The last two decades have been characterized by increased research that is directly targeted at young people and children. Despite various scholars’ incapacity to view and understand the world from children’s perspectives, Dalli and Te One (2012) offer evidence from contemporary studies showing that kids possess competencies such as moral, technical, and cognitive skills that adults can fully read.
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For instance, newborns can communicate through bodily expressions and movements. This ability supports the use of children in research, thus eroding the perception that they are immature and incompetent participants who cannot understand their world (Bucknall 2013). However, using children and young people in any study poses some issues and challenges. This paper focuses on the deployment of kids as respondents in a study, the disorderliness of studies that involve children, and the consideration of moral practices when involving children in research as some of the issues and challenges manifested in five articles.
Issues and Challenges
Children as Serious Research Participants
Fraser (2013) regards children as important study participants who should not be viewed as objects, but reputable citizens. Dalli and Te One (2012) quote various studies that demonstrate challenges that emanate from viewing children as serious study elements. For example, they argue that one should not only learn to pay attention but also listen to gain knowledge. These two approaches need to be accomplished in a complementary manner, thereby raising the issue of considering children as small adults (Fraser 2013). This issue is important since all subjects need to assent to engage in the study. As a result, treating them as small adults implies the need for informed consent, thus eliminating the requirement for approval from parents.
While investigating children, their voice alone is not adequate. According to Kellett (2014), scholars also need to provide space in which kids express themselves. Indeed, an attempt to examine children’s issues may result in a situation where they want to respond in the context of their world, hence challenging the attainment of the intended objectives. Kellett (2014) holds that children’s voices have four paradigms, namely, liberty, tone, control, and listeners.
Studies that are undertaken using children as participants provide a good example of the challenge. For example, in an interview steered by Stephenson on 0 to 5-year-old children, significant views and insights on how childhood curriculum took place were acquired when an opportunity was provided to create the space for free interaction instead of completing a study exercise as priory planned (Dalli & Te One 2012). In the study, instead of selecting a set of pictures available at a childhood center, a two-year-old child chose to use his artifact (horse toy) in demonstrating what he liked doing at the center. Thus, the scholar could not modify the participant to adapt to use the instruments provided by the interviewer.
The above challenge can be approached by modifying the research instruments. It is crucial to question whether an interview approach reflects on children’s thoughts, including how their ideas can be incorporated at every stage. Most importantly, a researcher may ensure that the study topic interests children, evaluate power dynamics, and/or focuses on getting non-influenced views from children (Dalli & Te One 2012).
To address Fraser (2013) and Kellett’s (2014) issue, it might have been crucial for scholars to regard children as serious participants whose views should be listened to carefully. As evidenced by Stephenson’s approach to solving the challenge, it was wise to develop instruments that fitted children’s interests and needs as opposed to those that made data collection easy and straightforward. This way, the study becomes beneficial to children in terms of understanding what they prefer doing in a learning center. Appropriate improvements can be made to guarantee better learning outcomes.
Disorderliness of Research using Children
The challenge manifests itself in the form of difficulties in developing research methods, particularly procedures that are necessary to gain access to children and the required consent. According to Alderson (2012), teachers can give accessibility, but not consent. In all studies done to determine the issues and challenges associated with using children and young people participants, Dalli and Te One (2012) reckon that some degree of complexity or disorderliness was reported.
A good example of this challenge entails the study carried out by Fletcher in Dalli and Te One’s (2012) study. Fletcher needed to develop a study protocol that was culturally appropriate to have access to Pasifika children. The scholar needed to build trust ecology by negotiating with researchers in the community and the social leaders. For example, one of the community members, Fa’afoi, believed he was the gatekeeper to the accessibility of Pasifika people (Dalli & Te One 2012).
Consequently, he was in charge of creating awareness of the attitudes and values among various social intuitions, including churches, schools, and families. Fa’afoi observed that students in the Pasifika expressed themselves freely in the absence of their parents or teachers. Therefore, an attempt to perform a study in such a setting introduces disorderliness or complexities concerning the need for methods that can suit children.
In Evan’s experimental study done in 2007, accessibility to the project environment was complicated. The scholar wanted to gain access to various primary school children participants with the objective of “understanding fairness and forgiveness in families” (Dalli & Te One 2012, p. 231). However, Evan’s project committee of ethics raised concerns about using young children participants terming the study as one that deploys kids as captive audiences.
Nevertheless, Evan overcame this challenge by arguing that children’s perceptions of unfairness and/or forgiveness were an important area of interest to schools. In my perspective, this argument supported the project by indicating that it was beneficial to children and hence the need for parents’ assessment of the value of the study before they can approve the participation of their children.
