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Coffee Basics

Can Kids Drink Coffee? 6 Things Every Parent Should Know

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Small child drinking coffee on a park bench

If you’re like most people, you love (dare I say need) your morning cup of coffee. And although coffee has long been considered an adult beverage, current trends show a significant increase in the number of kids following in their parent’s footsteps.

This then begs the question, “Can kids drink coffee?” 

Unfortunately, the answer can vary depending on who you ask. The good news is there are some basic guidelines you can follow when determining whether or not your child can or should drink coffee.

In this article, we explore those guidelines as well as highlight the risks for kids associated with caffeine and certain types of coffee drinks.

Can Kids Drink Coffee?

The question of whether or not kids can drink coffee is more about its caffeine content than the drink itself. This is because caffeine affects children differently than it does adults.

Unlike alcohol and tobacco, there aren’t laws or federal guidelines in the United States addressing what age kids can or should be able to consume caffeine. Additionally, many health authorities and experts don’t completely agree on a uniform set of recommendations. 

For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics discourages caffeine consumption for kids of all ages. Whereas the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests limiting it to no more than 100mg per day (equivalent to an average 8 oz cup of brewed coffee) for kids between the ages of 12 and 18.

Ultimately, if you have questions regarding your child drinking coffee or any other caffeinated beverage, it’s best to talk to your child’s pediatrician first. They can help you determine if caffeine is safe for your child and provide guidance on how much they can consume based on their age, weight, and overall health.

How Does Caffeine Affect Kids?

Caffeine is a natural stimulant that affects the nervous system and is best known for its ability to increase alertness and reduce fatigue. However, caffeine can also produce negative side effects such as increased anxiety, irritability, headaches, upset stomach, and elevated heart rate.

In children, these negative effects can play out differently and more deeply. For example, while caffeine may improve alertness and cognitive function in adults, a study found that it may actually worsen cognitive function in kids, impairing their ability to learn and concentrate.

Although additional research is still needed, one study found that children who consume caffeine might face higher levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. This was thought to be tied to their still-developing central nervous system and internal coping mechanisms.

Another significant concern is sleep disturbances. Children require more sleep than adults for growth and development. Caffeine not only makes it difficult for kids to fall asleep but also interferes with their sleep cycles, leading to a wide range of health issues.

It’s also critical to note that too much caffeine can be dangerous for kids and, in very high doses, can be toxic. 

Caffeine affects each child differently, while some may be more sensitive to it than others. If you plan on letting your kids consume caffeine, make sure to monitor their intake and limit it as much as possible to avoid these and other negative side effects.

Is Decaffeinated Coffee OK for Kids?

If caffeine is the real concern when it comes to kids drinking coffee, then decaffeinated coffee must be totally safe, right? Unfortunately, it’s not a simple yes or no answer.

Decaffeinated coffee is a type of coffee that has gone through a process to have most of its caffeine removed. However, it’s not completely caffeine-free. The amount of caffeine remaining can vary depending on the coffee brand and the decaffeination method used to remove it.

Although the amount of caffeine in decaf coffee is minimal compared to regular coffee, it can still affect a child’s health and behavior depending on their sensitivity and the amount consumed.

While decaffeinated coffee can be a good alternative for kids who like the taste of coffee, if your child has a medical condition or takes medication that interacts with caffeine, it’s best to consult a doctor before letting them drink it.

Do Coffee’s Health Benefits Translate to Kids?

Coffee consumption has been linked to various health benefits in adults, such as reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and even certain types of cancer. However, the numerous health benefits of coffee aren’t well-established for kids.

Currently, there’s no research to demonstrate whether drinking coffee in childhood could have an impact, either positively or negatively, into adulthood. Comprehensive long-term studies would be needed to determine whether the benefits observed in adults apply to children, given the many variables at play.

What’s the Impact of “Dessert-Style” Coffee Drinks on Kids?

Although it’s not totally unheard of for a kid to enjoy a cup of black coffee, most prefer consuming it in the form of a “dessert-style” coffee drink. These types of drinks are typically made with espresso, milk, flavored syrups, and other sweeteners.

While these drinks may seem harmless, they can significantly impact your child’s health and nutrition. This is because, in addition to caffeine, these types of coffee drinks often contain a large number of empty calories. They also have higher amounts of fat, sugar, and additives, which can contribute to weight gain, dental problems, and chronic diseases. 

Here are just a few examples:

Coffee DrinkSizeCaloriesFatSugar
Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino16 fl oz38016 grams54 grams
Dunkin’ Donuts Caramel Craze Iced Signature Latte16 fl oz41014 grams57 grams
McDonald’s Mocha Frappe16 fl oz49020 grams60 grams

If you’re planning to let your child have a “dessert-style” coffee drink, here are some things you can do to make them “healthier”: 

  • Choose a smaller size: Instead of a 16-ounce drink, opt for a 12-ounce or 8-ounce size.
  • Use low-fat or non-dairy milk: This will reduce the fat content and, in some cases, the number of calories.
  • Skip the whip: Whipped cream and other toppings add unnecessary calories, fat, and sugar. 
  • Opt for sugar-free syrups: Most coffee establishments provide the option for sugar-free syrups. You can also ask the barista to use less syrup or skip it altogether. 
  • Make them at home: Have fun experimenting with recipes that use healthier and more natural ingredients.

