Is Coffee Bad For Kids?

I have a three-year-old son and he sees me drinking coffee every morning. In fact, when he sees me carrying a white mug, he would always point at it and say “coffee drink”. From time to time, I let him sip some coffee, so he would know how it tastes. I started letting him sip coffee when he was one year old, but it’s not like I let him sip every day. I believe that coffee is not bad for kids; however, excessive caffeine intake is harmful to kids. Often, coffee is blamed because it has caffeine, but experts say that caffeine is also present in energy drinks, soft drinks, cough syrup, and even packed fresh juices.

If your kids do not drink coffee, but they drink other substances that have caffeine, they might be getting more caffeine than they need. As parents, we need to know which drinks have caffeine and how we can limit our kid’s intake of these drinks, especially if they are out of the house where we cannot monitor everything they eat and drink.

Let’s see what experts say about coffee, caffeine, and kid’s health.

Experts share their thoughts on coffee and kid’s health

Is Coffee Bad for KidsAccording to Dr.Toby Amidor, Author of “The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day”, coffee is a stimulant, due to its caffeine content.

In the United States, there are no established standards for caffeine consumption among kids; however, Dr. Amidor mentioned that Canada has set the limit to 45 mg per day or equivalent to a can of soda.

When kids are exposed to excessive caffeine, it can lead to insomnia, jitteriness, upset stomach, headaches, difficulty concentrating, and increased heart rate. Amidor also added that caffeine can affect the brain functions of young kids because they react to caffeine quickly.

Normally, kids would not like the bitter taste of coffee, but coffee with added whipped cream, sugar, syrups and other artificial sweeteners in their coffee is more appealing. As a result, parents would have to worry more about the calorie and excessive sugar component of the coffee drink and not so much of the caffeine. The added sweeteners can lead to obesity and diabetes risk. “If kids would really want coffee,” Dr. Amidor said “a sip or two is fine.”

“I would say at best it’s no harm, at worse, it can cause a lot of side effects that aren’t necessary. Certainly, young children don’t need any caffeine at all. If an older child has a cup of coffee or a soda every once and a while it’s not a big deal. But when it comes to energy drinks, there’s no role for them in pediatrics. If you’re using these for working out or to enhance athletic promise, it’s not a drug for that. What happens is some kids use them in replacement of good hydration, which is worse. Caffeine can cause you to lose more water.” –  Dr. Matthew Keefer, General Pediatrician at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Dr. Nicole Caldwell, assistant professor of pediatrics, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Columbus, Ohio acknowledged that caffeine directly affects the central nervous system and it helps adults to focus and concentrate. However, for kids, caffeine can have a different effect. In reality, kids do not really need that additional focus and concentration in their daily activities.

If kids drink more than the 45 mg caffeine limit per day, the result is hyperactivity. This can also lead to nervousness, stomach problems, and difficulty sleeping and caffeine can last from three to six hours in our body. Dr. Caldwell also noted that caffeine is not only present in coffee. It is an active ingredient in soft drinks, energy drinks, and even chocolate milk. Parents need to worry about these drinks because kids love to these more than coffee.

Jessica Lieb, a registered dietitian at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, commented that caffeine should be introduced to children when they reach the adult stage, at the age of 18. Even adults need to keep drinking coffee in moderation, and since other drinks have caffeine too, it is important to watch out how much we drink on a daily basis.

“There are lots of things we can’t do because we’re not old enough or mature enough. Caffeine should probably be added to that list.” – Dr. Kevin Shannon, a professor of pediatric cardiology and director of pediatric arrhythmia at the Mattel Children’s Hospital of the University of California, Los Angeles.

Caffeine content of common drinks, other than coffee

Caffeine is naturally produced in the leaves and seeds of many plants. It is very common in coffee beans. It’s also made artificially and added to certain foods. Kids get most of their caffeine from sodas, but it’s also found in chocolate, coffee ice cream, frozen yogurt, as well as pain relievers and other over-the-counter medicines. Even iced tea can contain as much sugar and caffeine as soda. According to the U.S Food and Drug Administration, here is the list of common food and drinks consumed by kids and the average caffeine content:

  • 12 oz. Jolt soft drink    71.2 mg
  • 12 oz. Mountain Dew  55 mg
  • 12 oz. Coca-Cola        34 mg
  • 12 oz. Diet Coke         45 mg
  • 12 oz. Pepsi                38 mg
  • 8 oz. brewed coffee  95 mg
  • 12 oz. iced tea             70 mg
  • 1 oz. dark chocolate   20 mg
  • 1 oz. milk chocolate    6 mg
  • 5 oz. cocoa beverage 4 mg
  • 8 oz. chocolate milk beverage 5 mg
  • 1 tablet cold relief medicine    30 mg

Caffeine is a known psychoactive drug that helps stimulate the brain and can trigger alertness, focus, and concentration. Since kids do not need these conditions, excessive caffeine consumption can cause the following effects:

  • jitters and nervousness
  • upset stomach
  • headaches
  • difficulty concentrating
  • trouble sleeping
  • faster heart rate

So, is coffee really bad for kids?

After considering all the information from experts and noting the presence of caffeine in foods and drinks other than coffee, a sip of coffee will not harm your kids, though maybe avoid a whole cup. In addition, you should be worried when your kids drink a can of soda, eat a whole bag of chocolates, or take that energy drink from your refrigerator. Aside from taking in caffeine, your kids are consuming too much sugar when they request whipped cream and other sweeteners in their coffee drink. Imagine if you take them to a coffee shop and gave them blended iced coffee topped with chocolate syrup, candy sprinkles, and whipped cream. That’s a sugar overload! Too much of those can lead to oral health problems, obesity, and childhood diabetes.

We often blame coffee because we know that it has caffeine, but to be honest, kids will not really indulge in drinking hot coffee. They might take a sip or two out of curiosity, but they will not finish a cup. So, you don’t have to really worry about overdosing on caffeine when your kid asks to take a sip from your coffee mug.

There are plenty of unhealthier foods and drinks that we allow our kids to eat, like soft drinks and processed fruit juices. Let’s be careful with that. We cannot blame everything to coffee just because other people believe incorrectly that coffee is bad for your health. Like in any situation, moderation is the key.

Brian Mounts

Head blogger, editor, and owner of "Top Off My Coffee", a website that has been educating readers about coffee brewing techniques and equipment since 2012.

Wait, Wait...There's More!