What Do You Do When Your Kids Start Wanting to Drink Coffee?

updated Sep 17, 2019
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Didn’t I Just Feed You is a candid weekly podcast about feeding families hosted by Stacie Billis and Kitchn’s Associate Food Editor, Meghan Splawn. Each month, Meghan brings the best of Didn’t I Just Feed You to Kitchn with practical takeaways for parents who want to make family meals easier, more fun, or just a little more delicious.

That Starbucks color-changing unicorn drink surely cannot be targeted to 35-year-old moms. This never seems more clear than when I’m ordering coffee with my own kids in tow.

My 7-year-old is already taking notes, asking about the flavors of these wildly colorful drinks and making me stressed about the prospect of my kids consuming any kind of caffeine (they have plenty of energy, thanks). Not to mention the sugar content those drinks have.

When Can Kids Try Coffee?

I notice, too, that my older nieces and nephews seem really infatuated with Starbucks drinks. It’s not just the hyper-color seasonal drinks they’re into — they also talk about frappes and matcha lattes. So my co-host Stacie Billis and I decided to tackle the question “When is it OK for kids to have coffee?” on a recent episode of Didn’t I Just Feed You. Beyond understanding when (and how, and whether) to allow teens, tweens, or even kids have access to some kinds of caffeinated drinks, we also wanted to know what made kids even interested in coffee in the first place. So went straight to the source: my co-host’s 12-year-old son.

Let’s get this out early: Caffeine won’t stunt your kids’ growth.

That said, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends limiting any kind of caffeine consumption before age 18 — including frappes, tea, and energy drinks. But our guest, Stacie’s oldest son, told us that Starbucks is popular among his middle-school friends for their cool drinks and comforting consistency from location to location.

Caffeine is a stimulant, and while we might joke about our dependence on our daily cup of Joe, large doses of caffeine can negatively impact heart and blood pressure rates — especially in kids and teens. More importantly for growing bodies, caffeine disrupts sleep routines. But after-school meet-ups at Starbucks are popular among tweens and teens. How do we give growing kids autonomy to make good drink choices when they are out with friends?

Here’s How to Handle Coffee for Kids, Tweens, and Teens

There are two things you can do for kids interested in caffeine (or even just the outrageous hyper-colored frappes). The first is to educate them on what products have caffeine — and what caffeine does (both good and bad). Then, model healthy consumption for them. I’m already starting to talk with my 7-year-old about how some drinks look like milkshakes but are really coffee. And while I do drink coffee, I limit my other caffeinated beverages, like soda, to a few times a year.

My co-host Stacie is taking it a step further, by helping her 12-year-old son, Isaac, practice ordering drinks without caffeine — especially when he’s meeting friends after school. They’re looking at nutrition information together as well, so he can choose lower-sugar drinks too. And while Isaac is allowed to drink a little caffeine, they’re practicing moderation — which is easier since Isaac’s go-to coffee shop order is a stimulating (but not too caffeinated) matcha latte — which, at 80 milligrams per cup, contains about 1/5th the caffeine of a cup of coffee.

To listen to our complete interview with Isaac and hear why his friends are more into coffee than cola, listen to the complete episode on iTunes: When Should Kids Try Coffee? The DL on Caffeine for Kids, Tweens, and Teens.