Stay Awake! Caffeine-Riddled Kids


Riding by the high school on my bike today, I saw this telling piece of litter and stopped to check it out. Stay Awake Tablets, Alertness Aid with Caffeine.

It made me sad, like it does when I see beer bottles thrown out on the side of the road.

I couldn’t help but wonder.

  • Who took these caffeine pills?
  • Was it a young person who felt the need to throw the empty out the car window instead of into a trashcan at home?
  • Did the person who used the medication follow the recommended dosage? (One capsule, or 200 mg, every 3-4 hours–equal to two cups of coffee or a half gallon of Coke Classic.)
  • Or did they overdose?

Overdosing on caffeine seems quite acceptable in our society. FDA-approved products like Stay Awake clearly tell the user what are the recommended dosages, and it clearly says children under 12 should not use it.

However, “energy drinks are classified as dietary supplements. That means they aren’t strictly monitored for safety like food and beverages. In fact, the FDA requires very little of the manufacturers of supplements – no research on effectiveness, no verification of safety, and no warning of harm from excessive consumption.” (Emphasis mine.) See “Energy Drinks: Definitely Not Kid Stuff!”

Caffeine is popular to be sure. According to, “it is the most widely used behaviorally active drug in the world.” Drinking caffeine in a moderate amount through coffee and soda helps prevent overdose. It takes some energy, time, and a large bladder to drink a gallon of pop. However, with an energy drink, you only need to drink one can to get the effects of 7 strong cups of coffee or 14 cans of soda.

We could go on and read about the side effects of caffeine toxicity, but enough right now.

Today when I saw that litter and thought about the possible gateway effect to harder drugs, I couldn’t help but think of the sixth grade student I saw at the bus stop each morning finishing up his breakfast, which always included a Red Bull. Really? It used to be an oddity to see a child who liked a cup of coffee, now they are starting their mornings with the equivalent of SEVEN cups of coffee.

A few years ago there was an outcry about a ridiculous product called KickStart Spark. It was an energy drink, including caffeine and other stimulants, vitamins and minerals, marketed to children ages 4 to 11. As you can imagine, it didn’t stay on the market long.

Now, seven years later, where is the outcry? Kids are still drinking energy drinks and overdosing on caffeine every day.

Please let me know what you think about this. Do you see this as a problem in your community?

  • Are kids just becoming over-caffeinated like adults?
  • Are kids under pressure, forced to “Stay Awake” to perform in school and extra-curricular activities?
  • Are energy drinks a gateway drug? Do they lead to other drugs when caffeine is no longer effective?

Besides the links above, here are two more related articles:
“Is Red Bull A Gateway Drug? Some John Hopkins Experts Say Caffeine Drinks Need Warning Labels”
“Energy Drinks Not for Kids, Pediatricians Warn”

10 thoughts on “Stay Awake! Caffeine-Riddled Kids

  1. I too find this cultural dependence on caffeine problematic. It is linked to our idea that sleep is somehow a sign of weakness, of time we could “better” spend doing something. I also think that until schools and school systems take into account the developmental cycles of teens, who should NOT be asked to be functional at very early hours of the day, we will be surrounded by sleep-deprived children using what they can to do what we ask of them. My teen who recently finished high school needed to catch his school bus at 7 AM to start school at 7:30. If the normal sleep patterns (and there are a number of studies that show this, such as Mayo Clinic) for teens would have them sleep from 1 AM until 10 AM, how are they ever supposed to function on a “normal” school schedule?

    1. That’s right, Lydia. I’m glad you reminded us of the research on adolescents needing to sleep in.

      Sleep as a sign of weakness, another good point. Children and adults are both guilty of that one, aren’t they?

      Thanks so much for reading and adding to this important topic,

  2. I teach middle school, and sadly we have the same problem there. Our kids, some as young as 12, come in the morning carting giant energy drinks that we for some reason CAN prohibit having in class, but CANNOT prohibit having on campus.

    For our kid, the problem is that they stay up extremely late (they routinely report to me that they were up until 2am) and “need” caffeine to rouse themselves at be at school with a start time of 7:45am.

    There is a parenting issue here…

    1. Laura, thanks so much for visiting and adding to the conversation. Interesting that the drinks are allowed on campus. I guess there are all kinds of liberty issues that aren’t always the best for children.

      You and Lydia both make good comments that the young people are just not able to get enough sleep. Were you referring to your own “kid” or “kids” in general?

      Thanks again,

  3. I meant my kidS… the ones I teach. In keeping with the theme of your post, I am a 30-year-old caffeine addict who doesn’t get enough sleep and shouldn’t be commenting before my first cup of coffee!

  4. I agree Denise, that these energy drinks, over-caffeinated drinks, and lack of sleep are a serious problems for our youth. We do watch that our students don’t bring the energy drinks to school.

    One thing we do at our school is start grades six through eight with “Jump Start.” Students have music, physical education, computers, study hall, and culture class the first thing in the morning so students have a “Jump Start” before learning.

    With all the focus on “tests,” has health class lost out?

    Perhaps this needs to be a student research project for blogging…

  5. Sheri, good idea for the Jump Start classes. I like that. I get 8th graders first thing in the morning for history class. They are not always the most engaged of learners!

    I love the idea of a student research project! Something to think about.

    Thanks for visiting,

  6. Denise,
    As parents we need to be paying attention to the literature out there on these caffeine related products. Thanks for the great articles. Apart from keeping the kiddos awake I see it being a ‘social’ thing. Middle teens head walk down to the local grocery to get some cans of ‘Red Bull’ or some other caffeine related drink.

    A quick story. When I was in my early twenties, I was driving across country with some friends. We wanted to drive straight through so we bought some caffeine ‘cough drops’. Well it worked in keeping us awake but it made me jiggy, irritable, unable to focus properly and had my heart racing. I’m fairly sure these ‘drinks’ would make someone feel the same way.

    It’s a shame that kids see this as ‘cool’. We need some students to create Public Service Announcements to help their peers see the folly in taking up such a habit.

    Thanks for sharing your thought provoking post!

  7. Nancy, thanks for your additions to the topic. I appreciated the story too. You can bet that some (or many) young people have some of the same symptoms you had with too much caffeine. I especially love the PSA idea!


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