Is Coffee Bad for Teens?

Is Coffee Bad for Kids and Teens?

Is Coffee Bad?

Yesterday my daughter came downstairs for school and asked, “Is coffee bad for kids?”

“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 child or teen will listen intently when he or she asks for the information.

I was eager to have this conversation.

Is coffee bad for teens? How much caffeine is too much for kids and teens? I answer these questions and more!

The Social Aspects of Coffee

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 became much more independent.

While I have heard 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.

Click Here to Grab 85 Healthy Snacks for the Teen 

How Much Caffeine is Too Much?

I know a few things about caffeine and have written quite a bit about it on this blog and over on U.S. News & World Report.

Is coffee bad for kids? For children under the age of 12, the recommendations are they avoid caffeine.

Now, there are many foods that contain caffeine, so it’s not just coffee.

Chocolate, for example, has caffeine. Am I going to follow “no caffeine” to a tee and eliminate all chocolate for kids?

No. 

I think the recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are meant to target coffee, tea, soda, energy drinks and caffeine pills. These are the most concentrated and dangerous forms of caffeine in the lives of children today.

For children older than 12, the recommendation is 85-100 mg caffeine per day. That’s about one cup of Folger’s or Maxwell House coffee.

The stuff my teen was drinking — Starbucks — is more concentrated in caffeine.

Is coffee bad for teens? How much caffeine is too much for kids and teens? I answer these questions and more.

The Side Effects of Coffee

Caffeine is addicting, which means that the more you drink, 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.

Side effects of coffee include 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 is a stimulant, which means it keeps your brain and body awake. While a morning cup of coffee won’t disrupt your sleep at night, an afternoon cup could.

This means that it can take you longer to fall asleep, and even interfere with a good night’s sleep. Teens need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night.

If your teen is not getting that amount, you can see effects on grades, mood, and depending on what your teen puts in his coffee, there can be side effects on weight status.

For example, iced vanilla lattes and other specialty coffee drinks are often high in caffeine, fat and sugar, which means extra calories that may encourage unwanted and unhealthy weight gain.

Does Coffee Stunt Growth?

Coffee does not appear to stunt growth, contrary to popular belief. However, I think you’d be hard pressed to find a parent who would willingly allow their child to drink coffee on a daily basis and be studied.

It’s fair to say it’s probably not well-studied.

There is some research, however, that indicates caffeine intake may disturb a child’s ability to absorb calcium. The good news?

A diet rich in calcium can counteract the effect of caffeine on calcium absorption and bone growth. So, go ahead and add that milk to your teen’s coffee.

Is Coffee Bad? Time for the Coffee Talk

So I began the coffee talk. 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.

Having the coffee talk was one of those parenting moments when you realize if you put the stop sign up there will probably be resistance. And, if you say nothing, it will be interpreted as okay to continue imbibing.

I decided to provide the facts I outlined above, and let the chips fall.

The little tidbit about coffee-based drinks containing a lot of calories and potentially promoting weight gain got a “Really?!”

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

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. Not the case. But, I’ve noticed she’s only having one cup.

And the after-school coffee drinks are much less frequent.

Is coffee bad for your teen?

That depends. If it’s becoming a problem, maybe a conversation about coffee and caffeine will help.  

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  1. 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?

    1. 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.

  2. 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:)

    1. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.