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Last modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013

IU Health and Vitality: Back-to-school issue

Research and insights from Indiana University

Aug. 8, 2013

The back-to-school issue of IU Health & Vitality discusses the following topics:

Foreclosure, housing instability can affect students
Push for more guns on campus can lead to serious problems
A training ground: volunteering and part-time jobs
LGBT students can face significant challenges in college
Are you addicted to your cell phone?
Study shows elementary and middle schools can get students moving, not just thinking

Foreclosure, housing instability can affect students

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- U.S. housing markets may be emerging from the foreclosure crisis, but for many children, problems caused by the slide in home values haven't ended. Foreclosure can have a lasting impact on children's academic performance, says Ashlyn Aiko Nelson, an associate professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU Bloomington.

"We know that, if a family is foreclosed, it can involve a huge amount of stress in the home," she said. "And the sort of financial stress that would precipitate a foreclosure would contribute to adverse outcomes for children, for their health and emotional well-being as well as academic outcomes."

Nelson has conducted research on the relationship between housing instability and academic performance in schools in California and Florida. She said studies confirm that foreclosure can be tough on children -- not only because of psychological stress but because of the disruption of moving from one school to another. But the effects aren't always as straightforward as one might expect.

One study found that children whose families experienced foreclosure had worse test scores in math in subsequent years. However, the effect held only if the foreclosure was for owner-occupied homes, not rental homes, suggesting family stress may have been the problem, not the fact of foreclosure. Nelson said some states adopted rules that required leases to be honored when homes were foreclosed and sold at auction, lessening disruption for children.

Paradoxically, government policies intended to protect homeowners from foreclosure may have had a negative impact on children. In some cases, the rules had the effect of drawing out the foreclosure process, extending the time that children were unsure where they would be living.

For some families, reduction in home values caused a "lock-in effect" -- they could keep making mortgage payments but, because their home was worth less than they owed the bank, they couldn't think about selling and moving. In this scenario, children's mobility from one school to another was reduced, which was actually good for academic performance.

Nelson said the growing popularity of "school choice" may have lessened the negative impact of foreclosure. Some schools and districts have adopted open-enrollment policies, potentially allowing students to remain at the same school when their family relocates. In some locales, children can attend charter schools where enrollment doesn't depend on where the family lives.

Nelson can be reached at 812-855-5971 or For assistance, contact Steve Hinnefeld at 812-856-3488 or or Jim Hanchett at 812-856-5490 or Top

Push for more guns on campus can lead to serious problems

Paul Helmke

Paul Helmke

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The tragic shootings in Newtown, Conn., in December, along with memories of Columbine in 1999 and Virginia Tech in 2007, ensure that safety will be a primary concern as students return to school. Some advocates argue that college students should have the right to carry firearms on campus for self-protection. Six states -- Colorado, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin -- now require public universities to allow guns on campus.

Paul Helmke, professor of practice at the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University Bloomington, says such efforts ignore the fact that college campuses are safer than non-campus venues and that pushing more guns into the school setting can lead to serious problems.

"State permits allowing the 'concealed carry' of firearms are no guarantee that the individual understands the risks and responsibilities of gun ownership or is even an individual who has not been of concern to law enforcement," Helmke said, noting that, in the U.S., 18-year-olds are generally considered adults and are allowed to possess firearms.

"At the same time, college students are traditionally more prone to binge drinking and illegal drug use and to suicide than others," he said. "One wonders, also, what the prospect of students and faculty with guns would do to academic freedom, debate over controversial issues, the pressures of test-taking and grading, and student discipline.

"Combine all this with the increased likelihood of theft from a dorm room, student locker or backpack, and the potential for accidents in handling or transporting a firearm in a crowded college setting, and it is obvious why almost all universities ban guns on their campuses."

Helmke is former president and CEO of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and served three terms as mayor of Fort Wayne, Ind. He can be reached at 812-855-2275 or For assistance, contact Jim Hanchett at 812-856-5490 or Top

A training ground: volunteering and part-time jobs

Bernardo Carducci

Bernardo Carducci

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NEW ALBANY, Ind. -- Part-time jobs and volunteerism can teach students a lot about life's essential social skills such as time management and teamwork, said Bernardo J. Carducci, director of the Shyness Research Institute at IU Southeast.

Most teenagers start working their first job at age 16 or 17. High school students, whose first jobs are usually in retail or fast-food, should work no more than 16 hours a week, while college students can work anywhere from 14 to 22 hours per week without harming their grades, sleep or personal life.

Carducci points out that part-time jobs and volunteerism are particularly good at a time when younger people tend to spend hours in front of the computer or on electronic devices, offsetting problems that result from a greater dependence on technology.

