“You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.”
Last week a local friend called with a concern about potential energy drink abuse by his daughter. It wasn’t the brand that I’m affiliated with but it led to a productive conversation that I thought was worth reflecting on further.
Who is responsible for teaching kids to behave responsibly?
Energy drinks take a lot of heat for irresponsible behaviors. There are concerns about mixing energy drinks and alcohol and how the combination affects the drinker’s awareness of impairment. Others are concerned about caffeine use and abuse by young people as well as over the high sugar and calorie content in some brands.
The call that I received wasn’t accusing, but raising questions about what’s in the cans and what different ingredients might do to a child.
My friend’s daughter is a freshman at Laguna Beach High School and in the same class as my younger son. She was walking around the house, stumbling and confused, and the cause was attributed to drinking three cans of a European energy drink. She’s 80 pounds.
The father had called me because he was concerned about the ingredients in an “energy drink” and if it might have caused the symptoms he observed. He wasn’t blaming me or the category, per se; he was wondering how to educate kids better.
Obviously, I appreciate parents who are concerned about their children on a lot of levels. We talked about the amount of caffeine in a small can — 80 mg in that case — and what 240 mg of caffeine might do to a young girl. It normally would not be considered dangerous, but there might be behavioral changes.
The bigger question he asked was, “Is there a way to educate kids about caffeine and energy drinks so that they can use these more responsibly?” I thought it was a good question from a good parent.
Realistically, energy drinks really are not significantly higher in caffeine than coffee, aspirin tablets, dark chocolate or some soft drinks. As a simple example, a small drip coffee from a popular coffee chain has twice the caffeine of an energy drink.
Our conversation led to a discussion about educating kids about things they consume in general and taking responsibility for their actions.
Schools, as an example, have made villains out of soda and energy drinks, but it’s very common to see high school kids walking onto campus with large cups of coffee.
More concerning to me are real issues with obesity. Several years ago, I was sitting at a Department of Health and Human Services press conference with then-Health Secretary Tommy Thompson and one of his ambassadors, former football great Lynn Swan. Thompson said, “Obesity is now the number one form of preventable death, and high fructose corn syrup is the new cigarette.”
Schools have ejected soda and energy drinks, but they allow coffee and sell things like apple and grape juices, products with little-to-no nutritional value and more sugar than soda, to kids.
Waiting for schools to properly educate our kids about nutrition is like assuming kids will learn the moral responsibilities associated with being sexually active simply by sitting through health class. I’m happy the schools offer a sex education curriculum, but responsibility needs to be taught at home.
If my son breaks his arm skateboarding or snowboarding, I don’t call the owner of the companies that make those products. I teach my kids how to manage risks better (and get them immediate medical attention). If a person drinks too much alcohol and does something foolish, we don’t blame the drink. We blame the drinker. AA isn’t about prohibition.
Interestingly, towards the end of our conversation, my friend asked if I’d help provide health education at schools for students about energy drinks and other products kids drink. That question gave me pause.
While I don’t feel directly responsible for teaching the children of the world about nutrition, it made sense that an owner of a company who sells a lot of drinks to families would get involved in helping kids get the facts about how daily nutrition impacts their bodies, behavior and lives. I do believe in shared responsibility.
David Vanderveen is a Laguna Beach resident, husband, father and energy drink entrepreneur. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.