Research news you can use
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Creator: Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida
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Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences

Research News You Can Use

Note from Nayda
Welcome to the Summer 2005 issue of the Department of Family,
Youth and Community Sciences research newsletter: Research
News You Can Use. This helpful series shares up-to-date, reliable
research in Family, Youth and Community Sciences with you for
use in your programs.
Your input and suggestions make this newsletter better. Please let
us know what you think.
Thank you to all faculty members who contributed this issue:
Rose Barnett Lisa Guion

Linda Bobroff Suzanna Smith

Elizabeth Bolton To Turner

Mark Brennan Carolyn Wilken

Kate Fogarty

Dr. Nayda I. Torres Professor and Chair, Department of Family,
Youth and Community Sciences, nitorres@ifas.ufl.edu

The Capital Accumulation Ratio as an
Indicator of Retirement Adequacy
Living longer and retiring earlier has become a dream and in some
cases a reality for many Americans. With the Employee Benefit
Research Institute's projection of a $45 billion shortfall in funds
needed to cover basic expenses of retirees by 2030, people are
looking for a method to determine the adequacy of retirement
funds. The authors of this study sought such a predictor. An
earlier researcher (DeVaney, S.A. 1995) suggested that if a family
held 25% of net worth in investment assets, this was a good

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indicator of being adequately prepared for retirement. There was a
consensus of financial educators and planners that this percent
should be a minimum of 50% of assets in investments. The
thinking was that investment assets would perform well enough to
out pace inflation.

1,625 households were selected from the 1998 Survey of Consumer
Finances for the sample. The sample included only families who
had a target retirement date, families with earned income, families
with income above the poverty threshold, and a head of household
age 35 to 70. The authors wanted to find out if a capital
accumulation ratio would be a good indicator of adequate
retirement funds. If a household at retirement age had resources
equal to or greater than retirement needs, it was considered to have
adequate retirement resources.

Using the ratio of 25% of net worth in investment assets 73 percent
of the sample appeared to be adequately prepared for retirement.
Using the 50% ratio 54% of the sample appeared to be prepared for
retirement. However further analysis of adding the variable of
meeting the guidelines to the logit model for retirement adequacy
analysis give a different result. The 25% guideline does not appear
to be a good indicator of adequate resources for retirement; despite
this the 25% guideline was a better predictor than the 50%
guideline. The bottom line is that a "rule of thumb" for predicting
adequacy of retirement assets is probably not appropriate. More
appropriate would be encouraging consumers to use online
retirement adequacy calculations.

Implications for Extension Programming
Given the critical nature of retirement planning, conducting
programs that will help clients determine how much money
should be saved for retirement and where that money should be
invested would be a starting place. There are a number of
publications and computer programs that can help.
Homeownership, a pension plan and Social Security are important
as a base of retirement planning. But there are no simple and
accurate ways to calculate retirement adequacy.
Submitted by: Jo Turner, Ph.D., CFP, Professor, Family and
Consumer Economics, JTurner@ifas.ufl.edu


Reatd esure

Community-University Partnerships: Linking
Research and Action
Savan, Beth. "Community-university partnerships: Linking
research and action for sustainable community development."
Community Development Journal 39(4): October 2004, pp. 372-384.

Research Overview
Community-based research, which usually links university
students and faculty with community groups in applied research
projects, is gaining recognition as an effective mechanism for
community-directed research and development. These
partnerships can serve a variety of research, policy, educational
and action goals. The nature of the outcomes also depends on the
intensity, duration and quality of the partnership. Three types of
partnership are described. Recommendations are made to
encourage and sustain community -university partnerships.

Community-based research has been gaining recognition and
credibility over the past two decades. There is a growing literature,
examining methodology, documenting research successes and
discussing the history and philosophical underpinnings of this
more publicly engaged form of investigation. Community-based
research represents a range of activities, variously identified in the
literature as Participatory Action Research, Action Research,
Service Learning, and Science Shops. This paper examines the
question: what benefits and institutional characteristics define
community-based research projects operating over different time
frames, and how does this affect partnership relationships?

Implications of the Research
Three general types of community-university partnerships are
identified: consultative, contractual and collaborative. Based on
the research, it is clear that all three outcomes of research, policy
and action are most likely to be achieved by longer-term
collaborative projects, which also tend to involve students at
different stages throughout their university education.
Collaborative projects also provide the greatest and most diverse
benefits to the community. They enhance the capacity of


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community groups to engage in long-term advocacy on particular
issues and to redefine issues in their own terms.

Both short- and medium-term community-based research projects
are enhanced by ongoing university-community partnerships.
These long-term collaborations foster the trust and shared values
critical to successful work involving partners based in widely
differing institutional settings. Partnerships enduring over a period
of many years provide a stable context for both short consultative
and medium-term contractual community-based research projects.
The long-term collaborative partnerships permit a secure base for
the exploration of mutually important and interesting research

Community based research can be an efficient and effective
mechanism for community directed research and development,
combining faculty research expertise with student energy and
enthusiasm and community experience of local needs and
knowledge gaps. Significant benefits can accrue to all parties,
providing that the institutional supports exist to recognize and
foster university -community partnerships. Generally, the longer
the project, the more tightly linked the partners and the more
involved both (or all) partners are in all stages of the research

Submitted By: Dr Mark Brennan, Assistant Professor,
Community Development MABrennan@ifas.ufl.edu

Effects of Volunteering on the Physical and
Mental Health of Older People

Lum, T. & Lightfoot, E. (2005). The effects of volunteering on the
physical and mental health of older people. Research on Aging, 27(1),

Volunteering by older people has long been recognized as an
important factor of successful aging. The work of volunteers
significantly contributes to economic and social components of
American life. The act of volunteering provides numerous benefits
to the volunteers themselves, particularly older adults. The U.S.
Census (2002) show that nearly 42% of people aged 65-74 and 39%

of people 75 years and older volunteered during the previous year.
Census data shows that volunteering increases with age through
middle adulthood reaching a peak in the late 60 and then tapering
off. The typical older volunteer is native born with higher levels of
education and income.

This research project used a national data set (Asset and Health
Dynamics Among the Oldest Old Study-AHEAD)to confirm the
results of earlier findings regarding the benefits of volunteering to
older Americans.

The results of this study and others suggest that volunteering by
older (over 65) adults:

Increases or Improves Reduces
Mental health Risk of disability
Physical health Rate of mortality
Social network Depression
Power and prestige
Increased functional ability in later life
Life satisfaction
Self reported physical health

This study found that performing more than 100 hours of
volunteer work per year had a significant and preventative effect
against poor health but that volunteering more than 100 hours did
not have the same protective factor suggesting that older adults
benefit from volunteering, but in a limited number of hours. In
fact, research suggests that volunteering as little as 3 hours per
month is related to better health.

