At what age should kids be allowed to drink coffee?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

When my 10-year-old came home from school recently and told me lots of kids in her class drank iced coffee regularly, I was genuinely surprised.

Aside from the occasional taste of coffee gelato, I've never let my children drink coffee.

I was curious if there was in fact an age that coffee was okay for kids and discovered that while some might like the flavour of it, most would be over simulated by the caffeine. And iced coffee and energy drinks were the worst offenders.

Child Nutrition paediatric dietician Miriam Raleigh said caffeine could be found in a range of foods including tea, coffee, cola drinks and cocoa (chocolate) products.

"Caffeine can act as a stimulant, with the extent of this varying from person-to-person," Ms Raleigh said.

"A child or teenager, who has a lower body weight to an adult, may be more likely to be effected by caffeine making this stimulant effect more extreme.

"Caffeine can also be addictive and can have a diuretic effect which, in extreme cases, could cause withdrawal effects."

While there were no official guidelines on when kids or teens should drink coffee, it was important for parents to know why they were drinking it in the first place.

"While some may genuinely like the flavour of it, others may be using it as a stimulant to keep them alert and awake - to get through their school days or studies - which is concerning," she said.

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"Using coffee to achieve this result in teenagers or children is very concerning and parents should help their children seek out other methods of improving energy levels and performance without these sorts of stimulating beverages."

It also depended on what type of caffeinated beverages children and teens were drinking.

According to Ms Raleigh, an average cup of coffee you make at home contains approximately 100mg of caffeine. In comparison, shop bought iced coffee and energy drinks contained significantly higher levels of caffeine with some 500ml bottles containing up to 220mg of caffeine.

"With iced coffees and energy drinks containing 150 to 200 per cent more caffeine than a standard cup of coffee - these drinks should be avoided," she said.

Even decaf tea and coffee wasn't totally caffeine free.

"If a teenager wishes to have a tea or coffee though, then these would be better options, but the best would be to discourage the consumption of caffeinated beverages altogether if you can," she said.

Sleep specialist Olivia Arezzolo said children and teens shouldn't drink coffee as it significantly reduced the amount of deep sleep they'd have each night.

"Research in academic journal Brain Sciences found that children, 10-16 years, who regularly consumed caffeine, had less deep sleep than those who abstained," Ms Arezzolo said.

"Deep sleep is critical for the synthesis of human growth hormone, allowing normal development of bones and muscles, consolidating memory and stable moods - three factors which should not be compromised."

She also said caffeine's side effects included restlessness and nervous tension, which could be harmful for kids struggling with mental health issues.

"For any child or teen exhibiting signs of stress, anxiety, nervousness, appearing unsettled or worried, caffeine should be completely avoided," she said.

"Ideally, the less caffeine they have the better - it aids them to be calmer, more focused individuals."

She suggested drinking caffeine free teas such as chamomile, peppermint or lemon and ginger instead.

"With tranquilising, detoxifying and immune boosting properties respectively, these teas can remedy lingering bugs and counteract the sugar rush from their favourite treats," she said.

"Encouraging them to try a variety of caffeine free options - and sharing the pleasure with them - is the key."