Your teen might be spending every day after school at the local café, or maybe they’re itching for that fresh cup of coffee first thing in the morning, but is any of this really healthy? A lot of parents are concerned about their teenager’s caffeine intake, and it definitely poses some threats. We’ll break down some of the risks associated with caffeine and why we think it’s still okay to drink a cup of joe every once in a while.
Is it Safe?
Coffee is generally a safe beverage for teenagers. Teens are recommended to have up to 100mg of caffeine a day, which is about one cup of hot java. Children under 12 probably shouldn’t have coffee because they are much smaller and even small amounts of caffeine can have large effects. For example, they could easily get restless and lose sleep. It can also interfere with their bone growth as caffeine interferes with the absorption of calcium.
Teens also have cognitive bias that prevents them from thinking through many alternatives. This is called the framing bias, and when it comes to coffee, it can cause teenagers to assume that getting a jolt of energy from a cup of mud is the only way to perk up.
Risks of Drinking Coffee
If your teen drinks coffee on a regular basis, there are some risks you and your teen should both be aware of.
Tremors and Anxiety
Having too much brew can cause shakiness and anxiety symptoms, like a fast-beating heart or a sense of fear. Trembling and worrying is no fun, and can definitely occur in your teenager if they have too much coffee at once, or too many cups throughout the day.
Coffee is Addictive
If your teen gets in the habit of drinking rocket fuel every day, they are at risk of forming an addiction. Being addicted means your teen will experience withdrawals when they don’t have coffee, such as feeling unlike themselves, experiencing headaches, and being overly drowsy. The addiction can take weeks to kick, so it’s risky if your teen becomes dependent on caffeine instead of using it once in a while for its desire effects, whether they be to study, stay awake, or socialize.
Risk to Sleep
Coffee contains the stimulant caffeine, so it can really affect your teen’s ability to get rest. If your teen is having trouble sleeping, it could be due to the jitter juice. This is extra risky because your teen might wake up tired the next day, and have to drink even more coffee to fight the effects of sleep deprivation. This wears out their minds and makes it hard for them focus, something that sleep can remedy in the absence of caffeine.
Sugary, milk-laden java can be a harmful source of empty calories. A teen who regularly takes their coffee with a lot of sweetener or creamer is taking in a lot of extra, fattening calories. Before they know it, they might gain a few pounds from alone because those calories do not help them grow the way that healthy fats and proteins do.
All Things in Moderation
The negative effects associated with drinking a cuppa joe in teenagers generally only occur when your teen drinks too much. In this way, coffee should be totally fine for most teens over the age 13 if they use it in moderation. In our opinion, your teen is safe drinking coffee as long as it doesn’t become a daily ritual. Using it a few times throughout the week, having it before 2pm as not to throw off sleep, and only having one cup per day is our best recommendation
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com, ghostwriter at WriteItGreat.com, and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.