Is Coffee Bad for Teens?

Yesterday my 17 year-old daughter came downstairs for school and asked, “Is caffeine bad?”

“Why do you ask?” I replied.

“I don’t know, just wondering…” she responded.

Gosh, have I been waiting to have this conversation! You know I am an advocate of letting the child lead the nutrition conversations, something I cover extensively in Fearless Feeding. As hard as it is sometimes, I know that biting my tongue and keeping my mouth closed is the right thing to do. I’ve seen too many parents lecture their teens on nutrition, and it goes in one ear and out the other.

I know that a teen will listen intently when she asks for the information.

I was eager to have this conversation. Yes, I noticed coffee was becoming a problem.

I forbade coffee, and caffeinated soda for years. Up until about this time last year, my daughter was cool with that rule. She never really questioned it. Then, she turned 16, got her driver’s license, and much, much more independent.

While I have heard many, many stories about teens going nuts with independence, like hitting the drive-through, the grocery store or the convenience store/gas station, I have to say that things on my end have been relatively calm on the food front.

That is, until the local coffee shop became a hangout. The stopover before and after school. A meeting place for friends. A place to see, and be seen.

And drink coffee.

I had even started making more coffee in the morning and buying G’s favorite creamer, so that she wouldn’t spend the modest income she makes at the local clothing boutique.

Yes, I did. Ahem, I do.

Lord only knows how much coffee she drinks! I don’t. I hadn’t asked, because I knew this topic could tick her off and make her defensive. Those of you who have teens will know what I am talking about.

And so I began. This is the gist of our conversation. I hope it helps you, should you be confronted with a coffee-drinking teen who is asking for more information.

She did ask, after all.

Caffeine is a drug.

Caffeine is addicting, which means that the more you drink it, the more you need and want to have it. It means that when you don’t have it you could get a headache, the “shakes” or jittery, and feel ‘not yourself’ without it. These are symptoms of withdrawal, which anyone on drugs can experience, though the symptoms can be different for each person. This is why drug addicts keep going back for more drugs, because without them, they feel terrible and the only way to correct that is to take more. It’s the same with caffeine.

Caffeine interrupts sleep.

Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it keeps your brain and body awake. While a morning cup of coffee won’t likely disrupt your sleep at night, an afternoon cup could. This means that it can take you longer to fall asleep, or interfere with a sound sleep. As a teen, you need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. If you’re not getting that amount, you can see effects on your grades, your mood, and your weight.

Caffeine-containing drinks may lead to weight gain in teenagers.

While coffee itself doesn’t seem to cause weight gain (or stunted growth, for that matter), the inclusion of it in many drinks that teenagers consume may promote weight gain. For example, those iced vanilla lattes and other specialty coffee drinks are often high in caffeine, and sugar, which means extra calories that can encourage unwanted weight gain.

That little tidbit got a “Really?!”

“I think I might be addicted,” said G.

“Well, I think I am too,” I said. “I need my morning coffee or I don’t feel good. But after that I switch over to water or decaffeinated tea.”

I asked, with the intention to convey that she was in control of her body and her food choices. “What do you think you’ll do about it?”

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get decaf coffee and cut back on coffee altogether,” replied G, clearly thinking it through.

I wish I could say she hasn’t had her morning coffee since. But I have noticed she’s only having one cup. And the after-school coffees are much less frequent.

Does your teen drink coffee? How do you handle it?


  1. says

    I’m so glad to learn from someone with older kids–I always watch with interest to see how you handle this stuff. Love your approach at letting your kids explore and learn their own lessons, but always being there with great food at home and with solid information for them when asked.

  2. colleen says

    Yes. My 15 yr old son has a daily cup of coffee since he was in 5th grade. He has ADHD inattentive and I tried it on suggestion from books on the subject with his doctor’s approval. He takes his daily dose of meds about 15min later. It works as a bridge to the meds activated. Note, I make coffee relatively weak compared to coffee shops (2 heaping scoops for an 8 cup pot), plus I mix it 50%/50% regular and decafe. It’s not much different than the college students who caffeine up with energy drinks and mtn dew….which I would never encourage. That’s his only coffee. I don’t drink those sugar ladden coffee drinks. For a treat we may stop and get a hot chocolate (kids) or chai tea (13 yr old daughter). I usually will just get plain decaf after noon or green tea.

  3. says

    This is such an interesting topic. I always think about it even thought my daughter is only 5. She questions me about my caffeine intake, what is it for etc.
    When I was a kid I always said I was not going to drink coffee EVER. My mom was a coffee aficionado. But I can’t say that now. I love my coffee! I think I started drinking in my teens as well…I think in moderation it should be OK when you are in your late teens:)

    • says

      I didn’t start until I went to college–my parents weren’t big on coffee at home. I am a coffee lover, so my kids have been exposed to this behavior for a long time.

  4. says

    Interesting. I actually try to limit my daily coffee cups amount. It is a bit hard but worth it i guess. I read somewhere that caffeine does have a positive effect on people who have adhd. Can it be right? What is your opinion on it?

    • Michelle says

      When I have been stuck without my kids’ ADHD medicine, I have given them Diet Dr. Pepper. It helps noticibly, but not as much as the medicine.

      My teen drinks coffee, but I read somewhere that over 3 average-strength cups per day was suspected (not shown – can’t do a controlled study!) of affecting brain development in teens. They were able to prove it for rats, though. My son prefers facts, so I just showed him the article about the group of studies. Since then, he has carefully kept to 1 – 2 cups per day. He tallies pop in with that. The hard part is convincing him that he shouldn’t drink it late in the day, because if he does he can’t sleep.

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