Yesterday my 17 year-old daughter came downstairs for school and asked, “Is caffeine bad?”
“Why do you ask?” I replied.
“I don’t know, just wondering…” she responded.
Gosh, have I been waiting to have this conversation! You know I am an advocate of letting the child lead the nutrition conversations, something I cover extensively in Fearless Feeding. As hard as it is sometimes, I know that biting my tongue and keeping my mouth closed is the right thing to do. I’ve seen too many parents lecture their teens on nutrition, and it goes in one ear and out the other.
I know that a teen will listen intently when she asks for the information.
I was eager to have this conversation. Yes, I noticed coffee was becoming a problem.
I forbade coffee, and caffeinated soda for years. Up until about this time last year, my daughter was cool with that rule. She never really questioned it. Then, she turned 16, got her driver’s license, and much, much more independent.
While I have heard many, many stories about teens going nuts with independence, like hitting the drive-through, the grocery store or the convenience store/gas station, I have to say that things on my end have been relatively calm on the food front.
That is, until the local coffee shop became a hangout. The stopover before and after school. A meeting place for friends. A place to see, and be seen.
And drink coffee.
I had even started making more coffee in the morning and buying G’s favorite creamer, so that she wouldn’t spend the modest income she makes at the local clothing boutique.
Yes, I did. Ahem, I do.
Lord only knows how much coffee she drinks! I don’t. I hadn’t asked, because I knew this topic could tick her off and make her defensive. Those of you who have teens will know what I am talking about.
And so I began. This is the gist of our conversation. I hope it helps you, should you be confronted with a coffee-drinking teen who is asking for more information.
She did ask, after all.
Caffeine is a drug.
Caffeine is addicting, which means that the more you drink it, the more you need and want to have it. It means that when you don’t have it you could get a headache, the “shakes” or jittery, and feel ‘not yourself’ without it. These are symptoms of withdrawal, which anyone on drugs can experience, though the symptoms can be different for each person. This is why drug addicts keep going back for more drugs, because without them, they feel terrible and the only way to correct that is to take more. It’s the same with caffeine.
Caffeine interrupts sleep.
Caffeine is a stimulant, which means it keeps your brain and body awake. While a morning cup of coffee won’t likely disrupt your sleep at night, an afternoon cup could. This means that it can take you longer to fall asleep, or interfere with a sound sleep. As a teen, you need about 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night. If you’re not getting that amount, you can see effects on your grades, your mood, and your weight.
Caffeine-containing drinks may lead to weight gain in teenagers.
While coffee itself doesn’t seem to cause weight gain (or stunted growth, for that matter), the inclusion of it in many drinks that teenagers consume may promote weight gain. For example, those iced vanilla lattes and other specialty coffee drinks are often high in caffeine, and sugar, which means extra calories that can encourage unwanted weight gain.
That little tidbit got a “Really?!”
“I think I might be addicted,” said G.
“Well, I think I am too,” I said. “I need my morning coffee or I don’t feel good. But after that I switch over to water or decaffeinated tea.”
I asked, with the intention to convey that she was in control of her body and her food choices. “What do you think you’ll do about it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’ll get decaf coffee and cut back on coffee altogether,” replied G, clearly thinking it through.
I wish I could say she hasn’t had her morning coffee since. But I have noticed she’s only having one cup. And the after-school coffees are much less frequent.
Does your teen drink coffee? How do you handle it?