Two propositions of role theory were used to explain the value of
volunteering; particularly role enhancement and role conflict. Role
enhancement occurs when individuals take on productive roles in
which they assume a productive role such as volunteering, taking
care of children or caregiving. Volunteering provides an
opportunity to experience a sense of importance (power) and
prestige, higher self-esteem, and exposes the older adult to a larger
social network. The increased social network offers friends and

acquaintances that can become resources to provide support when
needed or links to other opportunities or people of interest. Such
involvement with others leads to increased life satisfaction and
reduced depression.

Role conflict results when individuals become involved in multiple
and often competing positions. Older adults who volunteer too
many hours or in too many situations risk anxiety and depression
as they try to find a balance between competing demands-which
may also include family responsibilities or expectations, and their
own energy levels.

Clearly, volunteering is a positive opportunity for older adults.
Older adults who volunteer are healthier, happier, and more
satisfied with their lives and their contributions to the world in
which they live.

Implications for Extension
Extension programs across the board rely on volunteers for a wide-
range of support. Older volunteers contribute to our extension
programs in myriad ways-for example, they identify local needs,
make phone calls, present lessons, and advocate for extension with
policy makers. Recruiting and retaining volunteers is both art and
science. Florida Cooperative Extension offers volunteer
development training for county educators during new agent
orientation and through on-going in-services and educational
support (i.e. EDIS publications).

Given Florida's wealth of older-adults this volunteer resource is
ready, available, and plentiful. You've seen how your volunteers
sometimes come in "looking and acting tired" but leave feeling
"refreshed and rejuvenated." When you are recruiting volunteers,
count on your older adults-and let them know that the role of
volunteer is good for them too!

Submitted by: Carolyn S. Wilken, Ph.D., M.P.H., Extension
Specialist, Gerontology, CSWilken@ifas.ufl.edu

Related EDIS

Related Resources

Communicating with Your Teenager about
Staying Out of Trouble in the Summer

Summer is a time when teenagers are especially a challenge to
manage. School is out; parents are at work, school-based clubs and
organizations do not meet, and there are fewer opportunities to
find jobs due to age or transportation restrictions. For many teens,
this adds up to a long, hot summer in Florida with nothing to do
except spend time with their friends.

A recent study conducted in Palm Beach County examined crimes
committed by juveniles processed through Youth Court (Barnett,
Mulkerrin & Jackson, 2004). By comparing arrests by month across
a three-year span (2000-2003), it was found that arrests were the
least frequent during the months of fall when school is first in
session. They began to rise after the beginning of the calendar year,
particularly in the spring. The most recent year in the analysis
found sharp increases in teen first or second arrest rates over years'
past from March to May. Summer months increased as well,
although not as sharply, between June and September, when
compared to years prior. In fact, first arrest rates in June for the
most recent year are about one and a half times what they were the
year prior.

These rising summer rates are enlightening for youth workers,
parents and extension agents. We must strive to keep youth
focused on positive daily activities and deter them from getting
into trouble. By offsetting certain risks, we can help our youth
make decisions that avoid mischievous or criminal activity. It is
important for parents and youth workers to think about what these
arrest trends tell us. These early offenses can be avoided if we help
them know the risks in which they place themselves. Teens need to
be made aware of the following:

1. Summer is a time for them to make good choices. This can
include the pursuit of hobbies, sports or volunteer activities
that they do not have the time to explore during their school
year. Parents can help steer their teens in a positive direction
by exploring local opportunities for involvement. They may
contact their school in the spring for volunteer

opportunities, camp or recreation facilities, or local
organizations, such as area hospitals, humane societies, or
non-profits that may welcome youth helpers.

2. Summer is a time that places them at higher risk for getting
into trouble. Parents can talk to their teens about these first
crime trends early in summer to make their teens aware of
the risks. It is a good idea to open a discussion with your
teen so they know you understand that they may sometimes
have difficulty making the right decision. It is important to
make them aware, however, that a poor decision may have
long-term serious effects. By heightening their awareness,
when a decision arises about a potentially risky behavior, it
may make them think twice before acting on it.

3. Summer is a time for family and friends. Share with your
teen how special a time it is for you and for them. They will
be approaching high school graduation in the next few
years. This will mean that jobs or college are approaching. It
is time for them to relax, spend quality time with friends
and family, and treasure the vacation time they have off
from school. This is important to stress in a positive manner,
so they realize that their time with you to help guide them is
getting shorter. They will soon need to make good decisions
on their own. By emphasizing your trust in their ability to
make good decisions, they will be more likely to live up to
your expectations.


Barnett, R.V., Mulkerrin, K.H. & Jackson, T.L. (2004). A Research-
Based Evaluation of Palm Beach County Youth Court. Gainesville,
FL: Dept. of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, IFAS,
University of Florida.

Submitted By: Rose Barnett, Ph.D,.Assistant Professor, Youth
Development and Public Policy, rvbarnett@ifas.ufl.edu


Reatd esure

Nonprofit Organizations and County
Cooperative Extension

Nonprofit organizations are a large and important part of the
economy of Florida. According a study prepared for Philanthropy
& Nonprofit Leadership Center (2002), the economic contributions
of Florida's nonprofits are considerable.

For example, the report notes that Florida's nonprofits:

Number more than 50,000
Employ directly approximately 430,000 people
Generate an additional 360,000 jobs as a result of spending
by the organizations and their employees.
Comprise the state's sixth large source of employment
among all industry sectors.
Hold assets exceeding $63 billion
Receive more than $43 billion in annual income
Generate more than $22 billion in total personal income
Generate more that $61 billion in total economic activity
Have grown faster than the state's overall economy (an
increase in expenditures of approximately 140 percent from
1988 to 1998 compared to an 87 percent increase in Florida
personal income).
Attract 88 million hours of volunteer time, equal to the work
of more than 42,000 full-time employees. (p. 3)
Government officials, community organizers and the public
are beginning to recognize the potential of nonprofits as
agencies that can provide services not otherwise provided.

In this society there are three avenues for providing for people's

The individual through his/her initiative and enterprise
works to support himself and his family.

The government provides for those services, which are too
large for an individual to support such as roads, police
protection, law enforcement, water quality and many more.

*The nonprofit sector is the other means by which people's
needs are met that do not fall into either of the two
categories. Government cannot provide for every unmet
need because the tax base is never large enough for every
worthy cause and program.

In addition to providing for unmet needs, Salamon, (1999) notes
that nonprofits provide: "collective goods that only a portion of the
community wishes to support" (p. 16). This means that support for
a nonprofit's mission is not mandatory but depends on the wishes
of the individual or organization giving the funding, volunteer
service or tangible products.

County Cooperative Extension faculty is in a unique position to
multiply their outreach and resources by partnering and
collaborating with local and regional nonprofits. Nonprofits
represent a target audience of organizations with common
educational needs and interests. Of the 50,000 nonprofits in
Florida, every type of enterprise is included cutting across a broad
spectrum of social issues, environmental concerns and target
audiences ranging from child welfare advocacy to health care for
animals and many more. Each year county extension faculty
works with these organizations in delivering educational programs
to clients and communities. These organizational contacts are
important for a number of reasons.

Contact with one individual establishes a link for potential
dissemination of information to other individuals either
directly or through third party contacts.

