Coffee has long been a staple in the diets of many adults. Its caffeine content combined with its social aspects make coffee hard for many adults to resist. Fortunately, science has determined that moderate amounts of caffeine consumption are safe for adults. In fact, some studies have even demonstrated a positive effect from drinking coffee. Moderate consumption (defined as up to two cups per day) has been shown to reduce the risk both of developing Alzheimer’s and of having a stroke.
These studies have been performed on adults, though. Can a younger person derive the same benefit from drinking coffee? Many more experts are looking at the effects of caffeine on young people, given the prevalence of coffee shops and coffee beverages. It turns out that caffeine by itself is not especially harmful to teens. While it is true that it can cause insomnia and may be addictive, it is now known that it does not stunt a child’s growth.
In fact, when experts talk about the effects of coffee drinking on a teen’s health, it is far more likely that they are concerned with the amount of sugar and calories teens are consuming, and not the amount of caffeine. Drinks like Dunkin’ Donuts’ Coffee Coolattas and Starbucks Frappuccinos can contain more calories than a Big Mac. They can also have more sugar than soda. What may be the worst impact of drinking them, though, is that too often teenagers drink these beverages in lieu of eating a healthy meal, resulting in nutritional deficits.
When determining whether or not to let your son drink coffee, then, you need to consider several things:
1. Does he already have good eating habits established? If he drank coffee, would it be in addition to a healthy breakfast, or instead of eating one?
2. When one of you says coffee, do you mean coffee drinks, or plain ol’ coffee? The one should probably be looked upon as an occasional treat, while the latter is the black (or sweetened and lightened) version you probably drink most of the time.
3. Is coffee important to you? If so, your child has been assimilating this message for years, and will likely want to join you in your ritual. Offering him a single cup a day will likely not negatively impact him.
4. Is coffee part of your culture? In other words, do children drink coffee at young ages where you come from? In some Latin American countries, for example, children grow up from a very young age drinking café con leche (strong coffee with a significant amount of steamed milk) for breakfast. If your child has grown up this way, it is not unlikely that he has developed a taste for coffee!
Deciding whether or not to let your son drink coffee is a personal process that will differ from family to family. As with everything else related to food and drink, teaching your son good eating habits from a young age is the best way for both of you to make informed decisions about what will go into his body.