Tips for Doing Research with Kids

Sonia Livingston discusses her research on children’s use of the internet on Social Science Bites

Our most recent podcast of Social Science Bites featured an interview with author, editor, and researcher Sonia Livingston from the London School of Economics. Sonia oversaw a major study of children’s behavior online and she discussed her research methods and findings with Dr. Nigel Warburton.

In addition to sharing some of her findings about children’s use of the Internet, Sonia was kind enough to share some of her expertise about how her research was executed. In order to help out social scientists who are currently involved in the tricky process of doing research with children (or who may be doing such research in the future), we’ve pulled out some useful quotes from this podcast that we think will help you in your attempts to carefully and effectively study children’s behavior.

Taking a Child-Centered Perspective and Letting Children Speak for Themselves:

“It is important to many who work on children to take a child-centered perspective, so that you get children’s own accounts. Especially in a domain where there’s so many ready to speak for children and to tell us what they think, what they are worried about and what they should be worried about.”

Quantitative vs. Qualitative Research with Children:

“That’s one of the tough restrictions on survey research; even though I send a researcher into all of those homes to interview the child and the parent, that doesn’t mean that I can sit and kind of look at exactly what they are doing. In qualitative work I can, and one of the things I do in my qualitative work is I will sit with a child and say ‘show me your Facebook’ or ‘why have you uploaded these pictures’ or ‘let’s have a look at how the Internet is set up for certain purposes’. And I can see not only what they want to tell me, but also what they don’t want to tell me. But in a survey it does have to be a standardized methodology and it has to be something that I can give as a set of instructions to researchers who went into 25,000 homes in 25 languages.”

Using Multiple Methods:

“It has become kind of widely felt, especially in relation to children that we need to triangulate different research methods in order to understand their perspective and their experience.”

“…You don’t want to base big research claims and certainly policy recommendations on a small number of children, so you also need the survey techniques and statistical analysis methods that would require you to deal with a much larger number of children and make claims about the population.”

Working with Others in Doing Research with Children:

“… I do try to bring those different skills together and in doing that I sometimes work with people who are differently specialized, so I might sometimes work with people who are very good at interviewing children but who have no idea about surveys. And I certainly work with some people who know a lot about data analysis and don’t necessarily do the empathetic work with children. But I do like to do a good number of interviews myself and I do like to get stuck into the survey analysis. So I just have to be very stretched in terms of skills.”

Getting Children to Open Up:

“We try to ask children what has happened to them in the past month, or in the past year. But not what has happened to them ever, because children’s memories aren’t very good. We tried to ask children about things that had happened or things that they do, rather than their judgments or their perceptions or their attitudes. So we keep it, if you like, as factual as possible.”

“You need a kind of empathetic approach to children so that you can let them speak freely, in their own terms.”

Social Science Bites is a new series of interviews with leading social scientists found on our Social Science Space website. Each episode presents an illuminating perspective on a different aspect of our social world. You can listen to or read the complete interview with Sonia Livingston on Social Science Space by clicking here

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