One of the most common excuses for not conducting user research with kids is that it’s unethical. Many adults believe that children should not be confronted with digital media if not for a good reason. Good reasons can be anything from plain entertainment to educational purposes. Research is not considered a good reason.
Here is what I think: Professional user research is one of the best reasons for kids to engage with digital media. Why? Because:
1. Research is essential for making better products
It is commonly accepted that user research is important in order to build usable and appealing products for adults. Why do people think this could be any different when making products for kids?
It is important to go out there and ask for input and inspiration. Get to know the people you design for and understand what makes them tick. There is no way around verifying your ideas and testing your concepts with the actual user – not if your want to create something that is engaging and fun and at the same time easy to learn and easy to use for your target age group.
2. There is almost no better way to supervise kids’ media usage
A lot of times, when people hear the words research and kids in the same sentence, they associate it with some really bad scenarios. For example, the researcher locks up kids in a small room with lots of bad and age inappropriate media and then leaves the room for an hour to see what happens. I must admit, if research with kids was anything like that, I’d certainly agree that it’s unethical. The thing is, it’s not.
Kids have to be carefully guided and supervised during a research study. It is not only important that they feel comfortable and confident before and during the study, but also afterwards. There are several things you should do. (1) Ask the child (not only the parents) whether or not they want to participate. (2) Inform the child about the reason and the goals of the study. (3) End the study with a good debriefing to make sure children don’t leave with open questions or the idea you weren’t happy with their performance.
A trained researcher knows when a child can handle a situation, or when they need extra information. Questions can be answered right away and anything that doesn’t make sense can be explained. Children couldn’t be supervised any better than by a professional researcher.
3. Professional research considers the abilities of the target age group
Also, when conducting professional research with children, the abilities and limitations of the target age group are of central importance. There is no need to worry that children are confronted with inappropriate media. Professional researchers choose research methods that match your target age group. Here are some aspects that are being considered:
- Concentration span
- Test environment
- Level of foreknowledge
- Group size
4. Kids want to be taken seriously
Kids want to be taken seriously. By involving them in the development or optimization process of a product that is specifically targeted at them, they feel important. It’s not of this time anymore to keep children away from media.
Besides, allowing children to engage with media to some extent, helps them to develop a healthy relationship with media in general. Something that is forbidden only makes it more attractive. When allowing children the use of media (even only for a limited amount of time per day), we empower them to choose between media and other forms of activities. Chances are good that children prefer to play outside over digital media.
5. Kids love it
Last but not least, kids love to participate in research. Not only do they feel taken seriously, but they also get to try out something new. They love the attention, and they love to share their opinion. Why be against something that can be a very positive experience for children?