Researching Childhood

Researching Childhood


Any type of research involves the process of gathering information on the related subject. This process may involve not only observations, but also questioning if the subject of research relates to human behaviour, attitudes, and decision-making. Any research must be conducted under certain ethical rules, especially when it involves human beings. These rules help to avoid ethical issues that may often appear when research relates to studying human behaviour. Ethical rules are even stricter if children are involved in research. The reason for that is children can be easily manipulated or abused, any research that requires their participation must follow code of ethics that is established to protect the interests of human. In current paper, I would like to identify the main ethical issues, while undertaking research with children and discussing various ways to help develop an ethically sound research and professional practice, including childrens consent.

While research on children is supported by many professional guidelines, when it is undertaken on children with no possibility of direct benefit, it touches upon serious ethical issues. Some authors suggest that research enrolment is beneficial for a child, or that children have a moral duty or societal obligation to participate, as any other human being. However, Barry Lyons suggests that research participation by children seems most reasonable when considered as an act of solidarity; a form of identification with and provision of practical assistance to those who are less well off . The ethics of research on children have been dissected in numerous papers and books, and most texts reveal the tension that exists between societys responsibility to protect individual children on the one hand, and its obligation to ensure that children as a class receive the best treatment on the other .

There are certain legislative documents that provide research protection for children. The Nuremberg Code was the first international standard to outline what are now considered to be the basic principles governing the ethical conduct of research on humans. Among the basic principles, the Code called for were such regulations as freely given consent to participation in research, capacity to give such consent, freedom from coercion, and full comprehension of the risks and benefits involved. The document also required the minimization of risk and harm during the research, a favorable risk/ benefit ratio, the presence of qualified observers who would provide the safety and validity of research, utilization of appropriate research designs, and freedom for the subject to withdraw from the study at any time . The other well-known document is called the Declaration of Helsinki. The Helsinki document was the first pronouncement to distinguish between two kinds of research: clinical research combined with professional care and nontherapeutic clinical research. It permits the use of children as subjects in both kinds of research, provided that the permission of the subjects legal guardian is obtained. Further, although the Declaration permits parents to authorize the use of their children as subjects in nontherapeutic research, such research may not be harmful to the subjects .

These documents regulate the major ethical questions regarding research involving children. Following the rules stated in these documents helps to avoid ethical issues and conduct a fair, safe, and efficient research. Let us now consider two research methods that may be appropriate when researching with children.

Over the last decade, scientists have contributed to the interdisciplinary research, developing new ways of undertaking research with children. Traditional positivistic research methods with an emphasis on the large scale quantitative observation, measurement and assessment of children by various groups of adult professionals, have been criticised for treating children as weak-willed objects to the study, carrying out research on, rather than with children. Furthermore, such research has been underpinned by adult assumptions and focused upon adult interests, rather than the interests of children. Thus, children have rarely had the opportunity to speak for themselves in research. Today, drawing upon the increasingly important childrens rights movement, researchers focus on the development of inclusive children centred methodologies that aim at involving every child in the research.

The development of children centred research methods, based upon childrens preferred methods of communication, has been one key way of addressing the issue of power relations. Many children find traditional methods such as questionnaire surveys intimidating, inappropriate, or boring. New methodologies of representation have been developed to enable children to communicate through, for example, drawing, photography, stories or song . Such techniques avoid considering age as the indicator of childrens abilities and aim to be inclusive, and to build rapport, trust and confidence . However, since there are many ways in which children communicate, an increasing number of research projects adopt a multi method approach, to recruit as many children as possible.

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Children centred research methods can enable children to clearly articulate their views and opinions, as well as promoting a more equal research relationship based on feminist ideals of reciprocity. Many of these methods of participation are qualitative techniques, such as photography, diaries and drawings. Qualitative methods are seen as more effective in enabling children to communicate in their own terms. However, we have also argued that there is a place for quantitative methods such as questionnaires. Although they may not allow children friendly communication to the same extent, they are invaluable in providing large scale information for childrens advocates in the policy process. A multi method approach helps to reflect the diversity of children's experiences and competencies, by engaging as many children of different ages, backgrounds and abilities.

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