You'd be hard-pressed to walk by a group of teens without spotting an oversized drink from Starbucks or Dunkin'. It seems coffee shops are the new hangout for high schoolers, and the trend is quickly extending to middle schoolers too. Whether it's a cold drink while hanging out at the mall or a post-practice pick-me-up, kids are consuming caffeinated beverages at an alarming rate.
But should kids drink coffee? What are the possible long-term and short-term side effects? In this article, we'll take a look at the effects of caffeine on children and how much kids can safely drink.
Is Coffee Bad for Kids?
In small amounts, coffee is not particularly bad for kids, but there are a couple of things you should consider before allowing them to consume any amount. Most of the beverages kids order at coffee shops are laden with sugar, cream, whipped cream, and sweets like caramel and chocolate chips. This increases the amount of fat and sugar they're ingesting, and likely reduces intake of healthier beverages like water.
Then there's the issue of the caffeine content in coffee. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that kids under the age of 12 consume no caffeine on a given day. Yet a study published in the journal Pediatrics reveals that a staggering 73% of children and adolescents drink some amount of caffeine daily; most of it comes from coffee, soda, or energy drinks.
Side Effects of Coffee
The caffeine content in coffee can affect kids differently from adults, since their bodies are generally smaller and still developing, and they have different needs overall. Steve Theunissen, a registered dietitian nutritionist and ISSA /IFPA certified personal trainer, says adverse effects coffee and caffeinated beverages include the following.
Frequent urination and risk of dehydration. Coffee is a diuretic, which means that high amounts can possibly dehydrate children.
Altered mental state. A recent study shows that caffeine intake in kids is associated with increased feelings of stress, anxiety, and even depression.
Poor sleep patterns. Caffeine can interrupt kids' sleep cycles, which can stunt growth in the brain and body.
Jitters and nervousness
Dependency on caffeine. Regularly drinking coffee as a child can become a habit, and children can suffer from withdrawal effects just like adults do. These might include tiredness, mood changes, difficulty concentrating, and headaches.
Upset stomach or nausea
What's more, excessive amounts of caffeine can lead to caffeine overdose, which may require emergency treatment. "Symptoms of caffeine overdose can include vomiting, high blood pressure, racing heart, heart rhythm problems, and, less commonly, disorientation and hallucinations," says The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. "Youth with certain health conditions such as heart problems, seizures, or migraines may be more at risk for caffeine-related problems than others."
How Much Coffee Is OK for Kids?
The AAP isn't a proponent of kids drinking coffee at all, but if you're allowing your kids to have it in small amounts, there are some guidelines set forth in Canada that you can follow.
Ages 4 - 6: 45 mgs
Ages 7 - 9: 62.5 mgs
Ages 10 - 12: 85 mgs
Adolescents (12 and up): 85 - 100 mgs
The best course of action is to speak to your child's doctor before offering them a caffeinated beverage; they'll give recommendations based on your kid's health history. If your child or adolescent suffers from anxiety, stomach issues, or heart complications, it may be best to skip caffeine entirely.
In addition, it's a good idea to know the caffeine content of the beverage your child wants. We've included a chart below that shows the caffeine content of popular beverages for your reference.
Caffeine Content in Popular Drinks
Reference this information if you're considering allowing your child to drink coffee, especially from a popular chain store like Starbucks or Dunkin'. A quick glance at the caffeine content proves that these types of drinks can vastly exceed the recommended guidelines for caffeine consumption in kids. Note that all beverages included are size tall (12 fl oz) for Stabucks and size small (10 fl oz) for Dunkin'.
Starbucks Brewed Coffee (Pike Place): 235 mg
Starbucks Peppermint Mocha: 75 mg
Starbucks Hot Chocolate: 20 mg
Starbucks Chai Tea Latte: 70 mg
Starbucks Vanilla Frappuccino: 65 mg
Starbucks Mocha Cookie Crumble: 75 mg
Starbucks Iced Latte or Cappuccino: 75 mg
Starbucks Pink Drink: 35 mg
Dunkin' Brewed Coffee: 150 mg
Dunkin' Dunkaccino: 58 mg
Dunkin' Cold Brew: 174 mg
Dunkin' Iced Coffee: 198 mg (16 fl oz)
Dunkin' Hot Chocolate: 9 mg
Safer Ways for Kids to Drink Coffee
What can parents do if they have coffee-loving kids? "There are some beverages, even at popular coffee shops, that tend to have less caffeine, and are thus more appropriate for younger kids," says Theunissen. At Starbucks, for example, you can choose options like the Babyccino, Iced Golden Ginger Drink, Iced Guava Passionfruit Drink, and herbal teas—all of which contain caffeine levels more in line with the recommendations listed above.
Other options are to stick with decaf coffee, which might contain up to 7 mg of caffeine in an eight-ounce serving size, or to pour only a small amount of coffee and add lots of milk, oat milk, or cream to make it lighter and thus less highly caffeinated.