"These skills that we talk about -- communication, tolerance for diversity, time management and negotiation -- are fundamental human skills that transcend not just a job but all kinds of relationships," he said.

Unlike part-time jobs, volunteering can help students form a sense of identity. They also get to be more selective with how they spend their time doing something that interests them.

While jobs are good for learning how to budget money, Carducci emphasized the following reasons part-time jobs and volunteerism are beneficial:

  • Social skills. Part-time jobs and volunteer gigs create what Carducci calls a "semi-structured social situation." A set social scenario, especially in retail and food-service jobs, forces the student to talk to a wide range of people without putting too much stress on them.
  • Tolerance for diversity. Students will encounter diverse groups of people. "I think that's very important," he said. "Particularly if this is going to get you prepared to go to college where you're going to deal with all kinds of new people."
  • Teamwork. Students learn the "give-and-take of negotiation." Working with others will help students navigate future complex social situations, such as serious relationships or working with colleagues in an office after college. Organized sports allow students to competitively interact with their peers but are typically mediated by an adult. With working and volunteering, teenagers learn how to deal with interpersonal difficulties on their own.
  • Time management. Students are forced to negotiate their schedule and to understand the concept of time.

Carducci is a professor of psychology at IU Southeast and can be reached at or 812-941-2295. Top

LGBT students can face significant challenges in college -- campus resources often can help

Mary Gray

Mary Gray

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- For students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer, college can be a positive growing experience. Since college can provide a different environment than that of high school, college students should know the resources available to them to ensure a smooth adjustment to campus life and possible changes in their family life.

Mary L. Gray, associate professor at the Department of Communication and Culture in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington, wrote about young people's experiences growing up LGBT in rural areas in the United States. Her book "Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America," speaks to LGBT students who come from backgrounds where being straight is the accepted sexual orientation.

The biggest challenge that some LGBT students face is when they find themselves outgrowing their families and hometowns once they start to embrace their LGBT identity, Gray said.

Students, who may not have come out to family or friends back home, might be dating for the first time but won't necessarily have the familiar support systems back home. Families might even blame college for encouraging their kids to come or embrace these identities, she said.

"LGBT students, unlike their straight peers, may have to defend the value of college to their families and may not be able to talk about some of the biggest things going on in their lives," such as dating other LGBT-identifying people or learning about LGBT culture, Gray said. "Feeling unable to share what you're learning and experiencing at college can be a very isolating experience."

LGBT students who are financially dependent on their parents should also do their homework to make sure they have their parents' or guardians' support before coming out to them.

"They should talk with close friends, or other family members or family friends of their parents, to gauge how their parents will react if they're unsure about the coming-out process," she said. The Family Acceptance Project -- a research initiative that works to decrease major health issues for LGBT youth in the context of their families -- provides several resources for LGBT students and their families on its website.

Here's a list of online and IU resources for LGBT students:

  • The GLBT Student Support Services: Part of the Division of Student Affairs, the GLBTSSS office offers free counseling, a GLBT library, volunteer opportunities and more.
  • The Student Advocates Office at IU is made up of three teams of advocates, all IU retired faculty and administrators familiar with the university system. The advocates help students navigate through the university judicial system and assist with grade change and withdrawal requests, among other services.
  • IU Incident Teams provides support for students and university members facing discrimination based on race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, gender, disability or sexual orientation. In fall 2012, the Incident Teams and IU Mobile collaborated to create a phone app that enables users to report bias-motivated incidents from their smartphones.
  • Incoming students who want to get involved with LGBT and ally groups can join one of many student-run organizations on campus, including three Greek organizations that promote diversity.

Gray can be reached at 812-855-4379 and Top

Are you addicted to your cell phone?

Courtney Stewart

Courtney Stewart

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- With an ever-expanding range of functions and transportability, cell phones have become a staple for many American teens -- and adults. Both are susceptible to cell phone addiction. While useful, cell phones can interfere in the lives of those who feel anxious about turning them off, especially those who refuse to turn them off at all.

"Cell phones have become a necessary part of our daily lives. Still, it is important to remember when to silence or turn them off -- like during meals and while studying or on the Internet," said Courtney Stewart, research associate at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center. "Too much information can overwhelm our senses and leave us feeling depleted. So put the phone down and spend some time talking with your friends face to face or better yet, take a walk with your friends if you want to connect and get some mood-boosting exercise."

Unlike alcohol, drug and gambling addictions, cell phone addiction can be hard to define. Feelings of withdrawal if one does not have his or her phone, compulsive checking of the phone, and using it to feel good characterize cell phone addiction. Consequences can be real.

