Research Ethics, Children, and Young People

Oates, John (2019). Research Ethics, Children, and Young People. In: Iphofen, Ron ed. Handbook of Research Ethics and Scientific Integrity. Cham, Switzerland: Springer Nature.



Special considerations apply to the ethics of research with children and young people. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) highlights the need to respect children’s autonomy and agency while also recognizing the need for protection and support. For researchers, this means that particular care should be taken to ensure that children are fully involved in consenting processes, which may involve difficult ethical decision making where local norms and values run counter to a rights-based approach. A rights-based approach also mandates a need to avoid excluding children from research that concerns them and to ensure that their voices are heard. The wide variations in how childhood is socially constructed around the world and the increasing use of social media and the Internet by children challenge researchers to adopt ethically sound practices. While children are widely seen as especially vulnerable, this should not mean that the protection and care imprimatur must dominate and override concern for autonomy. Research with teenagers is very different from research with younger children, and children’s capacities for understanding and relating to adults develop and change massively through childhood. The ethics of research with children and young people involves tensions between competing views and interests, and achieving good outcomes requires careful reasoning. This chapter discusses these issues and offers suggestions for solutions.

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