Dear Mr. Dad: I have been noticing kids who look much younger than high-school age buying frapuccino-type drinks at Starbucks and similar coffee places. It worries me, because I didn’t think caffeine was good for children, and didn’t allow my own son to have any while he was a teenager. Is coffee really bad for children? If so, what is your advice to parents whose children can buy their own snacks after school?
A: You’re absolutely right. Caffeine and children don’t belong in the same room. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says that for adults, 300-400 milligrams (mg)–about three cups of coffee—per day is generally safe. But the FDA hasn’t established safe levels for children. Most pediatricians, however, say that children under 12 shouldn’t have any, and kids 12-18 shouldn’t consume more than 100 mg/day.
Those recommendations haven’t stopped kids from getting it. In fact, about 75% of children and young adults consume caffeine every day. Where’s it all coming from? Until fairly recently, children’s main source of caffeine was soda. However, ever since researchers started drawing the connection between sugary drinks and obesity, soda consumption has been on the decline. Today, children—especially teenagers—are turning to coffee and energy drinks, both of which generally pack a lot more caffeine than soda.
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