Before my mom would let me drink coffee, she told me I couldn’t because it would stunt my growth. As my mother is now just under 5 foot, I inevitably made some witty (witty in my mind, at least) comment about that being the reason she’s as short as she is. Thankfully, my mother wasn’t a slapper.
One night, I spent the night with my best friend in fourth grade. At breakfast, her parents let all of the kids have what they called coffee-milk; it was a cup that was equal parts…well, if you can’t guess, I’m shaking my head at you through the computer. I was pumped–I wasn’t overly impressed, but it felt sneaky and exciting. I wondered what was different about their house, their kids; I wondered why the rules were different. Still, I accepted my mother’s assertion that coffee was bad for people who were too young.
When I worked at a coffee shop, one of my coworkers bought her 4-year-old niece a large iced coffee, light and sweet, for her birthday because it was “her favorite.” I was stunned; but, then, she made the point that we let children drink soft drinks which have plenty of caffeine in them, not to mention the astronomical amount of sugar. I realized that long before I was allowed to drink coffee, I drank soft drinks more than I drank water or really anything else. What’s the deal? Why was my mom so stingy with the coffee she only ever drank once a day anyway? Why do people think that it’s a bad idea for children to have caffeine? What are the actual facts?
From what I’ve learned, the United States doesn’t have a legal minimum for caffeine consumption in children, though some other countries do–though they don’t prohibit it. The reasonings behind being careful about how much caffeine a child consumes is that the general effects can be exaggerated in the smaller, developing bodies. If you have experienced the energy spike and then crash of an espresso shot, imagine that in a 7-year-old in her second-grade class. Additionally, too much caffeine for anyone can lead to insomnia, anxiety, jitteriness, shortness of breath and heart palpitations, as well as headaches for some. These are not ideal situations for a young child to find herself in and the amount of caffeine it takes for one to become “intoxicated” in negative ways is significantly less than for adults.
Caffeine has also been found to hinder the body’s ability to absorb calcium; this is especially problematic when a child is still developing, and their bones are still growing. Further, a child is highly unlikely to enjoy a plain, black coffee; the high-calorie and sugary additives that erase that signature coffee taste can contribute to childhood obesity and diabetes; plus, too much sugar can contribute to and exacerbate ADHD and other concentration and learning problems. In fact, caffeine can sometimes lead to or exacerbate attention problems, as well, which is not what you want for a child in school.
That sensitivity will also translate and exaggerate with withdrawal symptoms; caffeine is highly addictive to most people so as soon as you start your child on coffee, the sooner they’ll be hooked and the harder it’ll be for them to live without it or deal with that dependency. It’s not an outright no, it’s just a “please be mindful.”