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Survey research is normally a delicate balance between ethical considerations, legal requirements, and effective data collection. Research involving minors is a vital and complex domain that demands even more meticulous attention to ethical standards, legal obligations, and a profound commitment to understanding the unique dynamics of surveying the younger population.

While a good proportion of researchers generally avoid surveying minors due to the complexity, sometimes it’s essential to gain valuable insights into their perspectives, needs, and experiences. Understanding the world from their vantage point is pivotal for shaping policies, interventions, and services tailored to their specific requirements.

So, who is a minor?

Researchers should be aware of the legal, ethical, and cultural differences in defining a minor when conducting research because the official definition varies from country to country, with implications for law, policy, and research.

In most countries, a minor is generally defined as a person under 18, but there may be exceptions from one administrative region to another, even within the same country. In Japan, a minor is defined as a person under the age of 20, while in Germany, minors who are 16 or 17 years old can consent to medical treatment and research without parental permission. In Indonesia, the majority age can be 16, 17, 18, or 21, depending on the context.

The first stage, therefore, is to understand local laws regarding minor ages to comply with the often-strict ethical guidelines to protect the safety and well-being of minor participants, such as parental permission and child assent.

Ethical Guidelines and Legal Requirements

Before embarking on a journey to explore the world of minors through surveys, it is imperative to navigate the intricate web of ethical guidelines and legal requirements that safeguard their rights and welfare. Different countries have different legal guidelines that serve as compass points for conducting research that respects and protects the well-being of minors.

The legal obligations, particularly those related to obtaining informed consent from parents or legal guardians and assent from minors themselves, form the foundation of conducting research in compliance with the law.

Types of Surveys and Data Collection Methods for Minors

Conducting surveys with minors requires careful consideration of the methods and tools used. It’s essential to choose age-appropriate, engaging, and non-intrusive data collection methods. Let’s discuss various survey types and data collection techniques suitable for minors:

Online Surveys:

Online surveys are popular due to their convenience and accessibility. Minors are often tech-savvy, making this method suitable for capturing their responses. Mobile surveys can be designed with engaging visuals, simple language, and interactive features to keep minors’ attention and facilitate participation. However, it’s crucial to ensure online security and privacy.

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Face-to-Face Interviews:

Face-to-face interviews conducted by trained researchers, such as Computer-Assisted Personal Interviewing (CAPI), can be effective when working with younger participants. These interviews allow for personalized interaction and the use of age-appropriate language and may require the presence of a parent during the survey.

In face-to-face interviews, researchers can build rapport with minors, making them feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts and experiences.

Focus Groups:

Focus groups involve small groups of minors who engage in open discussions about a specific topic. This method encourages peer interaction and can reveal collective opinions, similar to a class setup. Focus groups are ideal for exploring group dynamics and understanding shared experiences among minors. Researchers can use this method to uncover trends and common viewpoints.

Observations:

Observational research would involve systematically observing minors in their natural environment, which is particularly useful for understanding behavior and context. Observations can be insightful when studying how minors interact with their surroundings. Researchers must respect privacy boundaries and obtain consent when observing minors.

Interactive Surveys:

Interactive surveys, which incorporate gamification elements or multimedia components, can be engaging for minors. Interactive surveys, such as quizzes or games, can make the data collection process more enjoyable for minors. Researchers must strike a balance between fun and research rigor.

Choosing the most suitable method depends on the research goals, the age of the participants, and the research environment. It’s crucial to select methods that create a comfortable and engaging experience for minors, ensuring their active participation and the quality of the data collected. Each method has its advantages and limitations, which researchers should consider when designing their studies.

Informed Consent and Assent Process in the Context of Surveying Minors

Informed consent and assent are essential components of ethical research with minors. Informed consent is the process of providing participants with all of the information they need to make a voluntary decision about whether or not to participate in a research study. Assent is the voluntary agreement of a minor to participate in a research study.

Informed Consent

Informed consent is the process of providing participants with all of the information they need to make a voluntary decision about whether or not to participate in a research study. For survey research with minors, this information should include:

  • The purpose of the survey
  • The topics that will be covered in the survey
  • The procedures involved in completing the survey
  • The potential risks and benefits of participating in the survey
  • The minor’s right to withdraw from the survey at any time
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Researchers should also explain to minors and their parents that their participation in the survey is voluntary and that they will not be penalized if they choose not to participate.

Assent

Assent is the voluntary agreement of a minor to participate in a research study. For survey research with minors, this means that the minor should understand the purpose of the survey, the topics that will be covered, and the procedures involved in completing the survey. They should also be able to ask questions and get clarification before agreeing to participate.

The key here is age-appropriate communication. Researchers must communicate with minors in a manner that is understandable and appropriate for their age and cognitive development, including age-appropriate language, visual aids, and interactive techniques.

Researchers should assess the minor’s understanding of the survey before obtaining their assent. This can be done by asking them to explain the purpose of the survey in their own words or by asking them to answer specific questions about it.

Differences between Informed Consent and Assent

The main difference between informed consent and assent is that informed consent is required from parents or legal guardians for minors, while assent is only required from minors themselves if they can understand the research study. This is because minors are not considered legally competent to provide informed consent on their own.

Another difference between informed consent and assent is that the scope of information that needs to be provided is different. For informed consent, researchers need to provide participants with all of the information they need to make a voluntary decision about whether or not to participate in the study. This includes information about the risks and benefits of participation, as well as the minor’s right to withdraw from the study at any time.

For assent, researchers only need to provide minors with enough information to understand the purpose of the study, the topics that will be covered, and the procedures involved in completing the study. Researchers also need to assess the minor’s understanding of the study before obtaining their assent.

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Example of an informed consent and assent process

Here is an example of an informed consent and assent process for survey research with minors:

  1. The researcher approaches the minor and their parent or legal guardian and explains the purpose of the survey.
  2. The researcher provides the minor and their parent or legal guardian with a written informed consent form.
  3. The parent or legal guardian reviews the informed consent form and asks any questions they have.
  4. The parent or legal guardian signs the informed consent form if they agree to allow their child to participate in the survey.
  5. The researcher assesses the minor’s understanding of the survey by asking them to explain the purpose of the survey in their own words or by asking them to answer specific questions about the survey.
  6. If the minor understands the survey and agrees to participate, the researcher obtains their assent.
  7. The researcher should keep copies of the informed consent and assent forms for their records.

Conclusion

Understanding the significance of surveying minors and respecting their rights is fundamental. Their perspectives, needs, and experiences must be heard, as this is essential for shaping policies, interventions, and services tailored to their specific requirements. On the other hand, it necessitates meticulous attention to extra ethical standards, legal compliance, and the unique dynamics of working with younger participants.

In the pursuit of ethical and effective survey research with minors, it is paramount that researchers remain adaptable, responsive, and respectful of the needs and characteristics of this dynamic population. As we navigate this intricate terrain, we must keep the well-being and rights of minors at the forefront of our endeavors, ensuring that their voices are heard and their experiences are understood. When executed with integrity and care, conducting research with minors is an invaluable avenue for fostering a deeper understanding of their world and contributing to their well-being and development.

At GeoPoll, we have worked with several brands and organizations to conduct successful studies with minors across many countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Contact us to learn more about our capabilities.