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Children Online: Research and Evidence

Compass for Research Ethics

The CO:RE Compass for Research Ethics complements the CO:RE Conversation on Research Ethics, taking place via blog posts and exchanges in webinars and social media, and is a continuously growing resources base providing helpful materials and resources for researchers, students and members of the public. Here and in our CO:RE Conversation activities, we discuss the ethical issues that one encounters in practice, and build a resource base that investigates and evaluates potential solutions to these issues.

We encourage you, as a user, to contribute your own reflections, expertise and questions to this conversation. You can do this by posting comments in response to our blogs (find the latest one here), by engaging in conversation with us during our webinars (watch the latest one here), or via social media such as ResearchGate, Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn. Please note that this resource base is under construction and is growing incrementally.

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What are research ethics?

Research ethics are guidelines about how research can and should be conducted. Researchers aim to develop new knowledge that is accurate and truthful. In particular, when investigating how children use the Internet, researchers are also required to consider and comply with research ethical norms and principles in order to ensure that their research is beneficial for the people and the societies for and about whom they are researching. Researchers should also ensure that the dignity, rights and autonomy of research participants are respected and upheld. Under this theme, we will present resources and frequently asked questions related to the overall theme of ‘research ethics’. Our focus will be on the ethical norms and principles that relate to conducting research with and about children online.

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  1. Shamoo, A. E., & Resnik, D. B. (2009). Responsible Conduct of Research. Oxford University Press. https://doi.org/10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195368246.001.0001

Protecting and promoting children’s rights and agency in research

Children and young people participate in research. As research participants children have particular rights to protection and participation that are easily overlooked. In particular, measures should be taken to ensure that children’s perspectives and voice are taken into account in the construction of knowledge.

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  1. Barn, R., & Barn, B. S. (2019). Youth Justice in the Digital Age: A Case Study of Practitioners’ Perspectives on the Challenges and Opportunities of Social Technology in Their Techno-Habitat in the United Kingdom. Youth Justice, 19(3), 185–205. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473225419869568

  2. Cowie, B., & Khoo, E. (2017). Accountability through access, authenticity and advocacy when researching with young children. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 21(3), 234–247. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2016.1260821

  3. Holland, S., Renold, E., Ross, N. J., & Hillman, A. (2010). Power, agency and participatory agendas: A critical exploration of young people’s engagement in participative qualitative research. Childhood, 17(3), 360–375. https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568210369310

  4. Lomax, H. (2012). Contested voices? Methodological tensions in creative visual research with children. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 15(2), 105–117. https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2012.649408

  5. Lundy, L. (2007). “Voice” is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. British Educational Research Journal, 33(6), 927–942. https://doi.org/10.1080/01411920701657033

  6. Pinter, A., & Zandian, S. (2015). “I thought it would be tiny little one phrase that we said, in a huge big pile of papers”: children’s reflections on their involvement in participatory research. Qualitative Research, 15(2), 235–250. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794112465637

How, when and where to report when something goes wrong?

In spite of the fact that scientists usually take significant measures to ensure that the research they conduct complies with ethical standards, in particular with regard to truth, accuracy and beneficence for research participants, things can and do, go wrong. But how can and should these situations be dealt with? What opportunities are available to address and report about issues or concerns that arise?

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  1. Gierth, L., & Bromme, R. (2020). Attacking science on social media: How user comments affect perceived trustworthiness and credibility. Public Understanding of Science, 29(2), 230–247. https://doi.org/10.1177/0963662519889275

  2. Kalichman, S. C. (1993). Mandated reporting of suspected child abuse: Ethics, law, & policy. American Psychological Association. https://doi.org/10.1037/10128-000

  3. Kotch, J. B. (2000). Ethical Issues in Longitudinal Child Maltreatment Research. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 15(7), 696–709. https://doi.org/10.1177/088626000015007003

What are ethical incentives and beneficence?

Research should be conducted according to the principle of beneficence, including that those involved in the research should benefit from the knowledge that is constructed.