Opportunities for programming partnerships may emerge
so that Extension may have one or more collaborators in
program delivery or evaluation.

Issues and needs are identified by these organizations that
may be met through extension programming.

These organizations may bring resources to the
collaborative effort that strengthens Extension's role and
multiplies each organization's contribution.

PIu licatl i

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The board members of the nonprofit may be good advisory
members for Extension.

Philanthropy & Nonprofit Leadership Center. (April 2002).
Economic contribution of Florida nonprofit organizations: A
resource for the public good. Winter Park, Florida: Rollins

Salamon, L.M. (1999). America's nonprofit sector: A primer.
Second edition. New York: The Foundation Center.

Submitted By: Elizabeth B. Bolton, Ph.D., Professor of
Community Development, ebbolton@ifas.ufl.edu

A User-Friendly Approach to Program
Evaluation and Effective Community
Intervention for Families at Risk of
By Elizabeth A. Mulroy and Helenann Lauber
In Social work / Volume 49, Number 4 / October 2004, p. 573 586

Neighborhood Characteristics
The mission of Parents and Children Together (PACT) non-profit
organization is to promote and support healthy individuals,
families, and communities by creating opportunities for them to
identify and address their own strengths, needs, and concerns and
to realize their potential. The PACT and its programs are located
on-site at Kuhio Park Terrace (KPT) public housing project in
urban Honolulu, Hawaii, a development of about 2,500 very low-
income people, largely immigrants. The demographic profile of
residents was similar to other public housing project in large cities:
94 percent were people of color; 68 percent of families were headed
by single parents; 80 percent received public assistance; and the
average annual family income was $11,412 in a city where the
median income family of four was $60,400.

The neighborhood had an unemployment rate of 11.5 percent,

whereas the state experienced a 5.7 percent unemployment rate as
the national rate dipped to 4.1 percent.

Program Goals
The goal of the demonstration grant program focused on for this
evaluation study was to help prevent homelessness among at-risk,
very low-income families living in a large public housing
development. More specifically, the program's target population
was very low-income families, residing in KTP, who were at risk of
being evicted.

The conceptual definition of preventing homelessness meant
helping those at risk of homelessness stabilize their tenancy by
remaining in the public housing complex in good standing or
moving out of KPT in good standing to another apartment if that
was their choice.

Potential program participants were believed to have multiple
barriers to personal and material independence. They were less
likely to move out of public housing in good standing or off TANF
roles and into wage working than people with fewer barriers who
were more easily served by traditional job training programs.

By the end of the three-year period, the center expected a majority
of participants to have stable housing and move towards a job, and
for the entire public housing community to experience an increase
in civic pride and in resident participation. Staff included
professionally trained managers and local community workers
familiar with the multiple cultures and languages represented by
resident groups.

Program Components
The program planners and evaluators developed a detailed logic
model that guided program development, implementation and
evaluation. Several program components were developed to
achieve the overall program goals and objectives. These program
components were set against a timeline. The program components
are multi-faceted and attack the problem of risk of homelessness
from different angles. They include:

Worker Development: Job Readiness Training and Job Skills

Educational/Life Skills: Learning Center, Computer Classes,
Lending Library, Budgeting Classes, /Nutrition Classes,
Literacy Programs, and Volunteer Training.
Family Strengthening: Parenting Classes, Parent/Child
Activities, Wellness Workshops, Emergency Rent, Food,
Transportation, Furniture, Crisis Counseling,
Information/Referral, and Advocacy.
Community Improvement: School-linked Programs,
Community Celebrations, Recreational Activities,
Community Liaison Council, Volunteer Coordination,
Enhanced Partnership with Community-based Groups, and
Community Newsletter.

An action research approach was used because it was consistent
with the evaluator's approach to knowledge building; afforded
site-level analysis for an in-depth examination of the social context;
was compatible with staff's interest in participation; and facilitated
the use of multiple methods that best fit the research question and
the complexity of the context with the resources available.
Data were gathered from multiple and diverse sources: review of
the center's case files, archival records, program documents, focus
groups, interviews, participant observation, and a "physical
artifact" timeline.

Multiple methods of data collection and data analysis were used.
Focus group data and the Resident Participation Time Line (RPTL)
were analyzed using traditional focus group methods. Quantitative
methods were used to analyze tenant housing histories, rent
payment, schedules, and evictions.

The evaluation reported in this article occurs during the second
year of the three-year demonstration project. For the purposes of
this newsletter article, the focus will be exclusively on outcomes
related to the work development component. Readers can refer to
the actual journal article for information on the other outcomes that
were evaluated. Those outcomes primarily relate to the results of
intensive two-year case studies of three program participants.
The study sample for the workforce development component
consisted of 24 of 31 clients of the PACT family center who

completed job readiness and job skills workshops. The reported
outcomes are as follows:
By the end of the second year of the program sixteen heads of
household (67 percent) were engaged in some form of
employment: seven (29 percent) had full-time employment in on
job; five (21 percent) were employed in multiple jobs working both
full-time and part-time; three (13 percent) were engaged in part-
time work; one (4 percent) worked part-time while also attending
community college and volunteering. Of those not yet working,
five (21 percent) were engaged in volunteering; 2 (8 percent) were
enrolled in community college and volunteering, and one (4
percent) was in late-term pregnancy and out of the labor market.

Application to Extension
This article served to re-emphasize some important issues in
program planning and evaluation. First, programs should have
adequate dosage of the treatment (education). A series of
workshops were held to teach job readiness and job skills, not just
one-shot sessions. For programs working with very at-risk
audiences, the programs should be comprehensive as well. In this
project, as evidenced by the program components, the program
looked holistically to incorporate other features such as community
development and family strengthening. Traditionally, programs
focusing on reduction of homelessness focus on work development
and/or housing security issues solely. Also, to help residents reach
their goals, practitioners formed partnerships with other agencies
to meet other pressing/basic needs the participants had.

Second, it is important to set realistic objectives that take into
account the target audience. In this study, the audience was very
low-income individuals at-risk of being evicted from public
housing. Thus, there are many barriers they may face as well as
many factors that may contribute to their current situation.
Likewise, there should be multiple measures of success that have
broad range. This study did not just focus on whether they had a
full-time job at the end of the two year period, but also looked to
other measures such as volunteering, taking classes, etc. Even part-
time work was broken down into steady, ongoing work, or
occasional, less consistent work. There may be some unintended
outcomes also. So, a case study, as used in this study, with one or
two of the participants may be warranted to really intimately


examine changes that occur in the lives of those participants due to
their program participation.

Finally, this article also highlighted the importance of logic
modeling in both program planning and evaluation. Community-
based programs can increase their effectiveness by creating a
program model based on sound logic, then critically examining
and improving work processes and products systematically. Logic
modeling offers promise as an analytic framework to help
practitioners and evaluators develop baselines, move toward better
outcomes, and monitor program management.

