What's considered an acceptable age for teens to drink caffeinated coffee?

Amanda Hesser


702551 August 14, 2016
Coffee consumption by minors is well accepted in coffee producing countries.

Similar, but to a lesser extent is the same attitude toward beer and wine in countries with a long history of producing those beverages, like Germany, France, Italy, et al.

Minors may not be served in restaurantsbut often they have small quantities at home (the legal drinking age in these countries is 18, not 21) and in my travels across Europe, I occasionally ran into kids enjoying a beer (usually on a day of a soccer match).

Clearly these countries have different mores and cultural acceptance toward caffeine and alcohol compared to the USA and what may not be acceptable in America might be commonplace in other parts of the world.
702551 August 17, 2016
My memory is coming back a bit. Germany's age for legal alcohol consumption is 16, driving is 18.

Good proof of different mores.
walkie74 August 12, 2016
That's going to vary. When I taught high school, I had a freshman boy who would come in every day with a present for me--a monster can of diet Red Bull. He had, of course, bought one for himself too. The reason for the monster can? After school, he had soccer practice and then viola practice, and *then* had to stay awake long enough to finish all of his homework. So I wouldn't say age is the determining factor, but workload . (Then again, if your child has so much on their plate that they *have* to drink caffeine to finish it all, you may want to help them rethink their goals.)
penelope August 11, 2016
If the concern is the caffeine, then it's the same age that you let them eat chocolate or drink cola or hot chocolate, I assume. My kids have drunk caffeinated coffee (usually mixed 50% with milk) since they wanted to, basically. We treat coffee shop sugary drinks/Crappuccinos like dessert, so those are special treats, not a daily habit.
pierino August 11, 2016
I began drinking coffee at around the age of 10 or eleven. Just black, no sugar or cream and my parents saw no harm in it. I don't believe coffee is a true addiction, although it can be seriously habit forming. I recognize a degree of caffeine dependence but at least in my own case it wasn't difficult to shake. As a parent I would be more worried about stuff like Red Bull which kids much, much younger than me mix up in scary cocktails like Red Bull and Jägermeister. Whew!.
BerryBaby August 11, 2016
I agree, I have never been addicted to it. I enjoy a half cup in the morning. My cup is full, but for some reason I only drink half.
Amanda H. August 11, 2016
Hi All -- I've been reading all of your great thoughts on this topic and wanted to duck in quickly to say thanks!
mrslarkin August 12, 2016
Hi Amanda,

Coffee and I go wayyyy back. I started drinking caffelatte - that's what we called milk with a splash of coffee - around 4 years old. One of my fondest memories of grammar school was opening my lunch box to find caffelatte in my Charlie Brown thermos, with a side of biscotti to dunk. My mom often made us this thing called "caffe col'uovo sbatutto." My recipe for it is in the archives, Zabaglione al Caffe.

If you are serious coffee drinkers, teach kids at an early age what good coffee is. They will learn to distinguish good coffee from bad coffee.

ktr August 12, 2016
A Sicilian woman I know told me her mom used to tear up white bread, sprinkle it with a little sugar and then pour coffee over it and that was a common breakfast for them as kids.
Niknud August 11, 2016
What an awesome question. As the parent of a 6 and a 9 year old, it hasn't really come up yet, but I'm pretty much of the all-things-in-moderation approach to living and parenting. I offered it to my oldest son when he asked once and he wrinkled up his face and hasn't asked since. That being said, I think (in the pantheon of things I have to worry about) that I'm probably going to let them start drinking it when they show an interest. Probably not in the afternoons and probably not at a café so that dessert aspect of many of those drinks is limited, but other than that I'm good with the idea. As others have pointed out, there are things I worry far more about when it comes to my kids. Too much sugar, energy drinks, drugs, bad life choices, mountain lions. For the sake of my sanity, I'm not adding coffee to the list.

Voted the Best Reply!

