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From observing teenagers around my neighbourhood, it's obvious that Starbucks, and a few other coffee shops, are standard hangouts for teens. So I assume that once they're in highschool, I won't have a choice anymore.

My question has two parts:

How long should I wait before I stop limiting or preventing access to caffeine?

Is there any advantage to making sure that my children have been exposed to it and have a tolerance/know how to handle it before they hit highschool?

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+1 great question –  hawbsl Apr 7 '11 at 10:06
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Interestingly, some think taurine (not the same as caffeine) is good for children's development. It's in Nestle Good Start. I'm not sure who thought to put ash in there as well, but somebody's been getting creative.. –  bobobobo Jan 2 '12 at 1:23
    
As Long as you possibly can on the LIMIT part. However, be reasonable, a little once in awhile will not be a horrible thing. Moderation. –  balanced mama Nov 17 '12 at 14:51
    
You get enough taurine in regular meals, and the body can also synthesize it. –  Paxinum Jan 24 '13 at 21:08

7 Answers 7

up vote 18 down vote accepted

There has been some research done on effects of caffeine in children.

The bottom line is that caffeine is generally safe, but it does have significant effects in children as well as adults. Note that children are much more likely to encounter caffeine in a soft drink than in tea or coffee; that's what you have to worry about, I think, not Starbucks. A cup of green tea contains ~15-25 mg of caffeine, which is around the limit where there were no noteworthy affects for a 50 kg child, so if they want to hang out at a cafe, they don't even have to limit themselves to strictly caffeine-free options.

Note that persistent caffeine exposure causes physical addiction. It's not particularly serious, but it's annoying, because it means that you have to drink caffeine just to feel normal (instead of lousy), and it doesn't do as much to wake you up. If you explain this to your children (especially if you can provide examples of people who seem permanently glued to a coffee cup), they might elect to limit their exposure when it's completely under their control.

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+1 ... and a great answer –  Torben Gundtofte-Bruun May 10 '11 at 13:53
    
a childs first introduction to drug addiction... –  Nat Jul 31 '12 at 3:31
    
I can attest to the addictiveness of caffeine, before my son was born I only drank caffeine once or twice a year when I really needed to stay awake, but now I drink it every day and it has lost most of its effectiveness and I need it just to feel normal in the morning. Also when I don't have it I get headaches and tend to be cranky. I hope to kick the addiction soon and hope to keep my child as caffeine free as he is willing to be. –  Dave Nelson Jul 31 '12 at 13:00

This may sound odd, but I think I'm going to treat it like alcohol with our son.

My wife and I both gave up caffeine when we first decided to have kids... honestly, I don't miss it and I feel a million times better without it. Now on those rare occasions that I have to have a hit of it because I need the extra stimulation to keep awake for something odd, I really feel miserable afterwards; it's very much like a hangover, the difference is that we've decided as a society that caffeine doesn't have to be regulated and doesn't have the stigma that alcohol has, so it's perfectly acceptable to have it first thing in the morning to get the buzz going again, and at lunch and dinner to keep it going. So we never "sober up" from it to feel the hang over. Until you cut back and then quit it all together.

This experience has really driven home to me that the two are very similar... they're chemicals that we know do things to our brains and bodies, and that we ingest specifically for those impacts. When he's old enough to understand that, then I'll let him choose if he wants to try them, and I'll be there with him to talk about what he's feeling in his body. From there out, it's his call. (as long as we're still living here, and they don't change the law before he's older, it's legal for minors to consume beer/wine with a meal with their parents.)

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interesting personal experience but how useful to the rest of us who mostly (i assume) don't live in caffeine free households. when to allow our children to start joining in with us? –  hawbsl Apr 7 '11 at 10:09
    
@hawbsl we aren't a caffeine free household any more, nor is this a dry house. :) Both of those chemicals are occasionally partaken of here. But the experience is what informed my decision on how to handle it. It's probably not a solution for everyone, and I don't expect it's going to be the accepted answer by any stretch of the imagination, but it's an alternative solution I wanted to share. At least one person liked it enough to up vote to offset your downvote. –  cabbey Apr 7 '11 at 14:51
    
While the opinion is valid for yourself and well thought out, I think that the opinion does not address the question. –  Andrei Freeman Apr 8 '11 at 0:35

From working with sports coaches and the like, I plan on not letting my kids have any caffeinated drinks. If children get used to caffeine their bodies learn not to produce as much energy naturally, which doesn't set them up well for life. Also, caffeinated children - not a peaceful life for anyone!

I use caffeine as an adult - I'm in IT, so obviously :-) - but I'm very glad that my natural energy levels are high and my kids take after me.

Until I no longer have a say (ie they are off to high school) I encourage them to only drink water, fruit juices and milk. They are happy with that.

your mileage may vary, obviously, but even at a Starbucks, soft drinks are available.