Submitted by: Lisa A. Guion, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Program
Planning and Evaluation, laguion@ifas.ufl.edu

Portion Sizes and Risk for Overweight and
For the first time in the history of the U.S., the majority of
Americans (55%) are overweight and nearly one in three
Americans is obese (USDHHS 2005). Increasing incidence of
overweight is an issue for men and women, among all age groups,
and in all racial and ethnic groups. Along with the psychological
challenges of being a large individual in a society that places great
value on slimness, there are numerous health consequences
associated with obesity, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension,
dyslipidemia, cardiovascular disease, stroke, certain kinds of
cancer, gallbladder disease, and osteoarthritis (USDHHS 2005).

Overweight and obesity have complex etiologies that include
genetic factors as well as an array of environmental influences.
Poston and Foreyt (1999) present an interesting discussion about
the role of environment in the obesity "epidemic" in industrialized
counties. They suggest that in most of our history as human beings,
it has been a favorable genetic trait to be able to store excess
calories easily as body fat, which then could be used during times
of famine. Clearly, in our society, in which for most people food is
plentiful all of the time, this genetic trait is a disadvantage. Since
we cannot change our genes, we are obliged to change our
environments in ways that promote healthful and appropriate food
intake and physical activity. One environmental factor that has

been the subject of considerable research efforts in recent years,
and the focus of public attention, is the portion sizes of food
consumed in this country.

Trends in Energy Intake in the U.S.
There is substantial evidence from national food consumption
surveys and food disappearance data that the amount of total
energy intake of Americans has increased over the past several
decades. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported
changes in calorie intake from 1971 to 2000 (CDC 2004). U.S.
women increased their daily calorie consumption by 22 percent
between 1971 and 2000, from 1,542 calories per day to 1,877 calories
per day. During the same period, the calorie intake for men
increased by 7 percent from 2,450 calories per day to 2,618 calories
per day. With no change in physical activity, this increase in
energy intake can result in a weight gain over one year of 35
pounds for women and 18 pounds for men.

Looking at beverage intake from 1977 to 1978 and 1999 to 2001,
researchers found that both the number of servings and the portion
sizes of sweetened beverages-major sources of "empty" calories in
the American diet-have increased in all age groups, from ages 2 to
18 years to those 60 years and older. Energy intake from sweetened
beverages increased 135 percent during this period, from 3.9
percent to 9.2 percent of energy intake. At the same time, energy
intake from milk decreased 38 percent (from 8 percent to 5 percent
of calories) (Nielsen 2004). These changes were associated with a
278-calorie increase, theoretically producing a 29-pound weight
gain in one year. Cutting down on sweetened beverage
consumption and replacing it with water and/or diet soft drinks
would seem to be an easy way to reduce excess caloric intake in
both children and adults.

Changing Portion Sizes
Food portions in the marketplace and in the home have increased
during the past 20 years. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood
Institute (NHLBI) compared the size and caloric values of a
number of commonly eaten foods and the amount of physical
activity needed to burn the extra calories in the later version of
each food (NHLBI):

Calories Activity Needed
Calories in
in to Burn Excess
Portion Size
Food Portion Kcal
Size of
20 years ago Today
Rake leaves 50
Bagel 140 350
Lift weights 90
Cheeseburger 333 590
Houseclean 2
Spaghetti and
meatballs 500 1,025 hours & 35
Walk leisurely 70
French fries 210 610 Walk leisurely 70
Work in garden
Soda 85 250
35 minutes
Ride bicycle 85
Turkey sandwich 320 820

Muffin 210 500 Vacuum 90
Play golf
(walking and
Pepperoni pizza 500 950 (walking an
carrying clubs) 1
n 20 6 Water aerobics 75
Popcorn 270 630

Cheesecake 260 640 Play tennis 55

Surprisingly, Americans appear to be unaware that portion sizes
have increased over the years. In a USDA study, 62 percent of
respondents said that portion sizes in restaurants were about the
same or even smaller than they were 10 years earlier, and 80
percent said that the portions eaten at home were also about the
same or smaller (Medical College of Wisconsin 2003). This
phenomenon has been termed "portion distortion." People
perceive large portion sizes as "normal" or "typical" and do not
realize that they are far greater than portion sizes used to be.
Increasing awareness of portion size is an important goal for
nutrition education.

Portion Size and Food Intake
It is one thing to be served larger portions, but another to choose to
eat what is served. What influence does portion size have on food
actually eaten at a meal or snack? There is evidence in the literature
that, even in young children, larger portion sizes result in
increased caloric intake.

McConahy et al., (2004) evaluated data from the Continuing
Survey of Food Intake by Individuals (CSFII) 1994 to 1996 and
1998, to determine the effect of food intake behaviors, including
portion size, on daily energy (kcal) intake in a nationally
representative sample of 5,447 preschool-aged children. Energy
intake and body weight were both positively correlated with
number of eating occasions, number of foods consumed, and
portion size. Portion size accounted for the greatest amount of the
variance in energy intake in the preschoolers. In other words, those
preschoolers who were served the largest portions ate the most.
The most common foods consumed by both 2 to 3 year-olds and 4
to 5 year-olds were: milk (91 percent and 93 percent, respectively),
bread (81 percent and 86 percent), soft drinks (72 percent and 79
percent), cereal (71 percent and 72 percent), juice (47 percent and 41
percent), cookie (42 percent and 46 percent), French fries (32
percent and 33 percent), banana (30 percent and 25 percent),
peanut butter (28 percent in each group), and macaroni and cheese
(28 percent and 19 percent) (McConahy 2004).

In another study, researchers looked at the relationship between
portion sizes and body mass index (BMI) in young people. They
examined food intake of 4,408 children and adolescents as reported
in the 1994 to 1996 and 1998 CSFII. Excluding "implausible" energy
intake responses resulted in a sample of 1,995 children and
adolescents (1,005 boys and 990 girls). Average portion size was
positively correlated with BMI percentile in boys 6 to 11 years of
age and in boys and girls 12 to 19 years of age (Huang 2004).

Students at Cornell University participated in a study that
examined their food intake when served a meal of four foods at
portion sizes of 100 percent, 125 percent, or 150 percent of the
amount of food that the students had consumed at a buffet the
previous week. When served the larger portions, the students ate

more of each food, and their total caloric intake exceeded the
amount they consumed when previously allowed free access to the
food on the buffet. This study suggests that portion sizes can
influence energy intake at a meal (Levitsky 2004).

Rolls and colleagues determined that portion size significantly
influenced the amount of food eaten by both male and female
college students at a lunch meal (Rolls 2004). The 75 students were
given each of four sizes of a deli-style sandwich (6, 8, 10, or 12
inches) once a week for four weeks, and told to consume as much
or as little of the sandwich and water as they wanted. They were
instructed to eat the entire amount of salted potato chips and a 5-
gram chocolate mint that were served with the sandwich; these
provided 100 kcal. The amount of the sandwich that the subjects
consumed and the total energy intake from the meal increased
significantly with the size of the sandwich. This change was more
pronounced among the males, who ate 56 percent more energy
(355 kcal) when served the 12-inch versus the 6-inch sandwich. The
females consumed 31 percent more energy (159 kcal) when given
the 12-inch sandwich, which was a significant increase.