The caffeine content in a cup of coffee can vary widely depending on the drink’s type, brand, preparation method, and serving size. 

Because the caffeine content in most drinks vastly exceeds the recommended guidelines for caffeine consumption in kids, it’s essential to do your due diligence, especially if you’re considering purchasing coffee from popular brands like Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, or McDonald’s. 

Starbucks

Coffee DrinkShort
(8 fl oz)
Tall
(12 fl oz)
Grande
(16 fl oz)
Venti
(20 fl oz)
Pike Place Brewed Coffee155 mg235 mg310 mg410 mg
Caffè Americano75 mg150 mg225 mg300 mg
Caffè Latte, Cappuccino, Caramel Macchiato, Pumpkin Spice, Peppermint Mocha, and White Chocolate Mocha75 mg75 mg150 mg150 mg
Flat White130 mg130 mg195 mg195 mg
Brewed Decaf Coffee15 mg20 mg25 mg30 mg
Hot Chocolate15 mg20 mg25 mg30 mg
Caramel Frappuccino70 mg100 mg130 mg
Mocha Frappuccino75 mg110 mg140 mg
Iced Latte75 mg150 mg225 mg
Iced Coffee120 mg165 mg235 mg285 mg
Iced Americano150 mg225 mg300 mg
Cold Brew Coffee155 mg205 mg310 mg360 mg
Source: Caffeine Informer: The Complete Guide to Starbucks Caffeine

Dunkin’ Donuts

Coffee DrinkSmall
(10 fl oz)
Medium
(14 fl oz)
Large
(20 fl oz)
Coffee (Brewed)150 mg210 mg300 mg
Latte and Cappuccino118 mg166 mg252 mg
Americano and Macchiato237 mg284 mg371 mg
Decaf Coffee (Brewed)7 mg10 mg15 mg
Hot Chocolate9 mg13 mg18 mg
Cold Brew174 mg260 mg347 mg
Iced Latte118 mg (16 fl oz)166 mg (24 fl oz)252 mg (32 fl oz)
Iced Coffee198 mg (16 fl oz)297 mg (24 fl oz)396 mg (32 fl oz)
Iced Macchiato237 mg (16 fl oz)284 mg (24 fl oz)371 mg (32 fl oz)
Frozen Coffee196 mg (16 fl oz)295 mg (24 fl oz)393 mg (32 fl oz)
Decaf Iced Coffee18 mg (16 fl oz)27 mg (24 fl oz)35 mg (32 fl oz)
Source: Caffeine Informer: Dunkin’ Donuts Coffee Caffeine Content Guide

McDonald’s

Coffee DrinkSmall
(12 fl oz)
Medium
(16 fl oz)
Large
(21 – 24 fl oz)
X-Large
(32 fl oz)
Coffee (Brewed)109 mg145 mg180 mg
Americano, Latte, Carmel Latte, Cappuccino and Caramel Macchiato71 mg142 mg178 mg
Decaf Coffee (Brewed)8 mg11 mg14 mg
Hot Chocolate7 mg10 mg12 mg
Iced Coffee133 mg200 mg320 mg
Mocha Frappe100 mg125 mg180 mg
Frappe (other flavors)7590 mg130 mg
Iced Latte and Iced Caramel Macchiato71 mg142 mg178 mg
Iced Mocha86 mg167 mg200 mg
Source: Caffeine Informer: McCafe Coffee Caffeine Content

Final Thoughts

Answering the question, “Can kids drink coffee?” isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. It can depend on factors such as age, sensitivity, amount, type, and the presence of other health conditions or medications. However, it’s generally recommended to delay or limit coffee consumption for young children until they’re older. 

If you decide to give your kids coffee, choose decaffeinated or low-caffeine options, avoid “dessert-style” coffee drinks high in calories, fat, sugar, and additives, and pay attention to how they react and respond to caffeine.

If you’re interested in diving deeper into the exciting world of coffee, check out our brewing guides and the coffee basics section of our website.

Frequently Asked Questions

While diluting coffee with milk or water does reduce its caffeine concentration, it doesn’t change the caffeine content. All that’s different in this scenario is the caffeine is now spread out over a larger volume of liquid. If the entire coffee is consumed, the child will ingest the same amount of caffeine, whether it has been diluted or not.

Signs of excessive caffeine intake in children include jitteriness, increased heart rate, upset stomach, headaches, mood swings, and difficulty sleeping. In severe cases, children might experience muscle tremors and chest pain. Parents should monitor for these symptoms and regulate caffeine intake accordingly. In severe cases, it’s essential to seek medical attention.

Kids with certain health conditions, such as sleep disorders or issues affecting the heart or nervous system, should generally avoid coffee due to its caffeine content. Regardless of the health condition, parents should always consult a healthcare professional before introducing coffee to children with underlying health concerns.

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AUTHOR

Hey there! I'm Michael, founder and editor-in-chief of Filtered Grounds. In addition to being an entrepreneur, I'm also a bit of an endurance sports junkie. Whether it's working toward my business goals or training for my next Half Ironman triathlon, a good cold brew or cup of French press plays a role in fueling my performance.