Coffee contains caffeine, which is a naturally occurring psychoactive substance. A 2017 report found that 13 to 18-year-olds had the biggest increase in daily coffee consumption.

The report referenced above showed that 37% of children in that age group drank the beverage every day, increasing from 23% in 2014 and 31% in 2016.

A 2014 study found that coffee accounted for 10% of caffeine intake in children aged 2-11 years old in 1999-2000. This figure more than doubled to 24% of caffeine intake a decade later.

This article looks at the risks of caffeine and coffee for children, how much coffee and caffeine children consume through everyday drinks and snacks, and when to seek medical advice for children who have had excessive coffee or caffeine intake.

Share on Pinterest
Arnon Prajakteeranon/EyeEm/Getty Images

The sources of caffeine that children consume have changed over the years. Instead of drinking caffeinated sodas, they now consume the caffeine from a daily intake of energy drinks, coffee, or coffee-based drinks.

There are no federal guidelines for caffeine intake for children in the U.S. However, recommendations from Health Canada indicate that a child consumes no more than 2.5 milligrams (mg) of caffeine per kilogram (kg) of body weight.

The table below lists the recommended amounts of caffeine for children aged 4–12.

AgeDaily caffeine intake (maximum)Equal to
4 to 6-years-old45 mg1 can (355 ml) of cola or less than half a cup of brewed coffee
7 to 9-years-old62.5 mg1.5 cans (355 ml) of cola or a single espresso shot
10 to 12-years-old85 mgAlmost 2 cans (355 ml) of cola or just under 1 cup of brewed coffee

The age and weight recommendations are the same for or children aged 13–18 years old.

For example, a 13-year-old child weighing 45.3 kg (100 lbs) should have no more than 113 mg of caffeine per day, which is equivalent to just under 1.5 cups of brewed coffee.

Adolescents who weigh more than this may be able to consume up to the adult daily maximum of 400 mg.

Learn about the risks and benefits of coffee here.

Where to check for caffeine

Energy drinks and soda drinks can contain large amounts of caffeine. According to Consumer Reports, the caffeine in energy drinks varies from 17 mg to 242 mg per serving. An average serving of coffee contains 100 mg of caffeine, while 242 mg is equivalent to almost four espressos.

Caffeine is also present in other food and drinks:

  • tea contains 48 mg of caffeine per 8 ounces (oz)
  • hot chocolate contains 10 mg of caffeine per 12 oz
  • chocolate contains 10-30 mg of caffeine per 1.5 oz

Other food, drinks, and snacks containing caffeine may include:

  • coffee-flavored foods, such as ice-creams, yogurts, and candies
  • flavored waters and juices
  • energy bars
  • mints, gummy candy, and chewing gum.

Learn more about how much caffeine a cup of coffee contains here.

Coffee derives from brewing the roasted beans of the coffee plant. The plant originated in Ethiopia but now grows worldwide, including in South America, Brazil, and Asia.

According to a 2020 systematic review, it is the most widely consumed beverage in the world after water.

Research indicates that 7 in 10 people in America drink coffee every week, and 6 in 10 people drink it every day. The average coffee drinker in the U.S. drinks just over 3 cups of coffee a day.

Learn more about caffeine and its effects on the body here.

Caffeine is a stimulant that can enhance physical performance, improve reaction time, and delay feelings of tiredness or fatigue.

However, it can also have several adverse effects, including:

Caffeine can also be toxic in very high doses. In 2017, when an otherwise healthy 16-year-old male from South Carolina died, medical experts ruled that the cause of death was a “caffeine-induced cardiac event.”

The teen collapsed after drinking a latte, a soft drink, and an energy drink in under 2 hours.

In 2021, a 21-year-old man showed signs of heart failure after developing a habit of drinking four energy sodas a day, according to a BMJ case report.

Learn more about whether caffeine is bad for you here.

Although some people can develop a dependency on caffeine, not everyone experiences withdrawal symptoms when they stop or reduce their caffeine intake.

Those who do have withdrawal symptoms may experience headaches, irritability, and fatigue.

While caffeine does not stimulate the same areas of the brain as amphetamines or cocaine, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes the withdrawal associated with caffeine as a clinical disorder.

Learn about caffeine withdrawal here.

There is no evidence to suggest that drinking coffee can stunt growth, but it might reduce calcium absorption, which bones need to grow strong. However, the effect is small and unlikely to affect how bones grow.

Learn more about calcium here.

Research suggests that caffeine ingested during pregnancy can change important brain pathways in the fetus. A 2021 study analyzed thousands of brain scans of 9 and 10-year-old children and found changes in the brain structure of the children who had exposure to caffeine in the uterus.

The study found it caused minimal but noticeable behavioral issues, such as difficulties with attention and hyperactivity.

It also recommended that a pregnant person consumes no more than 2 cups of regular coffee per day.

Sleep plays a critical role in the healthy development of the brain, particularly in learning and memory, regulating emotions and behavior. A lack of sleep, caused by too much caffeine intake, may affect brain development in children and adolescents.

A 2013 study found that caffeine reduces sleep duration in adolescent boys.

Learn more about coffee and tiredness here.

Coffee and caffeine can affect people differently, depending on weight, age, and other factors, such as underlying health conditions.

If a child has any symptoms of caffeine overdose, or if they have taken a large amount of caffeine, seek medical advice.

Symptoms of caffeine overdose include:

Parents, guardians, or other responsible adults who have concerns about a child’s coffee or caffeine intake, should look carefully at the labels on the products they buy to check the levels of caffeine they contain. Adults should talk to children about safe daily limits of caffeine.

Anyone who is worried about a child’s caffeine intake can talk to a pediatrician, child psychiatrist, or another mental health professional about interventions or guidance.

Children in the U. S. are consuming more caffeine from energy drinks, coffee, or coffee-based drinks and snacks, than ever before.

Although the U.S. does not have any guidelines for caffeine consumption in children, evidence suggests that too much caffeine may cause harm. Large amounts of caffeine may even be toxic to young people.

Knowing the harmful effects of caffeine and the symptoms of a caffeine overdose may help to protect the health of children and young people.