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January 24, 2020

33 Comments

When my daughter was around 14 years old, she began to ask if she could have a drink coffee in the morning like Mum and Dad. As a scientist who studies the effects of caffeine – the ingredient in coffee that helps wake you up – on kids, I had more information available to me to inform my answer than most parents would.

Many kids and teens consume caffeine. The main source of this chemical is soda for children under 12. Even colas have lower levels of caffeine than tea or coffee.

Kids and teens can also get caffeine from many foods and drinks, including chocolate, chocolate milk and iced tea. What’s more, some over-the-counter medications that kids might take, such as Excedrin, are significant sources of caffeine. But coffee is the main source of caffeine among Americans 12 years and up.

Based on my years of research, I’m confident that one daily cup of coffee won’t harm kids over the age of 12 – as long as they avoid all other sources of caffeine.

That one cup of coffee combined with, say, a can of iced tea or soda, or a chocolate bar, could put kids over the daily limit of 100 milligrams of caffeine doctors recommend. Adults should aim for no more than 400 milligrams of caffeine, which they could get from four cups of coffee.

And since caffeine is in so many different foods and drinks, it’s easy for kids – or grownups – to get more than they should without realizing it.

Side effects

Having too much caffeine can have many negative effects on kids, like putting them in a bad mood, depriving them of sleep and contributing to misbehavior, such as risk-taking and aggression.

Coffee can also make some kids feel jittery, nervous and anxious or nauseated. It can change their heart rate and blood pressure. In some cases, overcaffeination may make kids feel like they’ve used illicit drugs.

The threat to sleep might not sound like the most serious of all of these side effects to you. But it could be. The National Sleep Foundation, a nonprofit that funds and conducts research on sleep, recommends that teens get about nine hours of sleep per night. But studies show that on average kids get much less sleep than that.

Old myths

Some adults may tell kids that drinking caffeine will stunt their growth.

There are two reasons why some people think that. First, caffeine can decrease the amount of calcium in your bones, which people used to think would make you not grow as tall.

Second, caffeine consumed later in the day can reduce sleep. Growth hormone, which makes you grow, is released early in sleep, so the idea was that less sleep would lead to less growth.

It turns out that neither of these concerns was valid. One study that followed 81 adolescents for six years found no connection between caffeine and bone density. Another study found no association between sleep duration and growth.

Based on the best science that is available, I’ve been allowing my three children to have one cup of coffee first thing in the morning once they turn 12. It is important to think about what else they’re getting with their coffee, however. Some of the sweet iced and flavored coffee drinks, such as Starbucks Frappuccinos, that are popular with kids have over 50 grams of sugar. And consuming too much added sugar can also have negative health consequences.

Any negative effects of the caffeine they get from that morning jolt wear off long before bedtime. But I don’t let them have any caffeine-containing products after 3 p.m. to protect their sleep.

Do you allow your kids to drink coffee? Tell us in the comments below.


Hello, curious kids! Do you have a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to CuriousKidsUS@theconversation.com. Please tell us your name, age and the city where you live.

And since curiosity has no age limit – adults, let us know what you’re wondering, too. We won’t be able to answer every question, but we will do our best.The Conversation

Jennifer L. Temple, Associate Professor of Nutrition; Director, Nutrition and Health Research Laboratory, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

  • A very interesting post. My children only wanted a cup of tea well into their teens and the horrible energy drinks weren’t around then. I feel sorry for mothers today- they have to know so much more about food and it’s goods and bads than I did when I was bringing up my children..

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  • That was an interesting read. I still would rather that my kids wait as long as they can to drink the vile stuff!

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  • I drank coffee during my first class of the day, in my senior years at high school. It was pretty common to see when your first class started at 8am. The teachers accepted it because otherwise they just had a bunch of unawake 17/18 year olds there

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  • I never drank coffee until about 21. I don’t think I would allow my teens to until at least 16.

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  • Like to see some Australian stats on this

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  • My son wasn’t really interested in drinking coffee until he finished school. And he doesn’t drink coffee in the way we do … more a mocha or vanilla latte!!!! Not much coffee in either.

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  • I drank coffee and tea from late high school age to help keep me alert with study. I think late teens, a small amount is ok but nothing excessive.


    • Moderation these days is the key for me too.

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  • Coffee makes me feel sick when I drink it

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  • I drank tea as a younger kid like my mum did, then I started drinking coffee when I started high school, I’d have hot coffee or an iced coffee on my way to school so I would be able to focus i had bad insomnia from a child so it really helped wake me up. Once I hit exam times I was drinking so much coffee and caffeine based energy drinks because I had so much home work and had to cram so much in to such a little amount of time.

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  • my eldest has milo and my youngest has half a cup of tea – I have 2 coffees lol! – I am sure my girls won’t like to bitter taste so will probably be happy to not have one. I found this article very informative though and appreciate the research that has been done to write this – thank you

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  • My boys preferred to have a milo of a morning every so often. If worried about the caffeine content why not buy decaf. Not sure if there is much difference though.

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  • wow, fantastic information as I had forgotten other sources of caffeine like chocolate etc. am trying to enjoy a cuppa with children but they have herbal tea like camomile.

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  • Great information but I’ll hold off as long as I can

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  • I wouldn’t advise allowing children to drink coffee because I believe it would do more harm than good.

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  • I will be avoiding giving my kids coffee for as long as possible! At this stage they really dislike the idea of it. Probably because I am forever complaining about having to smell my husband’s daily coffees! I mostly get my caffeine from chocolate milk, chocolate bars and cola.

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