Working according to the principle of beneficence is particularly problematic when working with children and young people. If the knowledge that they are involved in constructing is not directly accessible to them or relevant for their lives, how can this principle be understood? Furthermore, if children and young people are provided with incentives to participate in research, how might this influence their participation?

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  1. Binik, Y. M., Mah, K., & Kiesler, S. (1999). Ethical issues in conducting sex research on the Internet. Journal of Sex Research, 36(1), 82–90. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499909551971

  2. Kerawalla, L. (2014). Empowered Participation through Inclusive Inquiry. In J. Westwood, C. Larkins, D. Moxon, Y. Perry, & N. Thomas (Eds.), Participation, Citizenship and Intergenerational Relations in Children and Young People’s Lives (pp. 117–127). Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137379702_12

  3. King, N. M. P., & Churchill, L. R. (2000). Ethical Principles Guiding Research on Child and Adolescent Subjects. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 15(7), 710–724. https://doi.org/10.1177/088626000015007004

  4. Morrow, V. (2008). Ethical dilemmas in research with children and young people about their social environments. Childrens Geographies, 6(1), 49–61. https://doi.org/10.1080/14733280701791918

  5. Munir, K., & Earls, F. (1992). Ethical Principles Governing Research in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 31(3), 408–414. https://doi.org/10.1097/00004583-199205000-00005

  6. Norton, I. M., & Manson, S. M. (1996). Research in American Indian and Alaska Native communities: Navigating the cultural universe of values and process. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 64(5), 856–860. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-006X.64.5.856

  7. Pinter, A., & Zandian, S. (2015). “I thought it would be tiny little one phrase that we said, in a huge big pile of papers”: children’s reflections on their involvement in participatory research. Qualitative Research, 15(2), 235–250. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794112465637

  8. Rubin Stiffman, A., Brown, E., Woodstock Striley, C., Ostmann, E., & Chowa, G. (2005). Cultural and Ethical Issues Concerning Research on American Indian Youth. Ethics & Behavior, 15(1), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1207/s15327019eb1501_1

  9. Weaver, H. N. (1997). The Challenges of Research in Native American Communities: Incorporating Principles of Cultural Competence. Journal of Social Service Research, 23(2), 1–15. https://doi.org/10.1300/J079v23n02_01

What to consider when doing online research with children?

The majority of European children (aged 9-17) report using their smartphones ‘daily’ or ‘almost all the time’ (Smahel et al., 2020). As such, they encounter a range of risks and opportunities for example when engaging with media content, when socializing, playing games and being creative. At the same time, children’s online experiences are both highly personalized and create digital traces that are recorded and used for commercial purposes. It is therefore important to consider this range of experiences, activities and opportunities when engaging in research with and about children online.

It is also important to consider that children have a range of competences and abilities when using the Internet and that these in turn are mediated by other factors, including individual, relational and social, cultural and economic factors.

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  1. Aldridge, J. (2012). The participation of vulnerable children in photographic research. Visual Studies, 27(1), 48–58. https://doi.org/10.1080/1472586X.2012.642957

  2. Christensen, P., & Prout, A. (2002). Working with ethical symmetry in social research with children. Childhood-a Global Journal of Child Research, 9(4), 477–497. https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568202009004007

  3. Kerawalla, L. (2014). Empowered Participation through Inclusive Inquiry. In J. Westwood, C. Larkins, D. Moxon, Y. Perry, & N. Thomas (Eds.), Participation, Citizenship and Intergenerational Relations in Children and Young People’s Lives (pp. 117–127). Palgrave Macmillan UK. https://doi.org/10.1057/9781137379702_12

  4. Lomax, H., Fink, J., Singh, N., & High, C. (2011). The politics of performance: methodological challenges of researching children’s experiences of childhood through the lens of participatory video. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 14(3), 231–243. https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2011.563622

  5. Smahel, D., MacHackova, H., Mascheroni, G., Dedkova, L., Staksrud, E., Olafsson, K., Livingstone, S., & Hasebrink, U. (2020). EU Kids Online 2020: survey results from 19 countries [Monograph]. http://www.lse.ac.uk/media-and-communications/research/research-projects/eu-kids-online

Processing Sensitive Data

The legal definition of sensitive data includes:

- Personal data revealing racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or philosophical beliefs;

- Trade-union membership;

- Genetic data, biometric data processes solely to identify a human being;

- Health-related data; and

- Data concerning a person’s sex life or sexual orientation.