sydney August 10, 2016
The question and conversation struck me as so curiously quaint that I laughed out loud. Millions of kids (from infancy onwards) are being prescribed stimulants, antipsychotics, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs (all off-label since no long-term studies have been done on kids) and nobody bats an eye. In moderation, a bit of caffeine from coffee hardly seems like an issue, and plus, it's been found to have healthful nutrients (without sugar). Maybe at home is a good place to help a kid learn her/his own personal caffeine tolerance. Always good to have drug ('street' and 'prescription')/alcohol conversations with kids. :-)
Tashipluto August 10, 2016
As a tea drinker, my kids never saw me drinking coffee, and were allowed caffeinated tea by around age 12. My daughter definitely got into the sugary frappes, etc at Starbucks when she was in high school, but it only lasted a couple of years. Her twin brother doesn't drink coffee to this day, he finds it bitter. They never drank much coke or other caffeinated soda either, except when in a big group of kids. I'd like to say that modeling non-caffeinated drinks was the answer, but of course that's ridiculous when you're talking about teens!
On a side note, other than the addictive nature, a negative aspect of coffee drinking can be serious indigestion. That's why I stopped drinking coffee and my daughter has found that she has the same problem.
Rivka August 10, 2016
Growing up, my mom took my brother and me to frozen yogurt every Friday afternoon. Special treat for the weekend and whatnot. We'd get our frozen yogurt, she'd get a cappuccino. This was the routine most Fridays for probably 3 years. Then one day, when I was about 9, we walked into the frozen yogurt shop, and my mom looked at the daily flavors, looked at me, and said, "today I'm giving you a *real* treat." Then she ordered one froyo for my brother, and two cappuccinos, one for each of us. Best practice? Who knows. But boy, was that cap good.
caninechef August 10, 2016
I think if they are already teens then a) you probably have no say in any coffee drinking outside the home and b) there are bigger issues to put your energy in than coffee at home

But hey, I think I had a cup with lots of milk every AM by age of 10 and my sister was a die-heart coffee fan long before her age was double digit.
Rachel August 10, 2016
I agree with you caninechef, phil and cv (as others have pointed out as well), coffee drinking is something that it seems almost every kid in a coffee drinking household has a curiosity about at some point. I don't remember my parents giving us a specific prohibition on it ("you want to try it go ahead and try it" type of attitude), but they never offered us milk or sugar with it, so my brother and I only learned to drink it black. Still do to this day.

My advice is very limited, as I don't have kids, just teen nieces and nephews (who do tend to drink a lot of these iced frappe-type beverages), but that said, perhaps you could use it as a teaching moment rather than a "rite of passage" type of thing. Making your kids a good cup of coffee and teaching them to appreciate the nuance of the coffee, tasting notes, where different beans come from, issues with ethically sourced beans, chains v/ small, independent coffee houses, even the "latte factor" http://financialmentor.com/calculator/latte-factor-calculator, etc... would probably help curb the desire for a venti iced-mocha-frappa-whip-moar syrup(!)-iccino, which is what the vast majority of younger people (and older too) are drinking (ALL the sugar, ALL the whipped topping, ALL the starbucks, ALL the time... makes my teeth hurt just thinking about it).
PHIL August 10, 2016
When I say Iced coffee , I mean just that. Not the Frappes and all those other very sugary drinks. Sometimes I see people getting a Venti frappiccino with whipped cream and same sort of caramel or chocolate syrup in the morning. It's crazy.
702551 August 10, 2016
Yeah, but plain iced coffee (freshly brewed coffee that has been chilled) is not what today's America youth are consuming.

Today's young American consumers aren't drinking the beverage of yesterday according to its original pure definition. They are consuming cold coffee beverages loaded with tons of other things.

I find them appallingly vile, but I'm an old fogey, there weren't designed in some corporate food lab for people my age.
702551 August 10, 2016
I see teens drinking caffeinated hot drinks like coffee and tea in Europe with parents present so I assume its not a big deal here.

Plus American kids are drinking caffeine via soft drinks at an extreme young age. That's a bigger concern than espressos and the like.
702551 August 10, 2016
I mean "there" (in Europe) not "here" (USA). As mentioned by someone else, coffee consumption is widely accepted in Latin America, as well as tea all over the world.
BerryBaby August 10, 2016
I see many teens hanging out at Starbucks. Lots of iced coffee drinks seem to be their drink of choice. Still better than the caffeinated energy drinks IMO
702551 August 10, 2016
I'm not sure that I'd agree with the statement that ice coffee beverages from chains like Starbucks are better than caffeinated energy drinks.

For one, some of these specialty iced coffee drinks blow doors on soft drinks in terms of caloric value. Worse, some of them are loaded with fat. Small modest amounts of both are fine, but many of the coffee chain products do not fit that description.

