If you’re a parent of a preteen or teenager, you probably know how hectic and stressful their schedules can get. As your kid moves through school, they might start asking you for a morning cup of coffee to help power them through their day. Or, they might be enticed by the seasonal offerings at your local Costa Rica coffee shop or coffee chain.
Coffee seems harmless, but you’ve probably also worried that introducing caffeine into your child’s daily routine too young might negatively impact their health. How do you decide when your child is old enough to drink coffee? What kind of coffee should you allow them to drink, and how much of it?
Keep reading for some facts that will help you decide if, and when, you’ll allow your kids to start drinking coffee!
Does Caffeine Stunt Growth?
One of the most common reasons that parents give for refusing to let their kids drink coffee is that caffeine stunts growth. It turns out, this might just be an old wives’ tale. In the 1980s and early 1990s, research suggested that caffeine consumption might negatively impact calcium absorption, which is necessary for bone health, which in turn is necessary for healthy physical growth among children.
A later study published in 2002 revealed that although caffeine consumption can have a slightly negative impact on calcium intake, adding a tablespoon of milk for every six ounces of coffee is enough to counteract this minor reduction.
Finally, a 1998 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that caffeine intake among teenage girls aged 12 to 18 does not negatively impact overall bone density from adolescence into early adulthood. The key takeaway? It turns out that drinking coffee will not stunt your child’s growth.
Is Coffee Still Bad for You?
Even though caffeine is not linked to stunted growth among children and teenagers, that doesn’t mean that it’s 100% healthy. There are other factors to keep in mind when you’re considering whether or not to let your kids drink coffee. Obviously, coffee is a caffeinated drink, and when overconsumed or consumed too late in the day, it can disrupt sleep, especially in children and adolescents.
A 2003 pediatric study found that higher caffeine intake among seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-graders was linked to less sleep at night and more tiredness during the day. Especially if your kid is asking for coffee in order to stay awake through a long day of school and extracurricular activities, overconsuming caffeine can end up working counterproductively, making them feel even sleepier than they would without any coffee.
Also, many people don’t realize that caffeine is a stimulant. This means that it’s classified as a drug that increases activity of the central nervous system and brain. Overconsumption of caffeine can lead to sleeplessness, jitteriness, headaches, difficulty focusing, increased heart rate, mood swings, hyperactivity, and even an upset stomach.
Because children have lower thresholds for caffeine, they experience these symptoms faster than an adult would. Especially when they’re new to the world of coffee, and consume it in conjunction with soda, chocolate, and energy drinks, it’s easy for them to overconsume and cause heart arrhythmia from excess caffeine.
In 2017, a teenager passed away after drinking an energy drink, latte, and soda within the span of two hours, which created a caffeine-induced cardiac event.
What’s more, even when consumed in moderation, caffeine is addictive and can cause mild withdrawal symptoms—if you’re one of those people who experience a killer headache if they skip their morning cup of coffee, you already know this!
Although some research has been conducted on the specific ways that caffeine impacts the physical health of children, we still don’t know very much about how caffeine affects their brain development. As a stimulant, caffeine interacts with the nervous system and the brain, potentially changing the brain development of children in ways that we don’t quite understand yet.
Research conducted on lab rats has shown that caffeine can heighten the desire to consume other stimulants. A study published in Pediatrics Journal has found that young boys are more likely to use caffeine as a stimulant than girls, even in low amounts, like the amount found in a can of soda.
Finally, many of the coffee drinks that are most popular among kids and teenagers also have very high sugar content from added syrups, sweeteners, and whipped cream. Too much sugar can lead to high blood sugar levels, heart disease, and obesity. The American Heart Association recommends that children consume under 25 grams of added sugar per day. For comparison, a grande Mocha Frappuccino from Starbucks contains a whopping 52 grams of sugar!
Should I Let My Kids Drink Coffee?
Now that you’ve educated yourself on the potential health impacts of consuming caffeine, you’re poised to make a more informed decision about whether or not you should let your kids drink coffee. Generally speaking, pediatricians and researchers agree that children under the age of thirteen should not drink coffee.
The negative impacts of over-caffeination greatly outweigh any benefits that your child might get from drinking coffee. As your child moves into adolescence, many doctors still urge caution with respect to coffee, if only to help your kids avoid developing a caffeine addiction.
In fact, most doctors recommend that parents only allow their children to start drinking coffee at age 16 or 18, and even then, to limit them to a single cup of coffee per day.
How Much Coffee Should My Kids Have?
If you still feel comfortable with letting your teenager drink coffee, it’s important to avoid coffee drinks with a ton of caffeine or sugar. Even though excess caffeine and excess sugar can have negative impacts on your child’s health, you can limit these impacts by limiting the amount of coffee that your child consumes each day.
The European Food Safety Authority recommends that adults can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is about four eight-ounce cups of coffee. However, children should not be consuming as much caffeine as adults.
Doctors and researchers generally agree that children should consume significantly less caffeine than adults. However, the FDA does not currently provide any recommendations or guidelines for caffeine intake among children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that you limit children to 100 milligrams of caffeine per day, which is about one eight-ounce cup of coffee.
Health Canada provides more specific guidelines.
- Children aged four to six can safely consume 45 milligrams of caffeine per day.
- Children aged seven to nine can safely consume 63 milligrams of caffeine per day.
- Children aged ten to twelve can safely consume 85 milligrams of caffeine per day.
- Children aged 12 to 18 can safely consume 2.5 milligrams of caffeine for every kilogram of body weight per day.
Keep in mind that coffee is not the only caffeinated product that your kids might be consuming during their day—these caffeine recommendations also encompass the caffeine that your kids might be consuming in soda, tea, energy beverages, and chocolate.
What Kind of Coffee Should I Allow My Kid to Drink?
When kids start drinking coffee, they’re often tempted by super sweet, sugary specialty drinks full of chocolate and caramel that mask the bitter taste of straight coffee. To parents, these kinds of drinks might seem innocuous—they seem similar to a milkshake or hot chocolate, so they’re probably harmless, right?
Actually, sugary specialty drinks might actually be worse for kids than a regular cup of drip coffee. These specialty drinks often contain more than 100 milligrams of caffeine, which is the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommended amount for children. Their outrageous sugar content also makes them more enticing to children and teenagers, making them more likely to overconsume.
As your child moves into mid- and late adolescence, it’s better for them to drink regular drip coffee. If black coffee is too strong or bitter for them, feel free to add half-and-half, milk, or plant-based milk. Although regular old coffee is definitely not as trendy or youth-oriented as the sugary drinks they’re probably craving, it’ll do the job of giving them a little morning energy boost without endangering their health.
At the end of the day, if your kid has a sip of coffee every now and again, it won’t have a negative impact on their health. However, pre-adolescent children should not be drinking coffee, and some doctors recommend that even teenagers stay away from coffee until they reach adulthood.
If you are going to allow your teenager to drink coffee, try to encourage them away from super sweet specialty drinks, which contain much more sugar and caffeine than is healthy. About 100 milligrams of caffeine, which is the equivalent of an eight-ounce cup of black coffee, is more than enough for a teenager.