The most important ethical principles are reliability, honesty, respect, accountability and justice. Confidentiality is also very important in the context of research with children and young people, and particularly so in online research where the affordances of digital and social media change the way in which information is accessed, distributed and stored. Common ethical values also ensure that research is conducted in a way that is just and fair, that promotes trust and mutual respect, and ensures accountability.
When supporting children and young people in making decisions about whether or not to participate in research, the information that is provided to them should be sufficient, clear, age-appropriate and in a language that they understand. It is for example not appropriate to provide children who may be involved in international research with a consent form that is written in English. As Julia Truscott submits, (https://childethics.com/blog/supporting-children-to-make-informed-decisions-about-research-participation/), it is when researchers engage with children and young people, and begin to explain aspects of the research process to them, that research ethics moves from being a theoretical process to a relational and reflexive exercise. This is also where a child-rights framework begins to be negotiated in practice.
Researchers must inform potential participants about what the research involves, why they want to talk to children and young people, how data and responses gathered from children and young people will be used, and who will be able to access this data. If children and young people do not understand the information that is provided to them, researchers should be prepared and able to provide a better explanation.
Researchers should also inform children and young people that their participation in research is voluntarily, and that consent is something that is negotiable. If children and young people agree to participate in research, they have the right to change their mind and withdraw their consent at any stage of the research process, without experiencing negative consequences in this regard. At the outset, and on request, researchers must inform children and young people about how they will do this. It is also important to ensure that children and young people should always make their own decisions about research participation, and that they should never feel pressured into taking part in a research project.
Ethically, researchers should always secure the informed consent of research participants in advance of engaging in research. This implies that researchers have provided the information outlined above about what the research involves, and that children and young people have both understood this information, and consented to participate in the research process on that basis. This consent should also be documented.