Children and teenaged consumers are a valuable group to reach in your research, but you need to tread carefully when thinking about how to engage them. A good starting point for dealing with the legal, ethical and methodological quandaries of doing research with this group is to put yourself in the parents' shoes: above all, they're concerned about the mental and emotional wellbeing of their children.
That's exactly why online quantitative research with children requires getting permission from their parents or legal guardians.
Here are 3 things you should consider when getting parental permission:
Know the legal and industry guidelines.
Do you need parental consent to begin with? It's critical to know the legal guidelines for the geographic area in which you want to do your research.
The rules are not always clear-cut. In fact, ESOMAR (European Society for Opinion and Marketing Research), a world association for researchers, recognizes that there is no common international definition of a "child" or "young person." If your area has no clear rules, your best bet is to follow ESOMAR's guidelines:
- The researcher must conform to any relevant definitions incorporated in any National Code of Conduct Practice and/or in national legislation.
- Where no such specific national definitions exist, a "child" is to be defined as "under the age of 14", and a "young person" as "aged 14-17".
If the people you're trying to reach are considered children, make sure you have parental consent before proceeding. When engaging young people based on the definitions above, check applicable national or ESOMAR guidelines to see if you need the parents' approval.
Pre-screen parents for ad hoc studies.
To reach children in your survey, you need to go through the parents or guardians first. Be proactive and avoid interviewing adults who are not interested or even qualified by finding out if they have a child who will qualify.
If you have the ability to re-contact people, consider sending a quick screening survey in advance. Otherwise, put your screener questions at the beginning of your survey.
To pre-screen, ask people if they have children. If they do, go ahead and ask if they would be willing to let their children participate in your survey.
If you need to ask parents for the children's age:
a. Avoid asking for children's month and day of birth. This information is not critical and is often viewed as invasive.
b. If you can profile children's ages based on year of birth, you have dynamic data, which means it won't become outdated over time (unlike collecting actual age).
Pre-profile parents in your insight community.
If you have an insight community, you might want to take a different approach to asking for permission from parents. It's not unusual to profile members based on household composition; however, if you can, take an extra step in your profiling questionnaire and ask when their children were born and if they would be willing to let their children participate in future surveys.
Communicating with parents is essential if you want to talk to children and young people. Be thoughtful about the way you get parental consent to improve your chance of reaching this important segment of the market.