Indicators of Child, Family, and Community Connections, Companion Volume of Related Papers. IV. Recommendations

08/01/2004

Promising measures adaptable for large scale surveys. Items used in qualitative and small-scale studies might serve as a good starting point when developing new items for large scale studies. In this section, we identify promising measures and constructs; the items we recommend are listed in Appendix A.

Capturing interactions between family members while engaged in activities, not just the activities themselves, is key to understanding the importance of the use of family time. Observational research on family interactions will be key to developing these measures in the future. An example mentioned above is that observations of parents and children watching television together reveal that important socialization activities can occur in this time. While observational measures are not adaptable to large-scale surveys, per se, we do offer suggested items that have been used in an international survey that can be fielded immediately in surveys on families to capture some of the content of social and cultural communication around activities and topics (see Appendix A, Communication and interactions during activities). Some of these items have been found to be related to higher levels of literacy among youth in the U.S. and other OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries (Guzman, Hampden-Thompson, and Lippman, 2003).

Numerous studies indicate that children who eat meals with their parents regularly fare better, and thus such a measure is worth repeating in surveys (S. Hofferth & Sandberg, 2001). While information is available about the frequency and regularity with which families eat meals together, less is known about what goes on during family meals. Qualitative studies by Blum-Kulka (1994) indicate that the activities and content of conversations that take place at the dinner table vary by class. It is important not to restrict survey items to dinner because of variations if families' availability depending on work schedules. The items we recommend fielding then, ask about the frequency of eating any meal together, not just dinner, and about whether that time is used by families to find out what and how other family members are doing (see Appendix A Family routines and rituals).

Given the recent emphasis on the "squeeze" of family time, we also suggest adapting such a measure to on-the-go activities. Hofferth and Sandberg (2001a) indicate that parents often bring their children shopping with them. For busy or cash-strapped parents, this may provide an opportunity to spend time together while at the same stocking the cupboards. Traveling together in the car to get to school and work is another opportunity for such interaction. We therefore suggest adding an item to existing measures of commuting time to explore how families are using this time (see Appendix A: Family routines and rituals).

In addition to regular routines and communication, time to relax together as a family is important for family well-being. Research on stepfamilies (Braithwaite, Olson, Golish, Soukup, &Turman, 2001) suggests that taking family vacations is an important symbolic step in forging family identity for newly formed families. Identifying whether families spend weekends and vacations together is largely uncaptured in existing large-scale surveys, but can be found in a small-scale survey (Fiese and Kline, 1991), which we recommend (see Appendix A, Family routines and rituals).

Given that family identity appears to be created through shared family time, history and events, and meaning is created through family celebrations, fielding measures that capture cultural traditions, annual celebrations, the presence of family stories, the retelling of family events and the recording of family history may also be worthwhile (see Appendix A, Family routines and rituals).

Conclusions

In this paper we have provided an overview of existing measures of family time use, as well as suggestions for new measures. Given the importance of family time for the well-being of families and their individual members, and evidence that new threats to family time are emerging, the development and implementation of family time measures in large-scale surveys will yield a deeper understanding of contemporary families and how they adapt to their social context.

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