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Temporality and Trajectory in Parent-Child Assessment Interactions Concerning Extra-curricular Activities

Kristine Anne Van Hamersveld


Marjorie Harness Goodwin

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 71


Extra-curricular activities constitute a major factor in the lives of children, and communication regarding them constitutes an important site for studying the socialization of values. This paper investigates the variety and complexity of assessment interactions between parents and children that focus on participation in extracurricular activities. Dividing interactions into three tiers, or spatiotemporal zones of assessment, we argue that as time elapses from the conclusion of the assessable activity, evaluations become more detailed and complex. The first tier interactions occur at the location of the activity, immediately following it, usually at the parent and child’s first reunion. These assessments are generally short unelaborated; they consistently employed a large number of formulaic statements (e.g., “good job”), and only superficially address the uniqueness of the child and his or her behavior. In the vast majority of the first tier assessments, the actual evaluation statements are curtailed, because another task needs to be accomplished; this usually entails leaving the event and traveling to the family’s next activity. In the second tier, which covers interactions that take place in transit, assessment sequences change significantly. Most importantly, the sequences tend generally to take on a didactic structure, with parent and child interacting in expert novice/novice roles with reference to specific sports. Finally, third tier assessments are by far the most creative, varied, and meaningful of the evaluative sequences in this study. While some are didactic, others involve assessment of moral behavior and point to a future trajectory in the child’s life.

Fogel (1993) has argued that an enlightened psychology must consider the context of community in a particular historical time, as well as forms of communication through which people formulate their social relations. As extra-curricular activities constitute a major factor in the lives of children, communication regarding them constitutes an important site for investigating the socialization of values. Children’s behavior in culturally constructed activities such as hockey, swim events, math practice tests, or baseball games is judged within particular historically constituted communities of practice, with their own standards of measurement. Parents’ particular evaluation of their children’s behavior provides a way of positioning the child with relation to the larger field of action created by the athletic, artistic, or intellectually challenging arena or event (which includes other competitors), as well as within the sibling and kin group. This form of evaluation occurs across different time frames, each with their own possibilities for contingent action. While the busyness of middle class life may constrain assessment activity as parents and children move from one after-school activity to a next (as plans for an upcoming event often seem to preempt on-the-spot assessment activity), car rides provide a liminal space between activities for reviewing the day’s activities and commenting upon them. Other more distant time frames allow more extensive social comparison. This paper argues that an ecologically based analysis of the temporal-spatial dimensions of human interaction best captures the range of actions that constitute a particular speech activity.

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