If you love your morning cuppa and are a parent, it’s possible that your toddlers have requested to take a sip of your coffee, or have asked if they can drink some coffee too. You must have faced the dilemma: can children drink coffee? Maybe you’ve wondered if you can allow your children to try decaf coffee, given that it’s decaffeinated and hence is assumed safer for kids.
Let’s be clear – most of us adults require more than one cup of freshly-brewed, potent coffee to be the fully-functional and responsible human beings we’re supposed to be. However, most grown-ups can also clearly observe when their caffeine dependence is going overboard and correct the behavior. Children can’t possibly handle their caffeine needs in the same responsible manner, which is why there are concerns about whether it is advisable for children to drink coffee.
Why are children drinking more coffee?
Gone are the days when kids used to associate coffee as an adult drink and used to be content with non-caffeinated beverages. In the fast-paced lives we lead, it has become commonplace for children to carry cola cans or energy drinks along with their lunch bags.
There are several other factors at play, too. In some cultures, children drinking coffee is acceptable and in fact, encouraged as well. Children tend to mirror the behaviors of the adults they see as central figures or role models. Thus it doesn’t come as a surprise when kids want to drink coffee, wanting to be “just like mama or papa”. Easy availability could be a reason too – a growing number of commercials show celebrities promoting coffee as the ‘cool’ beverage, resulting in more children wanting to drink coffee.
Is coffee bad for kids?
Let’s face it – the real reason we worry about letting kids have some coffee is the caffeine content in it. While caffeine affects every individual as per their consumption patterns and tolerance levels, it can affect kids more because of their smaller size and lower tolerance levels. Here are some of the common outcomes of caffeine consumption for kids:
Children below the age of 12 years need 10-12 hours of undisturbed sleep each night. Caffeine acts as a stimulant, and can disrupt their sleep cycles if consumed even up to 8 hours before their bedtime.
Caffeine acts as an appetite suppressant, which could affect the growth and development of kids since they need higher nourishment in the growth stage.
Trouble in concentrating
The same caffeine that can help boost concentration and productivity in adults can impede the ability to concentrate in kids, as they may tend to feel hyperactive from the sudden burst of energy. This may get in the way of their learning process.
Lower calcium absorption
Children need high intake of calcium for bone growth. Research shows that 6mg of calcium is lost for every 100mg of caffeine intake, which could prove detrimental for development of bones in children.
Added sugar intake
Some health experts point out that coffee for some could just be a reason for added calorie intake with a good heaping of sugar and cream. Since children might not prefer the strong flavor of black coffee, chances are that the sugary coffee drink will add to their daily calorie intake, putting them at risk of weight gain.
Coffee is acidic in nature, and is known to diminish the enamel on the teeth. Since children are more prone to cavities in general, it is all the more likely that drinking coffee may cause more frequent oral health problems for them.
Caffeine acts as a diuretic, leading to loss of water from the body. Consuming coffee can cause dehydration in children, if they neglect drinking water on a frequent basis.
We know that caffeine is addictive, and the lack of it can cause headaches and affect the ability to focus on the work at hand. Children can face caffeine withdrawal too, if they are habituated to drinking coffee and are suddenly taken off it.
Aside from these side effects, caffeine can pose other risks for children too. Tests conducted on children aged 5-12 years showed higher anxiety levels in kids who consumed even as less as 95mg of caffeine per day, which is equivalent to the caffeine content in 2 cans of cola or 1 cup of instant coffee.
Can children drink decaf coffee?
Contrary to the popular belief, decaf coffee is not entirely caffeine-free. The general understanding about decaffeinated brews is that at least 97% of the caffeine content has been removed from the coffee beans. However, the USDA does not lay any strict or definitive guidelines for decaf coffee brands, which results in varying caffeine levels in different coffee brands.
While the uncertainty about the caffeine levels in the decaf coffee brews is acceptable for the adults who consume it, it isn’t advisable for children, as some brands might have more caffeine content included in them. Hence, while an occasional sip of decaf coffee is fine, experts don’t recommend decaf coffee for kids under the age of 10 years.
What age is best for children to drink coffee?
Children over 10 years of age can enjoy an occasional sip of coffee while adults are around. However, if they want to relish a full cup of coffee it is best to wait until they have achieved puberty and their growth spurt is over. At this stage they can still experience the health benefits and stimulating effect of caffeine without letting it hamper their growth and development.
How much coffee is okay for children?
When it comes to introducing new foods and beverages for children, moderation is important. Health experts suggest that up to 45mg of caffeine or half a cup of coffee is advisable for children over 10-12 years of age, but not on a regular basis.
It is best to introduce coffee in little doses – keeping a tab on the dosage and frequency will help parents ensure that their children will not experience any side effects of coffee. All in all, coffee is not an ideal or recommended drink for children below 10-12 years of age, even on occasional basis.