Is Coffee Bad for Teens?
Yesterday my 17 year-old daughter came downstairs for school and asked, “Is coffee 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 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.
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.
Is Coffee Bad for Teens?
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. For children under the age of 12, the recommendations are NO 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.
The Coffee Conversation
Having the coffee conversation was one of those parenting moments when you realize if you put the stop sign up there will probably be retaliation. And, if you say nothing, it will be interpreted as okay to continue imbibing.
I decided to provide the facts, and let the chips fall. Here’s how I addressed the topic.
Coffee contains caffeine and 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 can interrupt your sleep
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. 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 can cause weight gain
While coffee itself doesn’t seem to cause weight gain (or stunted growth, for that matter), including coffee in drinks that teenagers consume may promote weight gain.
For example, 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 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.
“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. Not the case. But, I have noticed she’s only having one cup.
And the after-school coffee drinks are much less frequent.
Is coffee bad for your teen? If it’s becoming a problem, maybe a conversation about coffee and caffeine will help.