In a seven-week study, 42 women ages 19 to 45 years were
instructed to consume one of six first-course salads in its entirety
before eating a pasta lunch. The salads varied in portion size and
energy density. The lowest energy intake occurred following
ingestion of the salad lowest in energy density. Energy intake
increased 8 percent and 17 percent for the small and large portions,
respectively, of the high-energy-dense salad. However, consuming
a large portion of the low-energy-dense salad decreased the
amount of pasta that was eaten and the overall energy intake for
the meal. The researchers suggest that eating a large portion of a
low-energy-dense food (like a green salad) at the beginning of a
meal may be a successful approach for managing food intake and
weight management (Rolls 2004).

In another study of young adult food intake, Rolls and colleagues
(2002) examined the effect of portion size on food intake at a single
meal. On four separate occasions, the subjects were given four
portions of macaroni and cheese (portion sizes were 500 grams, 625
grams, 750 grams, or 1,000 grams); each portion size was larger
than a typical intake based on clinical observations. The subjects

were divided into two groups. One group received their food on a
plate, and members of the other group were able to serve
themselves from a bowl, family style. Not surprisingly, the
researchers found that caloric intake was significantly related to
portion size. In both the plated and the bowl groups, subjects ate
about 30 percent more energy (kcal) when served the highest
versus the lowest portion of macaroni and cheese. These results
were not impacted by body mass index, gender, or high scores on
dietary restraint or disinhibition tests.

Eating away from home has been found to contribute to excess
caloric intake and is likely to be a contributor to overweight and
obesity. Diliberti and colleagues (2004) examined the effect on
energy intake at a meal of altering portion size of a cafeteria-style
restaurant pasta entr6e. The size of the entr6e varied from 248
grams (a standard portion) to 377 grams on different days, with no
change in price. Portion size significantly increased the energy
intake of the pasta by 43% (172 kcal) and of the meal by 25% (159
kcal). Customers eating both size entries rated the appropriateness
of the portion size similarly.

Super Sizing
The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (NANA 2002) has
identified "value marketing" as a significant cause of overeating in
this country. Value marketing encourages consumers to purchase
larger portion sizes for a small increase in cost, making the
customer feel that he or she has gotten a bargain. The cost to
companies of the increased portion size is very small since the
actual cost of the food is only about 20 percent of retail cost, and
therefore larger portions generate larger corporate profits.

In fast food establishments, this practice includes what is known as
"bundling." This is the practice of adding high-profit-margin side
dishes (e.g., French fries) and drinks to an entr6e. On top of that,
consumers are offered the "opportunity" to upgrade to a large or
"super" sized portion that provides more calories than almost any
consumer does actually need. So what is the cost of "value
marketing," "bundling," and "super sizing" to consumers? Since
the research shows that larger portion sizes lead to greater energy
intake, super sizing is likely contributing to overeating and
increased body weight.

Implications for Extension Programs
More and more, consumers are living in an environment that
promotes overeating. Extension educators can help people of all
ages to select appropriate portion sizes of a variety of healthful
foods for a diet that meets their nutritional needs without
exceeding their calorie requirements for a healthy weight. This is
one goal of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005 and the new
USDA Food Guidance System (MyPyramid), the two cornerstones
of federal nutrition policy (available at
http://www.cnpp.usda.gov). MyPyramid educational materials are
available on the CNPP website, and the state Extension office is
adapting some of these for Florida. We also are developing new
educational materials for adults, children, and youth that can be
used in a variety of program settings. These materials are designed
to help consumers make healthy food choices that meet nutritional
needs and promote healthy body weights.

Although the new food guidance system does not include
"servings," you can use the total quantities of food recommended
to help people select portions or helpings that spread out their
intake of foods from each food group throughout the day. With the
rise in obesity, it is important to help people recognize portion
distortion and learn to select "reasonable" portion sizes. With our
hands-on approach to nutrition education, Extension can play an
important role in helping consumers of all ages make healthy and
enjoyable food choices.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Trends in Intake of
Energy and Macronutrients, United States, 1971-2000,
Morbidity Mortality Weekly Report. 2004; 53(04):80-82.
Available at:
.htm Accessed on 2/25/05.
Diliberti N, Bordi PL, Conklin MT, Roe LS, Rolls BJ. Increased
portion size leads to increased energy intake in a restaurant
meal. Obes Res. 2004;12:562-68.
Huang TT-K, Howarth NC, Lin B-H, Roberts SB, McCrory MA.
Energy intake and meal portions: associations with BMI
percentile in U.S. children. Obes Res. 2004;12(110:1875-1885.

Levitsky DA, Youn T. The more food young adults are served, the
more they overeat. J Nutr. 2004;134:2546-2549.
McConahy KL, Smiciklas-Wright H, Mitchell DC, Picciano MF.
Portion size of common foods predicts energy intake among
preschool-aged children. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;104:975-979.
Medical College of Wisconsin. Portion size linked to weight
management. Healthlink 2003; Available at:
http://healthlink.mcw.edu/article/954384501.html Accessed on
National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity. From Wallet to
Waistline. The Hidden Costs of Super Sizing. Washington
DC: The National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity, 2002.
Available at:
http://www.preventioninstitute.org/portionsizerept.html Accessed
on 2/25/05.
NHLBI, NIH. Stay Young at Heart, Portion Distortion. Available at:
http://hin.nhlbi.nih.gov/ Accessed on 1/21/05.
Nielsen SJ, Popkin BM. Changes in beverage intake between 1977
and 2001. Am J Prev Med 2004;27(3):205-210.
Poston WSC, Foreyt JP. Obesity is an environmental issue.
Atherosclerosis 1999; 146:201-209.
Rolls BJ, Roe LS, Meengs JS. Salad and satiety: energy density and
portion size of a first-course salad affect energy intake at
lunch. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004; 104:1570-1576.
Rolls BJ, Roe LS, Meengs JS, Wall DE. Increasing the portion size of
a sandwich increases energy intake. J Am Diet Assoc. 2004;
Rolls BJ, Morris EL, Roe LS. Portion size of food affects energy
intake in normal-weight and overweight men and women.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2002:76:1207-13.

Submitted by:
Linda Bobroff, PhD, RD, LD/N, Professor and Extension
Nutrition Specialist, Bobroff@ifas.ufl.edu


Reatd esure

Starting School: Stress and Success

Starting elementary school or moving up to middle school or high
school can be stressful. These are big life transitions for children
and teens. Usually the stress is greatest during the beginning days
and weeks of the new school year. Parents are very important in
helping their children manage stress and get the new school year
off to a good start.

Making Transitions
Stress occurs when life's challenges place demands on our bodies,
minds, and relationships. Transitions are usually stressful because
they force people to change the ways they have been doing things.
When people make transitions they have to reorganize their
routines and meet new people, take on a new role and even think
differently about themselves. Children and parents make
transitions as their children move through the school years. This
report summarizes the transitions, stresses, and things parents can
do to ease transitions for children in the elementary and middle
school years.

