Is It Bad for Kids to Drink Coffee or Tea?

Julie Kirk
Freckled boy with coffee in cafe

It is not unusual for kids to drink coffee or tea on occasion. Kids especially love the popular dessert-like coffee drinks with whipped cream and chocolate and caramel syrups that are so common these days. But it's the caffeine content that's the biggest health concern when it comes to kids.

Potential Dangers of Coffee and Tea for Kids

Coffee and tea contain caffeine, a drug that can be addictive. It is a stimulant, so although moderate consumption by adults is considered safe by FDA standards, it can affect the nervous system, brain and other organs.

Symptoms of Too Much Caffeine

Girl not feeling well holding cup

Too much caffeine can cause:

  • Hyperactivity
  • Insomnia
  • Jitters/nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Stomach upset
  • Headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Cavities
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Poor appetite
  • Increased heart rate

Keep in mind, in younger kids the caffeine symptoms will occur with only a small amount of coffee or tea.

Effects of Extreme Caffeine Use

A higher intake of caffeine can cause more severe symptoms which include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Flushed face
  • Extreme restlessness
  • Frequent urination
  • Withdrawals

Kids can also experience caffeine toxicity (overdose) which can lead to seizures and cardiac arrest.

Age Appropriate Guidelines for Consumption

There are no clear-cut answers as to what the appropriate age is that kids can drink coffee or tea.

Caffeine for Kids Over 12 Years Old

Dietary Guidelines for Americans states that three to five cups of coffee which contains approximately 400mg of caffeine is safe for adults. But there are no such guidelines that exist for kids. The American Academy of Pediatrics holds firm on the position that kids under the age of 12 should not have caffeinated drinks. While kids that are 12 and older can drink 85-100mg of caffeine per day which equals about one eight-ounce cup of coffee or tea.

What About Decaf Drinks?

There are most likely no real health concerns for kids (of any age) to have an occasional decaffeinated drink. By comparison, eight ounces of decaffeinated coffee has about 3 mg of caffeine, whereas a 1.6 ounce Hershey bar has 9 mg of caffeine. A 12-ounce can of Coke has 34 mg. So if your child is begging for a mocha Frappuccino, just opt for decaf instead.

Age Recommendations

If your kids would like to start drinking coffee or tea, it is suggested that the best time for them to start would be at the end of their adolescence at around age 18. This is when growth and development is slowing down. For kids that are tea drinkers, herbal teas that are caffeine-free can be given to kids that are four to ten years of age. Black and green teas should only be given to kids that are over 12 years old. When giving kids caffeinated teas, prepare a weak tea. Diluting the tea is highly recommended.

Caffeine Content of Coffee and Tea

Girl drinking tea from tea cup

The various caffeine contents are:

  • An eight-ounce cup of coffee contains approximately 95-200 mg of caffeine depending on the preparation method and brewing time.
  • Green tea and black tea contain about 30 mg of caffeine.
  • Decaffeinated coffee actually contains a small amount caffeine contrary to popular belief. It contains 2-3 mg of caffeine.
  • Herbal teas are caffeine-free.

Some Positive Aspects of Tea

There are curing properties of tea which include:

  • Tea can help relax the nervous system which can relieve stress and tension.
  • The best teas for treating anxiety in kids, include oat straw, passion flower and chamomile.
  • Lukewarm teas can help colic in infants. The best teas for colic are fennel and chamomile which are caffeine-free.
  • Teas can also help with cough, nausea and constipation.
  • Even though it contains caffeine, green tea for kids over 12 years old can be beneficial. The green tea contains catechins which helps kill germs, improves concentration, helps with mouth hygiene and also helps with heart health. It also contains antioxidants that fight against cancer cells.

Unlike tea, there are no real benefits, positive aspects, or curing properties when kids drink coffee.

Coffee, Tea and Kids

In general, the effects of caffeine on kids are negative and not recommended. It is best to avoid giving your kids caffeine or at least monitor their caffeine intake depending on their age. Kids typically have plenty of natural energy to begin with; therefore, adding caffeine would be completely unnecessary.

Is It Bad for Kids to Drink Coffee or Tea?