"Students and others could experience the inability to concentrate on the task at hand, be it school work, your job or an important conversation," Stewart said. "School work may suffer, deadlines are not met, and many instructors and employers now ban the use of cell phones while in class or on the job. Failure to comply with these rules can result in declining grades, removal from the classroom and losing your job."

Addictive cell phone behaviors can even put an individual's life at risk, Stewart said, because of distractive driving or walking. Looking down at a phone for just 5 seconds while driving at 55 mph is the same as driving the distance of a football field without eyes on the road. In 2011, about 1.3 million automobile accidents involved cell phone use. In Indiana, talking on a cell phone while driving is legal; however, texting and driving is not.

Although frequent cell phone use is not uncommon, anyone who cannot sit through a dinner or movie without checking a cell phone might need to take a step back and consider how often during a day he or she does not have a phone handy.

Reducing cell phone usage can help address compulsive cell phone habits:

  • Turn your phone off (not just silenced) while in the movie theater, or leave your phone in the car.
  • Do not bring a phone to the dinner table. Engage in meaningful conversations face to face.
  • Turn your phone off while doing homework or in a meeting.
  • Resist the urge to tweet or update a Facebook status while at work.
  • Go on a walk, whether it is with a partner, child or pet, and leave the phone at home.
  • Trade in a mobile game for a game with others in person.
  • Look up directions before getting in the car to avoid looking at a GPS while driving.
  • Never text while driving.

If the thought of doing one or more of these makes you feel anxious, or if you have ever lost a job or relationship due to your cell phone use, consider talking to a counselor about cell phone addiction.

Stewart can be reached at 812-855-5556 or The IPRC is part of IU School of Public Health-Bloomington's Department of Applied Health Science. Top

Study shows elementary and middle schools can get students moving, not just thinking

Mindy Hightower King

Mindy Hightower King

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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Despite widespread cuts to physical education classes and recess, an Indiana University study has shown that schools can play an important role in helping their students live healthier lives. Schools that implemented coordinated school health programs saw increases in students' physical activity.

"With support from teachers, administrators and parents, our schools can become healthier places," said Mindy Hightower King, evaluation manager at the Indiana Institute on Disability and Community at IU Bloomington. "Despite budget cuts and increasing emphasis on academic skills, schools are choosing to focus on improving student health, which ultimately can support improved academic performance."

The findings involved 1,100 students from eight southern Indiana elementary and middle schools. Students who attended the schools that most thoroughly implemented HEROES, a program based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's coordinated school health model, were more likely to increase their physical activity levels. HEROES is designed to enhance schoolwide wellness through changes in physical education, nutrition, health promotion efforts for school staff and family, and community involvement.

"Schools that showed higher levels of program implementation had more students increase their physical activity," King said. "In addition, vigorous physical activity, defined as activity that raises heart rate and breathing, increased more in girls than in boys. This latter finding is especially important, as past research has shown that boys of this age typically engage in more vigorous physical activity than girls."

The findings are appearing online in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Health benefits associated with regular physical activity include protection from cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and different types of cancer. Schools are being looked to as a means for addressing childhood obesity and physical activity levels because of the amount of time students spend at school during the school year. So far, however, few physical activity programs have been effective at helping students make long-term changes.

King said the schools in the study did not increase time spent at recess. She said they often implemented before- and after-school walking programs, classroom activity breaks that included physical activity, and club sports. In addition, all school physical education staff were trained in a curriculum that emphasizes movement and physical activity over sport-specific skills.

She said programs such as HEROES do not require grant funding to be fully implemented. Many helpful resources are available online.

"All it really requires are dedicated staff members to lead the effort," King said.

HEROES is implemented by schools in southern Indiana, northwestern Kentucky and southeastern Illinois, and is sponsored by the Welborn Baptist Foundation. The IIDC and the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington have been evaluating HEROES for five years.

Co-authors of the study include lead author Dong-Chul Seo, IU School of Public Health-Bloomington; Nayoung Kim, IU School of Public Health-Bloomington; Danielle Sovinski, Center on Education and Lifelong Learning; Rhonda Meade, Welborn Baptist Foundation; and Alyssa M. Lederer, Center on Education and Lifelong Learning and IU School of Public Health-Bloomington.

To speak with King, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or


The Indiana Institute on Disability and Community, Indiana's University Center for Excellence on Disabilities, works to increase community capacity in disability through academic instruction, research, dissemination and training, and technical assistance.

The Indiana Institute receives support from the IU Bloomington Office of the Vice Provost for Research, which is dedicated to supporting ongoing faculty research and creative activity, developing new multidisciplinary initiatives and maximizing the potential of faculty to accomplish path-breaking work. Top

For additional assistance on these back-to-school items, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or Follow Health & Vitality news from Indiana University on Twitter, Google Plus, Tumblr and the Health & Vitality blog.