UX Research Recruiting and Operations for Children: How to Recruit, Screen, and Schedule Research with Kids

Young girl doing homework at her desk in front of a laptop

Posted by Kristen Elfstrand on May 2, 2023

When designing experiences for kids, UX research is a critical step in better understanding how to meet their needs and wants. But recruiting children for research can be a challenge. How do you get them in the room? What schedule considerations do I have? What age is the right age? How involved do the parents need to be? And how do you do it ethically with the safety and comfort of the child in mind?

These are all valid and complicated questions. Generally, recruiting children and adults follow a similar process, but there are some extra steps involved when working with children. Here's how we approach it.

Getting Started: Logistics and Planning

Determining the Session Schedule

The first step in planning for research with children is figuring out the session schedule. If the research is taking place during the school year, sessions must take place later in the afternoon or evening once children are out of school. You may even want to conduct the sessions during the weekend, if possible. 

If your research is focused on a specific market or location, do some research on what time schools in the area let out to make sure you give some travel time for kids to get home for remote research or to the facility for in-person studies. If you plan the research during a school break or summer, you could consider scheduling the sessions during the morning or midday. Again, do some research on the area’s school schedules to ensure you know when the school breaks are.

NDAs and Privacy

All research participants must sign a non-disclosure agreement to make sure they don’t discuss any details of the research publicly. Because children cannot sign any type of legal document, a parent or guardian must sign for them. 

When preparing the NDA, the agreement must include that the parent is signing on behalf of the child, so ensure there’s an area on the NDA to also include the child’s information. If the parent will be present during the research session, they may need to sign a separate NDA that covers their involvement if it cannot be included in a joint NDA for both parent and child.

Parent Participation

Depending on the age of the child, you may want the parent or guardian to be present for the research session to make the child more comfortable. If it’s a focus group of children, parents likely won’t be needed, but if you’re conducting individual one-on-one interviews, it may be a good idea to have the parent present, especially for children under the age of 10. 

Pre-teens and teens likely would not need a parent present even for IDIs unless the child or parent requests it or possibly if the research topic is a sensitive topic (e.g., medical or health-related research). Discuss this with your team, the moderator, and any recruiting partners to better understand the session content and what would be most appropriate. 

Because of the power differentials between a moderator and a child participant, you and your team should always keep a pulse on the comfort of the participants when making the final decision. 

Determining the right incentives

When it comes to incentives, rely on your recruiting partners to determine the appropriate amount for the child. It’s not unusual for children to get a reduced incentive compared to what an adult would get for the same time commitment for the research session. 

Depending on the parents’ involvement, you may also need to provide them with an incentive, either for driving their children to the facility or being present during the interview. If both child and parent are going to receive an incentive, we recommend separating out exactly how much the child and parent will receive each rather than lumping it into one total. This promotes transparency with both the child and the parent. 

Up Next: How to Screen for Child Participants

Ensuring parent consent

When screening begins, parents or guardians should be the first person the recruiter speaks to. Make sure you cover the topic of the research, any logistics or scheduling considerations, what will be needed from their child, and what will be needed from them. 

You must ask the parent if they are comfortable with their child being screened and participating in the research session, and they must give consent to both. This should be the first thing you ask while screening to ensure everyone is on the same page. Then, you can move forward with asking them about their child.

Gathering information from the parent

To gather information about the child, start by asking for the child’s name, age, and grade in school. Make sure their age matches up with their grade (e.g., a 5th grader will likely be 10-11 years old).

We recommend asking about their child’s temperament, comfort around other adults, and generally, about their behavior. Are they outgoing or shy? Talkative or quiet? This information could help determine if the child is a good fit for research. If there is any other demographic information you need about the household or child, ask the parents to ensure they meet any quotas needed in the research.

Next up, ask about the child’s usage of the product or service the research session is about. Be aware that how you approach these questions will differ depending on the age of the participant. If you are doing research on a streaming app with 6–8 year-olds, parents will likely know what shows and how many hours that child watches, but parents of 15–17 year-olds may not be as aware of their teenagers’ streaming activities. 

We recommend asking parents of younger children more specific questions about the product or service, while keeping questions more general for parents of pre-teens and teens. If the parent’s usage questions answers do not fully line up with your expectations, but are very close, it may still be worth scheduling the child for research as their answers may be more accurate. 

Talking with the child

After you have finished screening the parent or guardian and it appears the child may qualify for the research session, it’s time to screen the child. As I mentioned above, it’s important to remember the power dynamics present when speaking with a child as an adult. This may be an entirely new experience for them and using clear language to explain your role, the study, and what’s expected of them will be important. Remember to ensure they know this is completely optional and if at any point they are not comfortable or want to stop, they can! We recommend paying closer attention to this dynamic than you would when screening adults.

First, just as you did already with the parents, explain the research topic and logistics to them. It’s very important to make sure the child actually wants to participate in the research and understands what is expected of them. We find that some parents may think their child is interested, but in reality, they aren't. Any child who displays hesitation or disinterest in the research should not be screened any further. And we recommend explaining that reasoning to the parent so they understand what happened.

After establishing the child has interest in participating, they should be asked the same questions as the parents: age, year in school, and product usage questions. We recommend leaving any demographic questions out of the conversation with the child, but all other answers should be reviewed alongside the parent’s responses to ensure they align. 

Some of the usage responses may differ slightly, but shouldn’t vary greatly. If they do, it’s possible either the parent or child may not have been truthful with their answers. You should be able to ask some more detailed usage questions for pre-teens and teens since they will be better at self-reporting their usage and behaviors than younger children.

The only question that needs to be asked to the child and not to the parent is an articulation question. Articulation questions help determine if the child can fully articulate their feelings and respond appropriately to a question. If they can’t, they may not be outgoing or communicative enough to provide helpful insights and responses. 

Make sure the articulation is appropriate based on the age of the child. Younger children can be asked more simple questions about their favorite toy, TV show, or animal, and why they like those things. Older children can be asked more complex articulation questions like what types of activities they like to do on social media platforms, what content creators they watch, or what favorite videos they've made on social media. Ideally, you’d craft the articulation question to be relevant to the research topic.

Once the child has been run through the screener and you’ve determined they qualify, they should be invited to participate and given any instructions and expectations for the research session. These instructions should also be given to the parent or guardian again so they can make sure the child will be ready and prepared for the research session.

Recruiting children comes with its own set of challenges, but can be an invaluable part of your product development strategy. Still want to learn more?

Discover how we helped a client improve the onboarding experience for young gamers

Want to understand more about how to conduct and moderate research with young participants? Check out these two resources from our team:

Written by

Kristen Elfstrand

Kristen Elfstrand is a Senior Project Manager at AnswerLab with 15 years of experience in recruiting and managing market research and UX research projects. She has managed both domestic and international studies and has worked with a variety of clients in a range of industries including technology, retail/e-commerce, financial services, pharmaceutical, and consumer packaged goods.

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