Again, I would not refer to American consumer behavior as a guideline for healthy practices concerning this topic (and many others). American childhood obesity is far more widespread than any other nation on this planet.
Susan W. August 10, 2016
True iced coffee is NOT what the teens are drinking. They drink mochas, frappecinos and coconut macchiatos. The nutritional stats are a nightmare and if you dig deeper and see what the syrups are made of...even bigger nightmare. They are probably worse for you than energy drinks.
BerryBaby August 10, 2016
Wow, I'm surprised that I'm being criticized about reporting what I see at the Starbucks I go to. I never said the drinks were healthy and there are numerous articles that you can find online on energy drinks by searching 'the dangers of energy drinks'. And, yes, the teens at this particular Starbucks are drinking more iced coffee. It may not be like that in your neighborhood or city, but I know what I see and hear. Daughter and her friends drank plain coffee when in high school, no lattes or sugary drinks. To this day she has plain coffee. I'm sorry if you all feel I'm wrong, but just reporting what I see.
Rachel August 10, 2016
I didn't think it was a criticism of you berrybaby, as you're not wrong, the concentrated hit of caffeine/taurine in those energy drinks and the enamel-peeling amount of sugar are really bad for kids; the degree of "badness" seems to be a matter of hairsplitting when you look at the massive quantities of both that are consumed by teens and young adults. Once in a while treating yourself to any of those things isn't going to kill you or make you morbidly obese, but consumption of energy drinks and frappes on a daily basis just might. Sadly, a lot of kids seem to believe a constant stream of that stuff is normal and fine. Everything in moderation is what I believe. If you love the tooth-curdling taste of red bull or monster or rip-it, then have one once in a great while as a treat. Same with the iced frappe stuff... just not every day, or worse, multiple times a day.

I wish someone had told that to my 19 year old self that when I confident that sleep was for the weak... I worked overnights for the campus police department and was a full time college student... Drank all the taurine-infused energy drinks, and took No-Doz caffeine pills washed down with black coffee to get me through my shift, then went to morning classes... and sometimes afternoon classes too. It all eventually caught up with me and added up to the fact that I was well on my way to an ulcer in my early 20's... hope you can use that one as a cautionary tale Amanda! Enjoy your coffee... but do it in moderation.
creamtea August 10, 2016
Once they are teens, you don't have much control. My kids used to like to taste the foamed milk off my cappuccinos when they were smaller. My college age daughter drinks coffee every morning. The high school daughter never got into it (but will drink fine tea). I believe that Latin cultures don't consider coffee drinking a bad thing even with children: they are given milky coffee even when young. (One time years ago, my regular babysitter's sister came to watch the kids when they were little. The younger one was wailing as I was about to leave. The newby babysitter asked if she should make her some coffee! I was so shocked at the time, I never asked her to babysit again. Years later we all had a good laugh when they explained to me that children in their country are served a little coffee in their milk routinely).
BerryBaby August 10, 2016
My brother started drinking coffee about age 10 because he liked it. I wouldn't say he had it everyday, but many days. He never got addicted to it, and quite honestly, none of us gave it much thought. He's now 60 and doesn't drink it much any more. I'd be more concerned over the caffeinated energy drinks than coffee. JMO
PHIL August 10, 2016
I would be more concerned with the sugar in the coffee drinks (as Susan said) rather than the caffeine. The sugar is a much bigger problem and some of these items are loaded with sugar. In early teens, I don't see it as an issue if they are having one or 2 a day, ice coffee or coffee has not shown to pose any health risk.
Michele August 10, 2016
Cafe au lait (very heavy on the warm milk) at about 10 for our daughter at the weekends occasionally. We are a heavy tea drinking family so it wasn't a big deal, and now at 19 she drinks coffee not on a daily basis, and still loves her tea.
burning-ice August 10, 2016
How about seeing just when they want to try it, and let them try? Chances are, they won't even like the taste... Prohibiting something just makes it more interesting, it's the same with alcohol.
I was allowed to have a small amount of coffee in my milk from when I was about 10 years old (something like 1/5 coffee to 4/5 milk), and guess what, the ratio is still about the same today.
HalfPint August 10, 2016
Same age as any caffeinated beverage (e.g. Cola). My parents allowed us to have somewhat watered down coffee from the time we were little. So by the time coffee became "cool", there wasnt the allure or the need to sneak around to have coffee. By doing this, they actually had more control over how much and when. As result, we didn't develop the coffee habit. They used a similar approach with alcohol.

I am curious. Do you have a similar age limit with caffeinated soda? I don't see coffee as being any different than Coca Cola. Don't make coffee anything special and your teen is less likely feel the need to try the "adult" treat.
SKK August 9, 2016
Interesting question, especially the 'acceptable age' portion. People who want to drink coffee do not have to show their ID. Whenever they want because you can't stop them. And I believe coffee is healthier than soft drinks, alcohol and/or smoking.
Susan W. August 9, 2016
Because of its addictive nature, I say hold off as long as possible. Also, wildly unhealthy coffee drinks are such a thing now and are full of empty calories.

I set my daughters legal caffeine consumption age to 18...I recently found out (many years later) that she and her best friend Lisa snuck off campus every day at lunch and ran down to the Starbucks two blocks away. DRATS!!
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