Because communication on the internet in general, and among children and young people, can be of an intimate and private nature, it can include sensitive data. As such researchers need to take particular care of this kind of data.

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  1. Ray, D. C., Purswell, K., Haas, S., & Aldrete, C. (2017). Child-Centered Play Therapy-Research Integrity Checklist: Development, reliability, and use. International Journal of Play Therapy, 26(4), 207–217. https://doi.org/10.1037/pla0000046

  2. Romer, D., Hornik, R., Stanton, B., Black, M., Li, X. M., Ricardo, I., & Feigelman, S. (1997). “‘Talking’” computers: A reliable and private method to conduct interviews on sensitive topics with children. Journal of Sex Research, 34(1), 3–9. https://doi.org/10.1080/00224499709551859

  3. Stubben, J. D. (2001). Working With and Conducting Research Among American Indian Families. American Behavioral Scientist, 44(9), 1466–1481. https://doi.org/10.1177/0002764201044009004

What to consider when engaging children as co-researchers?

One approach to facilitating children’s participation in research and to ensuring that children’s perspectives and voices are included in the construction of knowledge, is to engage children as co-researchers. This in turn raises a number of questions with regard to research ethics, including questions of competence, decision-making and beneficence.

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  1. Archer, L., Dewitt, J., Osborne, J., Dillon, J., Willis, B., & Wong, B. (2010). “Doing” Science Versus “Being” a Scientist: Examining 10/11-Year-Old Schoolchildren’s Constructions of Science Through the Lens of Identity. Science Education, 94(4), 617–639. https://doi.org/10.1002/sce.20399

  2. Coad, J., & Evans, R. (2008). Reflections on practical approaches to involving children and young people in the data analysis process. Children & Society, 22(1), 41–52. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1099-0860.2006.00062.x

  3. Cowie, B., & Khoo, E. (2017). Accountability through access, authenticity and advocacy when researching with young children. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 21(3), 234–247. https://doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2016.1260821

  4. Hunleth, J. (2011). Beyond on or with: Questioning power dynamics and knowledge production in “child-oriented” research methodology. Childhood-a Global Journal of Child Research, 18(1), 81–93. https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568210371234

  5. Kellett, M. (2011). Empowering Children and Young People as Researchers: Overcoming Barriers and Building Capacity. Child Indicators Research, 4(2), 205–219. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12187-010-9103-1

  6. Kellett, M., Forrest (aged ten), R., Dent (aged ten), N., & Ward (aged ten), S. (2004). ?Just teach us the skills please, we’ll do the rest?: empowering ten-year-olds as active researchers. Children & Society, 18(5), 329–343. https://doi.org/10.1002/chi.807

  7. Lomax, H., Fink, J., Singh, N., & High, C. (2011). The politics of performance: methodological challenges of researching children’s experiences of childhood through the lens of participatory video. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 14(3), 231–243. https://doi.org/10.1080/13645579.2011.563622

  8. Lundy, L., McEvoy, L., & Byrne, B. (2011). Working With Young Children as Co-Researchers: An Approach Informed by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Early Education and Development, 22(5), 714–736. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2011.596463

  9. Robards, B., & Lincoln, S. (2020). Growing up on facebook. Peter Lang.

Further resources, regulations & rules

In this section we provide a list of additional resources, regulations and rules to consider when engaging in research with and about children and young people online. Please feel free to suggest additions or amendments to this list.

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