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.
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.
How Much Caffeine is Too Much?
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?
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 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.