Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) may not specifically market its wares to kids, but most of us have probably noticed that the kids are there anyway. The company is now acknowledging that kids are indeed part of its target demographic, and shareholders should hope the company proceeds with some degree of caution. Things could get touchy.

We've all probably noticed many parents do bring their young children into Starbucks when they're seeking their own caffeine fix. And I'm pretty sure that anybody who frequents a Starbucks near a high school has seen their local cafe jam-packed with teens at certain times of the day. I've definitely experienced the high-volume chatter and rapid rate at which baristas must sling Frappuccinos when a whole bunch of high school kids alight on a Starbucks all at once.

An article from MSNBC this week explored Starbucks' expanding relationship with kids (and the possible pitfalls). Starbucks does offer juice and milk, and the company is looking into other age-appropriate menu ideas, since many people recognize that while some Frappuccinos may seem reasonably kid-friendly, the non-diet varieties contain a boatload of calories. Furthermore, although Starbucks does offer fruit, veggies, and low-fat pastries, there are still plenty of options that aren't so good for the waistline. These are risky elements where kids are concerned, given the reality that kids today are heavier than in past generations.

Luckily for shareholders, Starbucks appears to recognize that although it's a very smart idea to provide alternatives that are appropriate for the younger generation, it also has to be careful not to appear to market too aggressively to children. So far, it appears that children have pretty much entered the fold of their own (or their parents') accord.

Heavy-handed marketing to kids can open up an ugly can of worms. Parents and consumer groups often go on the warpath concerning companies that deliberately advertise to children, particularly if the products they're peddling are viewed as inappropriate. One of the most prominent examples from the annals of advertising history is probably Reynolds American's (NYSE:RAI) Joe Camel ads, which utilized a cartoon camel to push Camel brand cigarettes and sparked heated criticism.

More recently, fast-food companies have certainly experienced similar controversy. For example, Burger King (NYSE:BKC) hit the radar last year as some European countries started to focus in on its ad habits, some of which had to do with advertising to kids. Looking back, it's not like rival McDonald's (NYSE:MCD) has ever distanced itself from the kid market, either. Playgrounds, Happy Meals, Ronald McDonald and such have all made the restaurant alluring for kids and families, but a recent ad campaign was a significant sign of the times, since the fast-food company used Shrek the Third to push its healthy menu options for kids. I can only hope we'll never see a Starbucks with a playground or any kind of clown. If anything, I'll bet some Starbucks kids like the feeling that they're having a "grown-up" experience.

It's no secret that many companies would like to rope in young customers so that they turn into loyal grown-up customers, although some consumers see that strategy as nothing short of diabolical. For Starbucks, offering the appropriate options for the youth market is a wise idea, since alienating families and teens just won't do. But it's comforting that Starbucks seems cognizant of the fact that it has to accomplish this very, very carefully.

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Alyce Lomax owns shares of Starbucks. The Fool's disclosure policy is anything but kid stuff.