What Age Should You Start Drinking Coffee At?
Coffee is one of the most popular drinks for adults. It can be used to open your eyes in the morning and even coffee be used as a supplement if you are feeling low on energy during the day.
While we, as adults, might enjoy a hot cup of coffee everyday and maybe even not be able to get out of bed without it, it prompts a question. At what age is it okay to start drinking coffee? Can your preteen enjoy a cup at the mall? Can your teenager add coffee to their morning routine?
What’s the Draw?
It might make sense that a teenager wants coffee. After all, they need to get up early and spend their day balancing work and school much like an adult does. So, they might use a bitter cup of joe to wake up or stay up to study for a big exam in preparation for college.
But why do young children suddenly seem to want coffee more? Most young children prefer sweets to bitter flavors so why are these children suddenly rushing their parents with the question of whether they’re old enough for coffee?
This is, in large part, because of the prominence of cafes and chain coffee shops. Lately, it has become a trend for coffee to be used in sweet drinks. Take a frappuccino, for example, the drinks are often extremely sweet and topped with whipped cream and a topping such as caramel or chocolate.
With coffee looking as good as ice cream, many parents are now asking themselves if it’s okay to give their child one of these sweet coffees.
Does Coffee Stunt Growth?
One of the most common claims given for not allowing children to drink coffee is that it will stunt their growth. This statement is usually expanded on with the claim that it affects children’s calcium absorption, limiting growth.
The truth is, though, that coffee doesn’t have this affect. In Scandinavian countries, for example, most children start drinking coffee rather young. When you compare this to the average heights in these countries, there doesn’t seem to be any correlation. In Sweden, for example, the average height for men stands at a little over 5’10” while women have an average height of almost 5’6”. To give you an idea of comparison, in the United States where there is more debate on when to give children coffee, the average heights for males is about 5’9” and for women is about 5’3”.
What Are the Effects of Coffee?
So, coffee doesn’t affect growth but that doesn’t mean that it’s completely without its effects.
Many people turn to coffee because they need to wake up or stay energized. This is because caffeine has chemical effects on our brain. The first thing that you need to know is that caffeine block adenosine receptors in the brain which are what tells you that you’re tired and it’s time to go to bed. At the same time, neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, and acetylcholine are increased. Even more important to wakefulness, though, catecholamines such as adrenaline are also increased with caffeine.
If you are tired, this is how coffee can help you wake up. For children who are already awake, this can lead to hyperactivity and even insomnia. This effect is much like giving your child a lot of candy all at once.
There are further effects of coffee thanks to this interaction in the brain. For instance, coffee can increase nervousness, irritability, and even anxiety. This means that a child who has too much caffeine might be more jumpy or more prone to throwing fits.
Because of this, it is important to know how much coffee is enough coffee and how much coffee is too much. Unfortunately, there haven’t been many studies about how much coffee a child should drink. Instead, most studies focus on the consumption of caffeine by adults.
For an adult, the average recommendation is about 200 to 300 milligrams of caffeine per day. To put this into perspective, the average cup of coffee is around 8 fluid ounces and contains around 95 milligrams of caffeine. It’s important to note that this is for an average cup of coffee not something that is made with extra caffeine such as espresso which has about 64 milligrams of caffeine per fluid ounce.
When you are serving coffee to your child, you might want to keep caffeine levels are lower than what is recommended for adults.
It Is More Than Just Coffee Now
You have to be careful when you are considering coffee drinks in today’s world, though. It isn’t just caffeine anymore - you also have to worry about the fact that coffee drinks can be as cloyingly sweet as a handful of Halloween candy.
To give an example, the frappe offered by McDonald's has 66 grams of sugar whereas a simple, black cup of coffee only has about 4 grams of sugar. Then, of course, most children won’t drink a black cup of coffee so even homemade coffee will have more sugar depending on how many spoonfuls of sugar are added to the drink. This is at a rate of about 4 grams of sugar per teaspoon.
This is important to consider as childhood obesity is a crime. Even if your child is in the proper weight range, though, excess sugar can still lead to excessive trips to the dentist and put your child at a higher risk for diabetes.
When Is the Right Time for Coffee?
Now that you know everything about it, when is the right time to give your child coffee? Well, there really isn’t a perfect time to allow your child to drink coffee. There is no magic age - part of this comes down to when you think your child is ready to deal with the side effects that come with coffee.
A good general rule of thumb is to wait until a child is about 12 to give them coffee. However, giving them a sip of your frappuccino when they’re 10, they aren’t going to be damaged forever.
What you really need to watch with your child, though, is moderation. There is a huge difference between allowing your child a sweet treat once in a while as a treat and brewing them a cup of coffee every morning. At that point, you need to worry about watching for caffeine addiction.
While it might not be a serious as drugs, caffeine is still a substance that someone can become dependent on. If someone were to get addicted to caffeine, they would notice symptoms of withdrawal within only 24 hours without it. This would include symptoms such as feeling sluggish, having a hard time thinking, and even headaches.
However, it is important to notice that the addiction here is caffeine not specifically coffee. In other words, if you are worried about this addiction, you need to watch your child’s consumption of all sources of caffeine. For example, you could only allow your 13-year-old coffee as a rare treat but if soda and energy drinks daily, they can still develop that dependency on caffeine. The blame cannot be placed solely on coffee in these situations.
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Author: Steven Sanders