Do you feel confused about drinks for your adolescents, kids and teens? You know they need to be hydrated, but it seems there are so many drink options and so many opinions about them! Many parents worry about the sugar in drinks, about kids “drinking their calories“, drinks taking the place of food, or are just uncertain about the latest hyped, “fun”, drink.

And of course, those “fun” drinks- flavored, carbonated, and sweetened- are the drinks adolescents want! 

Let’s take a look at those drinks and learn what to do with them when kids keep asking.


Let’s Take a Closer Look at Specific Drinks


Water meets the body’s need for hydration. Drinking water ensures the body can effectively do its many processes including transporting nutrients around the body. Drinking water can even help with mental health! 

If the water bottle business is any indication, water is currently very trendy! And that can make drinking enough a lot easier. 

However, there is such a thing as drinking too much water!

When there’s too much water in the body, electrolytes are diluted, and some body functions can be negatively affected. 

You can ensure you’re drinking the right amount, NOT by counting your liters or attempting to reach an arbitrary cup goal, but by noticing your urine output. You should be urinating around 8 times per day, and output should be light yellow. Clear means it’s too dilute, and dark yellow may indicate not drinking enough. (It can also be reflective of medication or supplement intake).

Water doesn’t provide any nutrients or electrolytes, so if your adolescent is super active or spending long times in the heat, water may not be sufficient in keeping them hydrated. 


Make water fun with fruit infusions and twisty straws! Picture from
Kaizen Nguyễn on


Milk is one of those drinks you’ll hear health people say you should only drink (the other being water, and some may include 100% fruit juice).

It is a great source of protein, calcium, and other vitamins.

For people with dairy allergies, lactose intolerance, or those who don’t drink milk for cultural or ethical reasons, there are milk alternatives.

However, most of those are significantly lower in protein and calcium, and often higher in sugar than milk.

Milk is a satisfying, nourishing, and hydrating option. (Read this if you’re curious about chocolate milk.)


100% Juice

Juice is a confusing drink, as many people believe it’s too high in sugar and should be avoided, while others, including the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025, includes 100% fruit juice as part of a healthy dietary pattern (though the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limits based on age). 

100% fruit juice has the vitamins and minerals (and sugar) contained in fruit, minus the fiber, making juice a less filling option, though still satisfying and hydrating.


Sugar Sweetened Beverages

Sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) are the real demonized drink, implicated in childhood weight gain. These drinks are a source of energy, as the sugar provides calories. However, the research isn’t conclusive in the association between these drinks and weight gain. Much of the observed weight gain could be explained by multiple other reasons (as MANY factors contribute to weight) or was measured during stages of growth (such as in grade eight girls). 

Sugar sweetened drinks are  fun and flavorful, satisfying and hydrating. Plus, they are heavily advertised and marketed, and so may be  associated with peer pressure and peer standing. 


Artificially Sweetened Beverages

Artificially sweetened drinks have fewer or  zero calories than sugar sweetened drinks, depending on the sweetener. For example, sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar, while sweeteners like Aspartame, Sucralose, and Stevia have zero calories. 

The research and recommendations aren’t conclusive around these drinks for kids and teens. 

The American Academy for Pediatrics state that artificial sweeteners have been inadequately studied for use in children and that they should not form a significant part of a child’s diet.

The American Dietetic Association state that artificial sweeteners are safe to use within the range of the acceptable daily intake. That limit is based on individual weight. So for example, a 40 pound child would have to drink multiple cans of soda a day to reach near their limit, and less than that would be safe. 

The Institute of Medicine does not support artificial sweetener use in children because these drinks have been shown to displace milk and 100% juice at mealtimes (which they prefer). They also feel that more studies are needed on safety effects when artificial sweeteners are consumed over many years starting in childhood or adolescence.

Artificially sweetened drinks may cause gastric complaints, alter gut bacteria, and lead to eating more to compensate for the lack of calories in them. 

It’s important to recognize that kids may be interested in these drinks for dieting and weight loss reasons, so keep that in mind.

These drinks are satisfying and hydrating. These drinks too, may be desired because of peer pressure and provide social clout. 


 Carbonated Drinks

Carbonated drinks, whether soda, flavored, or unsweetened are all hydrating and satisfying. Some may find them too satisfying, as the carbonation takes up space in the stomach. People find they cause extra gas and gastrointestinal discomfort. 

I’ve seen parents express concern about dental problems when kids drink carbonated drinks. This is because the carbonation makes these drinks slightly acidic. However, the levels are pretty low (it’s less than orange juice) so isn’t really a great concern. 


Sports Drinks

Sports drinks are often necessary when kids are very active or in hot weather for long. Water isn’t always enough to rehydrate in these circumstances. Electrolytes are an important component lost in sweat and that needs to be replenished. 

Some sports drinks, or rehydration drinks have too much electrolytes for children as their vitamin levels are higher than youth’s requirements. Depending on your child’s age, you may want to limit the amount and frequency of these drinks. 

These drinks too are highly palatable, highly advertised, and may contribute to social clout and peer pressure.


Are Drinks Necessary for Kids and Teens?

Drinks can be an important part of nourishing kids and teens. Their need for hydration is great, and it can be difficult drinking enough plain, boring, water to do so. 

And truthfully, there’s no reason to rely solely on water!

As shown above, ALL drinks provide hydration. (As do many foods including fruits and vegetables, soup and smoothies, ice cream, popsicles, yogurt, etc.)

When drinks contain calories, the body recognizes that, and uses the sugar the same way it would if that sugar came from fruit or cake- as a source of energy!


Why do My Kids Drink so Much?

Now obviously drinks are not food, so they don’t contain as much nourishment, and the little they do provide is quickly digested and used. If the body is depending only on this source for nutrition, kids will have to drink A LOT to reach their body’s caloric needs. 

So kids may drink excessively when they’re not eating enough food. 

As well, as with any form of restriction, if kids are not allowed to drink these non-water drinks, or are made to feel guilty for doing so, they’re going to experience the pendulum effect and when given access, drink to excess. 

Read more here about restriction and reactive eating.


Serving drinks along with food. Photo by Rachel Park from

Helping Adolescents Regulate Their Drinking

The need to drink and eat are two totally different body sensations. However, some kids have underdeveloped thirst cues, and need support to tune into it. Other kids have no problem recognizing their thirst, but may need support around variety and amounts. 

You can do that by frequently offering or having drinks available. 

This can be water, but it can also be “fun” drinks. By providing a variety of options you give your kids the best of each drink! 

As well, by allowing for multiple drinks, you remove the limitation and help your adolescent drink them for enjoyment rather than as a way of making up for restriction (which can look like excessive or out of control drinking). 

Allow your adolescent to drink these fun drinks as you see fit. Remember that restriction leads to obsession and excessive drinking. So having them (somewhat) frequently can help your adolescent drink these drinks as they enjoy them. 

Provide a variety of drinks and have them with meals or snacks so adolescents can also be satisfied with food and meet their body’s nutrition and caloric requirements. 


There’s a lot of controversy and conversation around kids and drinks. All fluids hydrate the body, and all sugar and calories are recognized by the body. You can feel comfortable allowing your adolescents to drink non-water, “fun”, drinks. 

Removing the judgment, and having these drinks more frequently, can make your adolescent feel more comfortable around these drinks, and choose whether or not to have them, depending on their current mood and needs.