Although sometimes tricky, working with children and teenagers can provide a lot of value to your research. But if you want to meet your legal and ethical responsibilities, preparation is key when working with this group.
Whether doing an ad hoc survey or running an insight community, getting permission from their parents should be your first step. Once you've done that, consider the following best practices when engaging this group:
- Design your survey for your audience
Most researchers know writing questions for children differ from doing it for adults, but here are some tips to remember:
- Keep it simple. Make the activity easy and the instructions clear.
- Ensure age-appropriateness. Tailor your study language, question types, and tone to adapt to a younger audience. Consider your participant's cognitive ability in your design (e.g. thumbs up/down vs. using scales).
- Avoid sensitive issues. Do not include topics such as race, religion, politics, finance, substances, or sexual activity. Acceptable topics for young people may not be appropriate for children.
- Approach incentives carefully. If you are offering an incentive, make it clear it is for the adult and not the child. In many regions, special legal rules need to be written for honorariums or sweepstakes involving youth.
- Provide advance warning to the parents
If you're running an insight community, give parents the heads up about your study a few days before launch. Your email should include information on the activity included, study topic, survey length, and any other relevant details. Sending a pre-warning email offers a number of benefits:
- Ensures the parent is expecting the study in advance
- Sets the expectation early
- Increases response rates by allowing the parent to ask the child or teen in their household if they'd like to complete the study before the fieldwork period
- Interview the parents first
Whether you're running your survey on an insight community or as an ad hoc project, ask parents and children to start the survey together. The email address to which you'll send the invitation belongs to the parent, so take this opportunity to communicate with the parent before the child takes over the survey.
Depending on your study, your first few questions can serve several purposes:
- Have parents help screen the child or the teen to make sure you are reaching the right audience
- Inform parents on the survey topic if they haven't been pre-warned
- Request confirmation the child is with them at the computer
- Ask the parent questions the child might not be able to answer, and
- Give one more opportunity for parents to opt-out
If the study is for children under 12, it's a good idea to always have the parent complete the survey with the child. For very young children, parents can complete the study with the child next to them answering the questions.
Although sometimes controversial, engaging children and young people in your research can provide important insights about their values, attitudes and behavior. With thoughtful implementation, researchers can greatly benefit from talking to this segment while respecting their privacy and wellbeing.
Have you engaged children and young people in your research? What has been your experience like?