The term ‘childhood’ spans not only a great number of years, but also an incredible amount of development. It is, therefore, impossible to use a ‘one-fits-all’ method when undertaking research. As much as adults have differing personalities, so do our children and physical and emotional development can occur at differing times too, especially between genders. How many times do relatives and onlookers ask a parent if their baby is crawling yet, walking yet or eating solids, making the paranoid parent wonder if their child is under achieving?
Bearing in mind the differences that can ccur just within a set age range of children, this makes the process of research with children up to the age of eighteen one which must encompass a variety of strategies and approaches. When looking at childhood, and in line with the study guide, I have grouped children according to age, with early childhood covering birth to age five, middle childhood covering age six to eleven, and young people referring to those between the ages of twelve and eighteen.
I believe the main differences that would occur in research methods when dealing with these differing age categories are regards consent, ompetence, methods to be used, and context and location, which I will go into in further detail below. I would also like to touch on legal context, as this is an area where similarities between the three age groups exist. Of course, there are many other important factors such as race, data collection, avoidance of harm, gender, ethnicity disability and mental health and many more, and this wide spectrum of considerations is what makes research with children both complex and rewarding in equal measures.
Consent Obtaining informed consent from research participants is central to ethical research ractice, and is a huge consideration when undertaking research with children. It is also one that undoubtedly differs between age groups. Whilst the early childhood age range is one of immense change, from baby to starting school, this group remain very much dependent on adult carers for their every need. As such, it is vital that their permission is always obtained before carrying out research.
Before embarking on his research with deaf infants, Wataru Takei approached potential parents himself to explain his aims, and made the effort to talk to them in Japanese Sign Language as opposed to writing or using an interpreter. This meant he could fully explain his project, reassure any objections, but I also feel this personal approach would be much appreciated by the parents. If Takei is willing to show consideration in the first instance, this would give confidence he would show the same with the infants, and this is something I would definitely do with a research project of my own.
As with early childhood, middle childhood requires parental/adult consent to be priority. Whilst this group are undoubtedly able to express their views on participation far more, they remain for research purposes, as in law, very much under the care of dults, and so similar informed consent is necessary. There may be more involvement with another gatekeeper however, for example teacher or social worker, and I feel it would be good practise to obtain the child’s consent also, so they feel they have some control over the process.
Where consent becomes a more grey area and highlights different research skills, is when we look at young people. Young people are very proud of their opinions and like to be heard in a more adult capacity. With regards to research and consent, this means that the researcher should discuss the project in detail with the intended participants, giving them chance to igest and ask questions. Legal consent within this age group will be discussed further on, but obtaining parental consent at whatever age would be a preferred choice in my opinion.
A letter that clearly sets out details of the proposed study, how data will be used and rules on anonymity, how research will be carried out, and with their right to withdraw at any stage clearly stated, means that not only do the children and their families feel more secure, but that the researcher also has proof of participation. Whilst initial consent is absolutely vital in order to undertake a research project, nherent to all research is check consent throughout.
Regards early childhood and also with middle childhood to some extent, this means the researcher looking for signs of distress, as demonstrated with ‘The Strange Situation’ scenario from the media guide. Whilst young people can certainly say when they are happy, it should always be clear that participants of any age can withdraw at any time. A fully ethical research project will be equally considerate to all age groups. Competence Ability can vary greatly between similar ages, making research with children a complex process with no set formula in place to ease the task of the researcher.
Early childhood in particular encompasses enormous physical and developmental change, and competence is not easy to gauge. This means that the researcher must come up with what they deem to be the most efficient way to secure accurate data, whilst being prepared to use ingenuity at the drop of a hat. A good idea when working with this age group would be to actively involve the family, or someone who has regular contact. This helps to give an all round picture of the child’s capabilities as opposed to a comparative snapshot, thereby minimising the risk of variables.
However, as not all hildren are in situations where their behaviour and ability can be compared to others, for example, nursery placement, the issue of competence remains difficult. The period covering Middle childhood sees children attending school, and also at the current time, being assessed by the Standard Assessment Tests twice within this period gives a guideline as to academic capabilities. However, results in Maths, Science and English are not a valid indicator of competence for a researcher. Jean Piaget is a very well known developmental psychologist whose thinking are very well used within many areas of childhood interest.
He argues that there is a major change in children’s thinking around the age of seven. If this is to be believed, researchers can use this as an indicator when looking at their research method for work within this age group, but differences in maturity, language and understanding make the task far from straight forward. Sutton et als paper on ‘Social Cognition and Bullying’ looks at this age group, using tests to assess verbal ability, the participant’s role in bullying and to assess their social cognition. This provides a guide to which the researchers can work to, but as we know with research, everything is subjective. Research method used.
Whilst it has been tempting to touch upon this subject in detail in the above paragraphs, I felt it appropriate to ‘hang fire’ and cover this topic in its own right. Choice of method to be used is often down to the researcher’s individual preferences and their response not only to the initial subject, but how this progresses as the study takes place. However, it is clear that certain methods are more suited to different age groups. When looking at early childhood, it is clear that creativity is a necessity. Often, it is necessary to use a variety of methods, perhaps even adapting these in the live situation of the research project.