Starting School
In recent years in the U.S., there has been a great deal of discussion
about school readiness that points to children, schools, families and
communities all playing an important role in preparing children
for school. This concept is used to describe a child's readiness to
learn and to be successful in the school environment. Debates over
the concept of readiness have pointed out that at age 5 there is
considerable diversity in children's development and previous
learning experiences. (For a review of the debates over what
defines readiness for school, see Saluja, Scott-Little, & Clifford,

According to the recent report, Getting Ready (Rhode Island KIDS
COUNT, 2005, p. 15), the consensus of a wealth of research studies
is that school readiness goes well beyond purely cognitive
measures and should be measured and addressed across the
following five distinct but connected domains:

Physical Well-Being and Motor Development

Social and Emotional Development
Approaches to Learning
Language Development
Cognition and General Knowledge

Kindergarten teachers surveyed in the U.S. "agree that physical
well-being, social development, and curiosity are very important
for kindergarten readiness. In addition, teachers want
kindergartners to be able to communicate needs, wants, and
thoughts and to be enthusiastic and curious when approaching
new activities. Teachers also place significant importance on skills
such as the ability to follow directions, not being disruptive in
class, and being sensitive to other children's feelings" (Rhode
Island KIDS COUNT, 2005, p. 15). In summary, a major part of
being ready to start school is being physically healthy, rested and
well nourished. Other important factors include children's abilities
to communicate their needs and thoughts verbally, to relate to
others, and to show curiosity and enthusiasm for learning (Dockett
& Perry, 2002).

Other studies illuminate what children and parents find most
important about starting school. Dockett and Perry (2002) found
that children in their Australian study were most concerned about
being able to follow the rules set forth by the school so that they
could function well and keep out trouble. Children were also
keenly aware of how they felt about the transition (happy, scared),
and emphasized the importance of making friends. Parents were
most concerned about a child's social adjustment-their ability to
be accepted into the group, as well as to meet their individual
needs in the school environment.

Certainly part of the transition to school involves being prepared
with basic numbers, shapes, and letters. However, a big part of the
transition is also being able to:
Interact well with others,
Follow instructions and have some degree of self control
Manage things independently like put away a backpacks,
Adjust to the classroom environment and routine away
from home.

Many children are now enrolled in preschool programs and
already know some of the rules such as how to sit in a circle, stand
in line, and listen to the teacher. They already have the experience
of being part of a group, and being away from home in a classroom
setting for at least part of the day.

However, for young children starting elementary school, the
transition to kindergarten is still a change and stress may be
brought on by:
Longer days away from parents
A more structured classroom routine
Being separated from friends

The sections on Preventing Stress and Managing Stress discuss
ways parents can help during this transition.

Moving Up to Middle School
Moving up in school to middle school is a big transition for
children (Elias, 2001). Not only are they exchanging a familiar
environment for a foreign place but many are also experiencing
other developmental changes associated with the transition to
adolescence and puberty such as changes in physical appearance
and the onset of menarche (Doswell, 2002).

Children transitioning to middle school express a kind of "fearful
excitement." They know they are on the brink of something big,
but are anxious about leaving the comforts of elementary school
(Lucey & Rey, 2000, p. 194). They will be leaving their smaller
classrooms, the family friendly atmosphere of the elementary
school, the feeling of belonging because teachers know their
students, and the closeness of friendships developed over the

The first problem middle school students often face is "finding
their way around a strange building." Middle schoolers also fear
getting lost, finding and opening lockers, and bringing the right
materials to each class. They may also have to travel longer
distances to school. In this larger environment, they must interact
with more students and teachers (National Middle School
Association, 2005) as well as eat in a larger cafeteria and "change
clothes in a crowded locker room" (Elias, 2001, p. 1). Some
students experience bullying or harassment, conflicts with

teachers, being disciplined, and thefts of their belongings (Elias,
2001). The new student is faced with the task of finding a peer
group, often among many unfamiliar faces. There are higher
expectations for academic performance and individual
responsibility (National Middle School Association, 2005).

The period of preadolescence (ages 9-11) can also be difficult
because of exposure to risky behaviors such as alcohol and drug
use; the initiation of early sexual activity and risk of STDs; and an
increase in sports related injuries. Girls are particularly vulnerable
to damage to self esteem and pressures to hurry out of childhood
to mature womanhood and conform to cultural pressures
regarding body shape, clothing, and adult behavior (Doswell, 2002;
Elias, 2001). Other children are affected by particular problems
such as a parent's divorce, financial pressures, and domestic
violence. They are adding the school transition to an already
stressful situation.

Stress and School
Although school transitions may be stressful, this stress is not
necessarily bad. Stress can be good if it motivates students to do
their best or energizes them to try new things. However, stress can
be detrimental when it overwhelms students and they feel that
they can't deal with the pressures of life (Smith & Pergola, 2003).
With too much stress, children may become anxious and fearful.
Too much stress can create problems with their physical and
mental health, their relationships with their peers, and their school
performance (DeNoon, 2002).

Parents, teachers and coaches can be on the lookout for signs of
Stomach aches
Nightmares or bad dreams
A noticeable change in behavior such as withdrawing or
being more aggressive than usual
Crying or temper tantrums
Eating disorders, drug or alcohol abuse
Keeping to oneself, spending excessive time on the Internet,
focusing on unusual interests or cultures

In addition, as time goes on and stress is unresolved, parents may
observe continued strain, lower than expected grade point average
and negative social behavior ratings or remarks by teachers
(Richardson, 2002).

Preventing Stress
Supportive parents and teachers make the transition to school
easier for children of all ages (Lucey & Reay, 2000; Schmeelk-Cone
& Zimmerman, 2002). There are certain things parents can do to
prevent stress, no matter what the child's age.

Help children prepare for the change. Children are less fearful
when they know what to expect. Many schools now help parents
and students get ready by offering open houses and meet-the-
teacher days. Go to the elementary school's day to meet the
teacher or any special programs for incoming kindergarteners.
Families of students entering middle school or high school can plan
to go to open houses in the spring and orientation programs before
the fall session begins. This helps students get acquainted with the
school's physical lay out and the teachers.

Talk about school. Help your younger children talk about the day
by asking simple questions. For teenagers, being there for them
when they are ready to talk and ask about the day to open up
conversation. It is important to be sensitive to the anxieties that go
along with these changes.

Keep normal household routines. Give children a safe,
predictable, and stable routine. Young children in particular like
routines, such as the same dinnertime, bath time and bedtime. This
helps them know what to expect of the day and evening.

Encourage your child to keep old friends and make new ones.
For middle school students, starting school with a friend makes the
change easier. Children able to make new friends perform better in
school, so help your child think of ways to meet new people.
(Lucey & Reay, 2000) Help adolescents find positive relationships
with friends with similar interests and abilities, and with whom
they feel safe and accepted (Elias, 2001).

