08/05/2010 01:22 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Koffee for Kids?

I grew up in Rome in an eccentric, decaffeinated family -- in which tea lorded unashamedly over coffee.

And I have to say, they weren't even normal teas like Earl Grey or Orange Bergamot, but herbal potions made from Thyme or Linden flowers and Rosehip or Roiboos teas.

For reasons of the heart, I was later obliged to dive into Italy's Caffeinated Complications: ristretto vs. espresso, lungo vs. Americano; black vs. 'stained' with warm/cold milk; served in a glass vs. a cup -- and so on.

Our daughter, on the other hand, is as Italian as Illy coffee.

Every time she trots into a cafe, she asks for a Baby-ccino: plain, frothy milk served in a little coffee cup. She discovered it at Starbucks in London, where they charge 40 pence per cup.

I have yet to find a barista in Italy who charges for a Baby-ccino.

On the contrary, they serve it for her with a big smile and often offer to add a sprinkling of chocolate powder on top.

But for all her Italian DNA, I would never dream of giving our daughter coffee in the coming years. One day she'll discover caffeine and I hope it'll be in her late teens (at the earliest). But I'll never offer it to her.

Yet a good friend of mine gives her eight-year-old coffee regularly in the afternoon. And another Italian lady I know thinks that her son of the same age will do his homework better if helped by an espresso.

Have we really reached a point at which we consider it normal to give stimulants to kids?

Some girlfriends maintain that age 15 or 16 is about the right age at which to start the 'caffeine dependency,' while others give their 10-year old kids decaf coffee in their milk for breakfast (but the decaffeinating process is itself far from salutary).

Then there's barley coffee: a naturally decaffeinated drink traditionally given to Italian children for decades.

I hear it's what most Italian moms have always served for breakfast. I'm wondering if that's still so.