When Alison Clark set out to develop a framework within which young children could express their day to day experiences and feelings, she decided to use varying methods to collect data. Whilst some of these were the more expected types, like observation and interviewing, she also used very innovative methods, thereby gathering a wide range of views and perspectives, including those of parents and the children themselves. As someone with an interest in early childhood myself, her idea to let children take photographs of what was important to them stands out, and is one I would certainly look to include in any research of my own.
Whilst early childhood involves a lot of play and drawing, when we get to middle childhood, a more adult approach to research method can already be used. This can mean using both interviews and questionnaires, but as illustrated in Kellet and Ding’s chapter on middle childhood, it is the adaptation of these techniques makes them appropriate for this age group. They mention brainstorming, ranking exercises and visual prompts, which all play to the child’s sense of fun without condescension. Naturally, when it comes to young people, interviews and questionnaires seem an obvious choice.
However, whilst realising that this age group need a voice and their opinions are both worthy and important for self development, it should still be recognised that they are children and continuing to grow, both in body and mind. In Evans and Morgan’s study of ‘Improving Pedestrian Road Safety among Adolescents’, the researchers look at ‘The Theory of Planned Behaviour’ and look to explain why young people who have the necessary perceptual and cognitive skills to cross a road safely, are more likely to become casualties.
In an effort to increase awareness among the age group, they were encourage to produce a play to highlight oad safety. This shows that creativity is common to all the age groups, and a much desired research skill when working with children and young people. Legal Issues When it comes to research with children, the pendulum is swinging towards children in all age groups becoming far more involved in the whole process. When it comes to the law, the researcher must ensure that they are fully aware of all implications.
When it comes to looking at different childhoods requiring different research skills, the legal requirements mainly concern the young person group, and whether they are deemed as adults. In Scotland, full legal capacity is acquired at sixteen and that is when parental rights cease. However, when it comes to the law in general, all three age groups command similar considerations, as those under the age of eighteen are deemed to be children. As such, adult consent is always sought before undertaking research.
From Takei’s ‘How Do Deaf Infants Attain First Signs’ early childhood research, to Aldgate and Bradley’s ‘Children’s Experiences of Short-Term Accommodation in middle childhood’, and Evan and Norman’s ‘Improving Pedestrian Road Safety among Adolescents’, all gain appropriate consent from adult atekeepers, be it parents, social care workers or teachers in authority. Context and Location When it comes to considering where research with your chosen participants should occur, the researcher needs to consider both where would be most suitable and also the natural feel of the situation.
In order to obtain the best results with least variables, it may not, for example, be good to take children out of familiar surroundings. This does, however, depend on the age group of those involved. When it comes to early childhood, it would seem that familiarity of surroundings would be beneficial to the validity of the research findings. Children who are taken into foreign surroundings may find themselves easily distracted by objects and people around them, and their behaviour can change in front of strangers. This can even been said for babies as young as six months (Bruce and Meggit, 2002:71).
In Samantha Punch’s ‘Children’s Use of Time and Space in Rural Bolivia’, it is strongly evident that she has taken great care to make the participants feel at ease, very much including the adult carers into that equation, and wanting to observe them in their natural surroundings. As Punch’s study is carried out in a place where people are very wary f outsiders in general, this is a good example of a researcher using and adapting their skills to the best of their ability. The most obvious location for childhood research would be school, a place where you have access to multiple children in a familiar context.
David, Edwards and Allred, 2001, feel that participation could verge on coercion if children interpret it as schoolwork, but I personally feel that a researcher can overcome that thinking by using more creative methods and tasks that don’t directly relate to the usual school. Context and location can have more considerations when it comes to young people. Whilst the school setting is an obvious choice again for location, the social aspect of this group means that there are far more places that can be considered, for example youth centres.
The older child is also more able to independently attend unfamiliar locations without their natural behaviour being obviously affected. The researcher then has to consider factors such as travel to the location and safety of the participant, as well as ensuring they feel welcome and their efforts appreciated. If research takes place within a group setting like a school, researchers need to onsider what context can minimise any gender, intellect, class or race divide, whilst ensuring the young people feel in control of the situation.
As Evans mentions in the her commentary on her Road Safety’ research, “How were we going to reach this age group? Would they complete such a questionnaire? More importantly, would they complete it properly and honestly? “. Research with young people demands a wide range of considerations for the researcher. In conclusion, looking at different research skills for different childhoods is impossible to fit into an essay of this length. As much as age groups differ, so do the ges within those groups, as do personalities, opinions, upbringings and more.
This means a researcher needs a wide range of skills in order to obtain the most valid results possible. As Kellet and Ding say, “The researcher has to communicate the nature of the problem to the child. If, however, the child does not share the experimenter’s understanding of the words being used, then a failure to complete the task might well be due to a breakdown in communication rather than the child’s inability to reason appropriately. ” The onus for a successful research project lies with the researcher themselves.