Be positive. Help children see the upcoming changes as exciting
and fun (but accept a child's nervous feelings too). Thinking and

being positive helps children and adults deal with stress better.
Don't talk to children about your own anxieties; this will only add
to their stress. Instead, talk to a friend or partner.

Spend time together. Be extra supportive during the first week or
so of school. Do things you enjoy as a family and listen carefully to
how things are going for your child. Do something to make your
child feel special, like sending messages in a lunch box (elementary
age) or celebrating the successes of the first week of school (middle
and high school) with a special dinner or family night. The first
week and throughout the school year, schedule a regular family
meeting to get ready for the week at school and work (Ohanesian,

Help children develop organizational skills. Even at a young age
children can begin to learn organizational skills and responsibilities
that will help them throughout the school years. They can break
down projects into smaller tasks, make simple lists, and keep a

Help others. Children of all ages benefit from making
contributions to others in their community. Adolescents in
particular may thrive on being involved in things that give them a
sense of purpose and identity, such as cleaning up neighborhoods
or building affordable housing, protecting the environment,
working in soup kitchens, and teaching or coaching younger
children (Elias, 2001).

Managing Stress
Children need coping skills to deal with the stress of starting
school (NEA, 1999). Children who know how to solve problems are
better able to handle difficulties that they are bound to face when
they enter the school (NEA, 1999). Parents can help their children
think things through and learn to get help when needed. For
example, if you kindergartener has to use the restroom, does she or
he know to ask to be excused? If your middle school student is lost
on campus can she or he ask for directions, or follow a map
provided by the school?

Children also do better when they can control their emotions and
resolve conflicts with peers. These are skills that children begin
developing in the early years, usually through a parent's example

(NAE, 1999). There is some evidence that emotional intelligence is
helpful for students transitioning to middle school. They tend to
understand and manage their own feelings and the feelings of their
peers, tolerate frustration, control their impulses and stay focused
(Richardson, 2002). Students with higher levels of emotional
intelligence are able to cope and adapt more easily.

Parents can follow these suggestions for helping children manage
the stress of starting school:

Manage your own stress. Children often pick up on their
parents' anxiety and this becomes another stressor.

Stay calm. When under stress, children and parents need to try
to stay calm. Take deep breaths. Talk to yourself and say, "I
can get through this" or "It will be okay."

Teach children and teens ways to cope with challenges and
manage their own stress.

Communicate and be available. Listen to your children and
teenagers when they talk. Help them identify and express their
feelings in positive ways (Richardson, 2002). Show your love
and acceptance and avoid criticizing them (DeNoon, 2002).
Make yourself available (Arbona & Power, 2003). Like younger
children, teens need to be able to talk to their parents, often
about "heavy" issues. Parents need to show that they care, are
willing to listen, and believe in them (DeNoon, 2002).

Seek help if needed. Most children feel anxious the first day or two
of school. If these feelings continue for more than a month or two
(Elias, 2001) and the child is having nightmares, headaches or
stomachaches, wants to come home during the day, or is sad or
withdrawn, there may be more serious problems. Consult your
pediatrician or a mental health professional (Lerche Davis, 2001).

Starting school or moving up to middle school can be stressful.
This is a life transition that challenges students and their families
with many changes.

Parents need to watch out for signs of stress in their children and

do what they can ahead of time to prevent it. Parents can also help
their children to manage stress by talking things over, thinking
things through, relaxing, and helping children build a strong
network of caring friends.
For more information about stress and stress management, see the
EDIS series on Stress

Submitted by: Suzanna D. Smith Ph.D., M.S.W., CFLE, Associate
Professor of Human Development and Family Relations,

Corsaro, W.A. & Molinari, L. (2000). Priming events and Italian
children's transition from preschool to elementary school:
Representations and action. Social Psychology Quarterly, 63,
DeNoon, D. J. (2002). What's happening to our kids? WebMD
Medical News at
Accessed July 1, 2005.
Dockett, S. & Perry, B. (2002). Who's ready for what? Young
children starting school. Contemporary Issues in Early
Childhood, 3, 67-89 [Electronic version].
Dockett, S. & Perry, B. (2001). Starting school: Effective transitions.
ECRP-Early Childhood Research & Practice, 3(2). Retrieved
February 4, 2004 from
Doswell, W.M. (2002). Overview of female middle childhood in
societal context: Implications for research and practice.
Journal of Pediatric Nursing, 17, 392-406.
Elias, M. (2001). Middle school transition: It's harder than you
think. Middle Matters, Winter, 1-2. Retreived June 9, 2005
from http://www.naesp.orq/ContentLoad.do?contentId = 519
Lerche Davis, J. (2001). First day jitters. WebMD Medical News at
http://mv.webmd.com/content/article/34/1728 86960.
Accessed August 15, 2004.
Lucey, H. & Reay, D. (2000). Identities in transition: Anxiety and
excitement in the move to secondary school. Oxford Review
of Education, 26, 191-205. Saluja, G. Scott-Little, C. &
Clifford, R. M. (2000). Readiness for school: A survey of state


policies and definitions. ECRP-Early Childhood Research
and Practice, 2 (2). Retrieved June 23, 2005 from
Schmeelk-Cone, K. H., & Zimmerman, M. A. (2003). A longitudinal
analysis of stress in American youth: Predictors and
outcomes of stress trajectories. Journal of Youth and
Adolescence, 32, 419-430.
Smith, S. & Pergola, J. (2003). Stress management: Strategies for
individuals. Gainesville FL: University of Florida
IFAS/Extension Publication FCS 2077A. Accessed August 16,
2004 at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdffiles/fy/fy51500.pdf.
National Education Association (NEA) (1999). Easing the strain of
students' stress. NEA Today, 18(1), 39.
Ohanesian, D. (2002). Tuning in. Scholastic parent and child, 10 (1),
Rettig, M. & Crawford, J. (2000). Getting past the fear of going to
school. Education Digest 65, 54-58.
Rhode Island KIDS COUNT (2005, February). Getting Ready.
Providence, RI: Rhode Island KIDS COUNT. Retrieved June
23, 2005 from http://www.cettinqready.orq/
Richardson, T. L. (2002). The importance of emotional intelligence
during transition to middle school. Middle School Journal.
Retrieved June 9, 2005 from
http://www.nmsa.or2/research/res articles ian2002a.htm

Teen Dating

Adults tend to react with alarm when they hear preteens' or early
teenagers' (between the ages of 10 and 14) claims of having a
boyfriend or girlfriend. This concern is warranted. Being
romantically involved as a preteen or early adolescent negatively
affects academics (Brendgen et al., 2002), job performance, as well
as behavioral competence in late adolescence (Neemann et al.,
1995). Moreover, early romantic involvement is associated with
depression and limited educational goals (Quatman et al., 2001).
These same problems are not found, however, among late
adolescents who become romantically involved. Well-established
research in the past decade also shows a positive association
between frequency of early dating or steady dating and sexual
activity (Jones & White, 1990; Phinney et al., 1990). Recent research
points to peer and family explanations for why early dating is

linked with current and later problems. These findings will be
discussed later in this article.

