Children and Coffee: Yes or No?

A Young child dressed up in business attire with black glasses is seated at a table with a laptop open, and coffee mug to his right. He is typing on the keyboard.

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.”

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  1. My mom let me crawl up in her lap and drink out of her (very sugary) mug of coffee when I was a toddler. I’ve pretty much loved coffee my whole life, though I didn’t drink it regularly until I was close to college age. So far, I haven’t let my five year-old daughter have any. I told her “coffee is for grown-ups” and she believed me.

  2. Loved this article, and the image at the top – adorable!

    I remember having 1 swallow of coffee when I was little. It was horrible. I didn’t touch the stuff until I was 18, and only then because I was suffering from a migraine.

    On into my twenties a co-worker had made coffee in the company kitchen. I knew it tasted extremely strong, but didn’t realize the effects until later that evening when it left me with nausea, heart palpitations, and a headache. It was a scary experience! Since then, I limit the strength and amount I ingest.

    No wiser words than what’s posted above: “Please be mindful”

  3. Well, the only reason I know why kids are not allowed to drink coffee because of the bitter taste, that we all know kids does not like. Another reason is that not all kids are into hot drinks. They much prefer drinking cold. I guess if there is any “scientific reasoning” that caffeine is the reason for prohibiting kids to drink coffee is a lie to me.

  4. I definitely think it’s not good to let children have too much sugar or caffeine-no matter what the drink. However, it’s not the end of the world to let your kids taste it! A decaf tea or coffee with milk and honey would be a much better option.

  5. when I was young, my parents didn’t let me drink coffee, they told me that it’s for grown-ups. I was angry about that but now I know why they didn’t let me drink it and I’m glad that they didn’t. that’s why I won’t let my children drink coffee too.

  6. I always thought that coffee is bad for kids since it makes them hyperactive and unable to have a normal sleeping schedule, since coffee increases blood pressure and with it the energy level (which we all agree kids have a lot of already).

  7. I don’t think children should be allowed to have too much caffeine. Having said that, I don’t think there is anything wrong with letting them taste a little coffee. Thank you all for sharing!

  8. I love coffee so much but I think I won’t let my kids have coffee as it interferes with sleep cycle especially when they are under 6 years old, after that age may be I will let them drink it but not too much!

  9. When I was a kid, we were preferred to drink milk rather than coffee. I grew up with the thinking that coffee is for adults only. But I think the reason behind not offering coffee to kids is that calcium, which is present in milk, is good for the health of little children and thus must be included to their daily intake.

  10. As a child, my grandparents would give me fake coffee substitutes that they called “kid coffee”. I believe it’s made from barley and other grains, and doesn’t contain any caffeine. As a kid, it tasted exactly like real coffee. Cafix and Roma are a couple brands that come to mind.

  11. I’ve been drinking coffee my whole life, as long as I can remember really. When I was little, my grandparents lived with us. My mom had made a point to tell me that coffee was bad and only for adults, but my grandma is the one who actually gave me some. She made me a concoction she called “Cool Kids Coffee” and it was much like the one mentioned in the article. I had a cup of that every morning with breakfast from that point on. I remember going to other people’s houses as a kid and them not believing that I was allowed to have coffee. Now that I’m older, I definitely see that it isn’t the best thing for kids due to the caffeine content, but if you’re going to prohibit coffee, you should do the same for all caffeinated beverages. I also know that my growth was never stunted or anything like that, as I’m actually taller than the average female. When my daughter is old enough to ask me for coffee, I’ll let her try it. I wouldn’t have a problem with her drinking it the way I did as a child either. Everything in moderation.

  12. I think I was about 13 or 14 when I started having sips of coffee out of my mom’s cup and she liked it with milk and sugar. I have heard the story about coffee “stunting your growth”, but I am not sure that it is correct. I know of some tall people who drink coffee. So maybe it depends on, how young they are when they start drinking coffee, how much they are allowed to drink, how strong the coffee is, and do they drink it black or with milk and sugar?

  13. First of all I must say that reading this article made me nostalgic about my childhood. My parents actually told me that If I were to drink coffee I would grow a tail?! I guess you can imagine why I did not drink coffee…haha 😀 Eventually, they let me drink white-coffee (that is how we called coffee-milk), and only on special occasions. Secondly, I actually only started drinking coffee about four years ago, when I started college and only because I needed some extra energy for studying and became addicted ever-since then. 😀 I believe that children should not drink coffee or too much sugary drinks at a very young age, however it would not hurt them to at least try once in a while…at least just a sip…:D

  14. Hmmm, interesting. I was only allowed to drink coffee when I was around sixteen. When I was a child I would be given mere sips to just ‘taste’ the coffee.
    I’m not sure if this convinced me to let any of my future children drink coffee. However, as the article states, coffee’s side effects are not suitable for a child to experience.

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