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Is Coffee Bad for Teens?

Updated July 2020.

I used to ask myself, Is coffee bad for teens? because so many parents would report that their teenager was having a morning cup.

I wondered, how much is too much caffeine, particularly from coffee? In this article, I’ll cover the latest information about coffee and teens. You’ll learn:

  • Whether it’s a good idea for teens to drink coffee
  • If it’s okay for a teen to drink coffee everyday
  • The potential health effects of regularly drinking coffee
  • Where the safe limit for caffeine lies
Teen girl drinking coffee while driving her car.

Is Coffee Good for You? She Asked

Yesterday my daughter came downstairs for school and asked, “Is coffee good for you?”

“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 my work and books like 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 and I was eager to have this conversation. So we started to talk about it.

The Social Aspects for Teens around Drinking Coffee

When it comes to my personal experience with coffee and my kids, I forbade it 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 the hangout for my daughter and her friends.

It was the stopover before and after school.

A meeting place for teens and a place to see, and be seen.

How Much Coffee is Too Much for a Teenager?

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 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?

Under 12: No caffeine

Over 12: Based on body weight at 2.5 mg/kg/day, or 85-100 mg per day.

AAP and 2017 study by WIkoff et al.

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, 1 to 2 cups of tea, or 2 to 3 cans of soda.

A more recent 2017 systematic review of caffeine intake among adults, pregnant women, teens and children indicates that a dose of 2.5 mg/kg/day of caffeine shouldn’t cause harmful effects on teens and kids. That’s about 115 mg caffeine for a 100# pre-teen.

I like this estimation because it’s based on body weight, not an arbitrary age. We know kids come in all shapes and sizes, so a 16 year old male football player is more likely to safely handle more caffeine than a 16 year old female gymnast, for example.

is coffee bad for teens

Caffeine Disadvantages for Teenagers

Too much caffeine may have negative effects on the heart, behavior, reproduction, and bones. Plus, caffeine is addicting, which means the more you drink, the more you need and want to have it.

Side effects include symptoms of withdrawal, which include headaches, the “shakes” or a jittery feeling, and feeling ‘not yourself’ without it. Anyone who is addicted to drugs can experience withdrawal syndrome, though these symptoms can be different for each person.

Addiction keeps a person going back for more, because without it, he or she will feel terrible and the only way to correct that feeling 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 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 drinks are often high in caffeine, fat and sugar, which means extra calories that may encourage unwanted and unhealthy weight gain.

In a nutshell, if the amount of caffeine exceeds the upper limits, then yes, coffee everyday can have a negative effect on the health of your teen.

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 it 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, which may impair full development of the bones.

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.

So, Can Teens Drink Coffee? 

So I began the coffee talk with my daughter. 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.

This was a parenting moments when I realized if I put the stop sign up there would probably be resistance.

If I 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.

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

“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get decaf coffee and cut back on it 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.

The after-school coffee drinks are much less frequent.

What do you think? Is coffee good or bad for your teen? And how did it go when your teen asked about it?

Need More Help with Feeding the Teenager?

You may enjoy reading some of these articles about teens and eating:

Is Your Teen Gaining Weight? How to Help without Hurting

How to Grow as a Teen: 7 Tips for a Healthy Growth Spurt

Have I Hit My Growth Spurt Yet? (13 Signs It’s Happening)

Also, check out my parent nutrition education website, The Nourished Child, where you’ll find workshops, classes and guidebooks to help you navigate nutrition and feeding during childhood.

the nourished child blueprint class
high protein breakfasts for teens

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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.