It is well-noted that the interest in and desire for a romantic partner
in adolescence is part of a natural, developmental process. Early
adolescents tend to prefer the company of same-sexed peers but
increasingly explore relationships with peers of the opposite sex
(Brown, 1999). However, romantic involvement in late childhood
and early adolescence may represent an unnatural attempt to
accelerate development or, in other words, a child in a hurry to
grow up. True romantic relationships should be based on intimacy.
Erikson's theory of development is based on the idea that
adolescence is a time of identity formation. Adolescents are only
able to have meaningful, intimate relationships once they have
well-formed identities. Therefore, romantic involvement during
the formative stages of one's identity poses negative
developmental consequences. Preteens and early teens' dating
relationships are most likely characterized by pseudointimacy, in
which partners' lack of self-understanding or identity translates
into their inability to share intimacies in a relationship.

In addition to social/emotional explanations of adolescents'
romantic interests, physical or biological influences are important.
Preadolescents as early as age 8 are experiencing hormonal
changes long before the physical changes of puberty occur.
Adrenarche or a time of activation in the adrenal cortex due to
heightened levels of sex hormones may influence a preteen's first
romantic interest. Having a crush in the late elementary school and
early middle school years is perfectly natural. However, cultivating
a romantic relationship in these years, in other words, living
according to one's biological development while ignoring social
and emotional development, may explain negative outcomes of
early dating. Indeed research supports that early maturing teens
are more likely than late maturers to be involved in a romantic
relationship (Haynie, 2003). A prominent adolescent researcher
and theorist Terrie Moffitt (1993) proposed that a "maturity gap"
exists among early adolescents who notice their physical similarity
to adults is discrepant from the actual rights given them. Like other
risk behaviors in adolescence, early romantic involvement may be
an avenue to represent themselves as adults.

So when is the best time, age-wise and developmentally, to allow a
teenager to date? A known Eriksonian scholar in child and
adolescent development, David Elkind (2001), considers over 14
years as permissible for dating in his well-publicized work, The
Hurried Child. A research study of over 300 7th graders found
emotional and behavioral problems associated with having a
romantic partner, but only among early teens that were unpopular
with their same sexed peers (Brendgen et al., 2002). Does this mean
that early adolescents who are popular with their peers should be
allowed to date? Actually, no as the study also showed that having
a romantic partner during the 7th grade was associated with poorer
academic competence, regardless of their popularity with peers. To
add, there is a noted link between early maturers, particularly
females, being less popular with their same sexed peers, who are
also among those teens more likely to be dating (Haynie, 2003).

Although peers have some influence in dating, parents and
families strongly affect the outcomes of early dating. In a recent
study it was found that early adolescent females who date were
likely to have lower self-esteem when they came from families with
high parental conflict whereas dating males from similar family
backgrounds had higher self esteem than those who were not
dating. Early adolescent, dating females who experienced strict
parental authority were more likely to be depressed. Teen girls
who had warm, strong relationships with their mothers and were
not steady dating had higher grades. Surprisingly there were few
adjustment differences between early adolescent males who were
steadily dating and those who were not; in fact, those who were
dating were slightly (but not significantly) higher in self-esteem
and lower (not significantly) in depression (Doyle et al., 2003).
These findings by no means support that a "double standard"
should be used by parents, for example, allowing sons to date early
but not daughters. When the sexes are combined, results of this
study show poorer overall self-esteem and grades for early
adolescents who date versus teens who are not romantically

So the question that arises from the presentation of the research is;
what should significant adults in the lives of preteens and teens do
to discourage early dating? Here are some suggestions:

Encourage open youth-adult communication about their
romantic interests through the use of nonjudgmental, active
listening. Don't try to embarrass a youth when he or she
admits to an early crush or you find out about this crush

Provide educational opportunities about emotional, social
and biological changes in adolescence as well as open
discussion about romantic relationships. Talking about
romantic relationships in adolescence will not make teens
more likely to date. In fact, most teens are bombarded by
misleading images of relationships in the media. Dispelling
relationship myths is the best way to help teens get a more
realistic sense of what having a significant other means.

Most important, provide educational opportunities and
responsibilities that prepare youth for adulthood. When
they are focused on their vocational and academic growth,
they are less likely to focus on romantic relationships to
fulfill needs for autonomy and adulthood.
Suggestions especially for parents

Ensure that your relationship with your preteen or
adolescent is warm and loving and that there are positive
ways to handle family conflict set in place. Set firm rules
and boundaries about dating and when and why you feel
that particular age or time is appropriate. However, be
flexible and listen to your teen's viewpoint and negotiate
without giving up your parental authority. Being too strict
may lead teens to rebel, date and experience depression and
other problems.

Encourage your adolescent to attend mix-sexed group
activities without your direct supervision (however, adults
should be present) such as a movie matinee, cultural /
educational events, shopping at the mall, theme park visit,
or outdoor activity.

ADDENDUM: Facts on teens' dating: (based on a survey of 4,600
teens aged 12-17 in 2002 by a market research firm)

Over 1 in 10 teens are currently in a dating relationship that
has lasted over a year

Over half of teens report regular dating and about a third
claim to have a steady boyfriend or girlfriend

38% of females claim to have a boyfriend and 83% consider
marriage as one of their life goals*

29% of males claim they have a girlfriend and 73% consider
marriage as one of their life goals*

*The teenage male female discrepancy in having a romantic
partner could be due to a number of factors: fantasizing on
the part of females, embarrassment on the part of males, or
age discrepancies among adolescent dating partners (e.g., a
16 year-old female dating an 18 year-old male).
Submitted by: Kate Fogarty,Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Youth
Development, kfogartv@ifas.ufl.edu

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W.M. (2002). Same-sex peer relations and romantic
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Furman, B.B. Brown, & C. Feiring (Eds.), The development of
romantic relationships in adolescence. Cambridge studies in social
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Doyle, A.B., Brendgen, M., Markiewicz, D., & Jamkar, K. (2003).
Family relationships as moderators of the association
between romantic relationships and adjustment in early
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Elkind, D. (2001) The Hurried Child. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley

Fetto, J. (2003). Byline. American Demographics.

Haynie, D.L. (2003). Contexts of risk? Explaining the link between
girls' pubertal development and their delinquency
involvement. Social Forces, 82, 355-397.

Jones, D.S., & White, A.B. (1990). Correlates of sexual activity in
early adolescence. Journal of Early Adolescence, 10, 221-238.

Moffitt, T.E. (1993). Adolescence-limited and life-course persistent
antisocial behavior: A developmental taxonomy.
Psychological Review, 100, 674-701.

Neemann, J., Hubbard, J., & Masten, A.S. (1995). The changing
importance of romantic relationship involvement to
competence from late childhood to late adolescence.
Development & Psychopathology, 7, 727-750.

Phinney, V.G., Jensen, L.C., Olsen, J.A., & Cundick, B. (1990). The
relationship between early development and psychosexual
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Quatman, T., Sampson, K., Robinson, C., & Watson, C.M. (2001).
Academic, motivational, and emotional correlates of
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