meet with state legislators. This trip  to the state capital capped three months of studying the ingredients and the impact of energy drinks on children their age. One seventh grader  said to the state legislators:

“Energy drinks can be fatal to everyone, but especially to adolescents. Even though this is true, most energy drink companies continue to market these drinks specifically toward teens.”

Imagine the research these students did to help this young man be so articulate. 

Red Bull’s head of Public affairs for North America, Ray Luppino,  told the state legislators that there was no science  to regulate energy drinks any differently from other caffeine-containing drinks like soda, coffee and tea. He said,

“Age-gating is an incredibly powerful tool, and should be reserved for inherently dangerous products  like nicotine.”

This is a devious argument.  What he  is saying is  that when we limit what our children can ingest we are doing them a disservice and should only limit really dangerous products. He is one of those “conspiring men” described in the  Doctrine & Covenants section 89:

“In consequence of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days, I have warned you this word of wisdom by revelation.”

Our job as parents is to educate our children  like these middle schoolers were taught. We can’t protect our children  from everything but we can educate them. The science teacher in the above story took a real problem and created her lesson plans for  three months to research the ingredients and effects of energy drinks  on kids their age. Then she helped  their mental models become more internalized  with an experience.  She  showed them how to have an impact  with  a solution to the problem and organized a field trip to see it through. Her students knew enough from their research to feel confident about talking to the state legislators. What an incredible experience for these students!

This would be a great discussion at the dinner table.  An 8 oz energy drink averages   80 milligrams of caffeine.  Brewed coffee has 95 mg, cola (regular or diet) has 40 mgs,  and Mountain Dew has 55 mgs. The problem is these energy drinks can come in 16 ounce cans so that’s 160 mgs of caffeine!  The above 7th grader said that these companies are targeting teens in their advertising, placing ads at football games and snowboarding competitions.

We could take this teacher’s approach with drugs and alcohol, showing brain images of what alcohol does to a brain and maybe talking to a former addict or visiting a drug rehab facility with our age appropriate  children.  When we had a church youth conference  at an  army base a half hour away, we could only use their facility if we watched a powerpoint on what meth does to our bodies.  When we educate our children in this way, we don’t have to be the fence anymore. They start internalizing how important it is to protect their  bodies from harmful substances.  When our children realize that unlimited choice actually  limits their options when they choose unhealthy practices then our cautions start making sense to them.  I like starting this at the age of eight where children can grasp so much and they are so impressionable it really sticks.

There is also the principle of “Never Start, Not Once”, that my pediatrician taught at my children’s 12-year-old check-up. He would sit in front of them, look them in the eye and  say solemnly, “It only takes one cigarette to get addicted. Most people cough on the smoke and don’t like it, but you don’t know how your body will react. That one cigarette may turn into a curiosity about another and another. The most important thing to know about cigarettes, drugs and alcohol is don’t try them. It is so hard to break an addiction once you are hooked.  Don’t even start.”

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