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Can you cite a source for "their bodies learn not to produce as much energy naturally"? –  Doug Nov 30 '11 at 22:11
    
I got it from their swim team coach. Will see if I can find a published source. –  Rory Alsop Nov 30 '11 at 22:48

I drink a lot of tea, so caffeine consumption has always been something the kids are familiar with. I occasionally used to let them have a sip of mine when they were much younger but only recently started giving them their own to drink (probably around age 7/8). When they do ask for a cup of tea I only give them half a cup of weak, milky tea, so they're not getting huge amounts of caffeine, and they don't drink it more than about once a week on average. I still don't give them caffeinated fizzy drinks although if I found out that someone else had given them a coke I wouldn't be too worried (unless this was happening very regularly). I have told them that caffeine is not really very healthy and it's best for kids not to have much as their bodies and minds are still developing, and that grown ups can choose to make unhealthy choices because as an adult you are responsible for your own wellbeing and can choose whether you want to accept the consequences, but as their parent it's my job to protect them. Very similar in some ways to how I have explained about alcohol and other things, in fact.

We have to be realistic in admitting to children that people do things that are bad for them, as they will see people all around them doing things they shouldn't do, but do our best to explain why they should avoid doing these things themselves and help them to make educated choices as they get older. I have tried to explain to them that one of the reasons it is especially important for children not to use caffeine, alcohol, drugs, etc, is that they are still developing and these things can interfere with that. Hopefully the fact that I have taught them this now will make it easier for me to have similar discussions about drugs & alcohol in their teens - personally I don't have a moral concern about these things, but knowing what I do about brain development makes me concerned about young people getting into them too early while their minds are not yet developed. And from a behavioural point of view, it's easy to get into "bad habits" with these things at a young age and once habits are established they can be hard to break. For example, a lot of teenagers binge drink, and this then becomes the norm so they continue doing the same as adults. If every time you've been out drinking you've always got very drunk it feels weird to go out and drink more sensibly! I know my tea drinking is a pattern that was established at a young age - my parents allowed me to drink tea & coffee when I was a preschooler, and it became a normal drink for me. I now find it really hard to wake up in the morning without several cups of tea! I also experienced insomnia for most of my school years and it was only when I was an older teen that I cut down the amount of caffeine I drank in the evening & started to sleep more normally. The effects of caffeine definitely shouldn't be taken lightly!

I have explained all of this in a child friendly way - my kids understand that it is good to avoid getting into bad habits as they are hard to break, and that their brains & bodies are precious things that they should protect from harm (especially while still developing), and that thinking about the consequences of their actions, even very far into the future, is important, and so on. I think helping them understand these things gives them the tools to make better decisions in their lives, and are much more useful than blanket, black & white "do this, don't do that" statements (I do also tell them when I feel they should or shouldn't do something, but always try to explain why, not just "do as I say"). However, even if you have given them these tools, children naturally live in the present and are not good at thinking through the consequences of their actions, so until they develop this skill fully it is our job as parents to help them avoid serious negative consequences & guide them towards sensible decisions.

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Welcome to the site, and thanks for the effort on this question. –  Paul Cline Jun 23 '11 at 15:31

The quote below is from Health Canada - Caffeine in Food which also has a list of the amount of caffeine in various drinks and foods.

Recommended Maximum Caffeine Intake Levels for Children and Women of Childbearing Age

Children
4 - 6 years 45 mg/day
7 - 9 years 62.5 mg/day
10 - 12 years 85 mg/day

Women who are planning to become pregnant, pregnant women and breast feeding mothers
300 mg/day

Each person (and child) will have a different reaction to caffeine and attention is warranted. In particular children and pregnant women should avoid too much caffeine. But caffeine is showing up in research with many positive effects on human health. Let's not over do the warnings to children about caffeine to the point they think it is inherently bad for you. Moderation in all things.

Resource:
- Coffee and Your Health via WebMD

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A very level-headed answer that cites a source. +1 –  Doug Nov 30 '11 at 22:13

I would continue to limit access to the drug until the child is able to demonstrate that they are capable of making the decision themselves. That implies that they know about caffeine, what it does and the cost of the drinks.

There is no benefit to having a drug tolerance as that just implies they have used it enough to require extra quantities for an effect. Caffiene has such a mild effect that physiological preparation for it seems... unnecessary.

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It is important to note that caffeine is not only present in a cup of coffee but it also present in soft drinks and in many other foods. Thus, it is a wise decision, to have minimum caffeine consumption particularly for younger kids. The most recommended caffeine intake in a day is not more than 45 milligrams a day which is equivalent to a 12 ounce can of soda or four 43 gram chocolate milk bars.Caffeine and Your Child

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