Although it was necessary to resolve the challenges encountered by Fetcher while investigating Pasifika children by incorporating community inputs, parental consent is critical. The researcher could have considered parental consent while balancing it with children’s willingness to participate. Nevertheless, in Fetcher’s study, children participants were given consent forms for their parents to append their signatures. Indeed, in my opinion, this move was necessary considering that without parents’ approval, children’s agreement to participate may not be interpreted as informed consent.
Necessary Time and Resources Investments
In a study process, researchers quantify the necessary time and the required resources to complete the study. Dalli and Te One (2012, p. 231) suggest, “Building relationships with staff, parents, and children in research settings is the best way to understand children’s lived experiences”. This strategy underlines the importance of utilizing time to build long-term relationships with families and children participants.
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The strategy introduces the challenge of having adequate time in a project. The longer a study takes, the larger its budget. For example, the study presented by Evan as discussed by Dalli and Te One (2012) required two months of data collection, contrary to his expectations since the funding came from grants that only supported short-term projects. Evan overcame the problem by spending extra time in the data collection process.
He spent less time to assemble the final report. An analysis of the problem of the necessary time and resource investments encountered by Evan reveals that scholars who deploy children participants have high chances of under-approximating the time required to complete the study. Considering that every project involving children is unique depending on the data to be collected, Evan should have considered seeking funding from grants that support long-term projects.
The studies described by Dalli and Te One (2012) document the ethical challenges encountered by scholars in the process of trying to retain the rights of children, especially in the last phase of the research, namely, the dissemination of the findings stage. Studies that deploy children participants have evolved to the level of adopting the adventurous psychological perspective that identifies them as social beings that are competent enough to participate actively in a project (Cooper 2013).
The perspective regards kids as fit to take part or be involved in all stages of a study. Therefore, it sounds insignificant to use them in research but end up disseminating the findings in contexts that only bring together communities or teachers. One of the respectful practices entails appreciating that children and young people can construct “meanings about family life and provide opportunities for them to share their views on issues such as parental separation” (Cooper 2013, p. 60). In my view, an analysis of this practice reveals that where a project uses children as participants, disseminating the findings to them can help in the process of interpreting the findings.
Despite the need for considering the above respectful practices, the actual study that deploys children participants is characterized by another challenge. For example, in the research performed by Fletcher, findings were disseminated in two meetings that brought together the scholars and the community (Dalli & Te One 2012). The first meeting was emotionally charged. Successful children attended, although they remained quiet throughout.
In the second meeting, unsuccessful children never attended. Rather, they chose to play outside while many of the other people decided to boycott the conference (Cooper 2013). The respectful practice of incorporating children in the findings dissemination stage failed to achieve the intended outcomes. Underachieving children could have taken part in the findings dissemination stage for them to benefit from various recommended strategies.
In the wake of the challenges, Fletcher utilized church ministers to act as advisors. However, worries remained on how to negotiate with various schools concerning the solutions that would guarantee the implementation of the strategies recommended for increasing the achievement of all unsuccessful children. To overcome this challenge, Fletcher should have sought access from schools while at the same time incorporating them into the study process. In my observation, teachers are challenged when it comes to implementing recommendations that can help them to improve children’s learning outcomes. Consequently, they should be incorporated into the study to enhance their understanding of the value and need for implementing the proposed recommendations in their schools.
Young people and children are competent enough to take part in a study as participants. However, such studies give rise to various issues and challenges. The need for observing ethics, allocating the appropriate time and resources, the issue of disorderliness of research using children, and the treatment of children and young people as serious participants are some of the difficulties encountered in studies that deploy kids and young people of up to the age of 17 years as participants.
Alderson, P 2012, ‘Ethics’, in A Clark, R Flewitt, M Hammersley & M Robb (eds), Understanding research with children and young people, SAGE Publications, London, pp. 85-102.
Bucknall, S 2013, ‘Doing qualitative research with children and young people’, in A Clark, R Flewitt, M Hammersley & M Robb (eds), Understanding research with children and young people, SAGE Publications, London, pp. 69-84.
Cooper, V 2013, ‘Designing research for different purposes’, in A Clark, R Flewitt, M Hammersley & M Robb (eds), Understanding research with children and young people, SAGE Publications, London, pp. 51-68.
Dalli, C & Te One, S 2012, ‘Involving children in educational research: researcher reflections on challenge’, International Journal of Early Years Education, vol. 20, no. 3, pp. 224-233.
Fraser, S 2013, ‘What is research with children and young people?’ in A Clark, R Flewitt, M Hammersley & M Robb (eds), Understanding research with children and young people, SAGE Publications, London, pp. 34-50.
Kellett, M 2014, ‘Images of childhood and their influence on research’, in A Clark, R Flewitt, M Hammersley & M Robb (eds), Understanding research with children and young people, SAGE Publications, London, pp. 15-33.