Conducting Marketing Research with Children: Legal and Ethical Considerations Plus Tips from Experienced Researchers

Mindspot Research conducts research with many different age groups.  We work to consider those who participate in our research (participants), and it is important to us that we take special consideration when conducting research with kids.research

When we say kids:  We mean children, tweens, and teens.  Online Marketing Research with Children has many considerations:

  • Legal
  • Ethical
  • Developmental
  • Interest

Online Marketing Research Legal Considerations

Legal Considerations require compliance with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), effective April 21, 2000, which applies to the online collection of personal information from children under 13. The rule spells out what a website operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children’s privacy and safety online.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) staff prepared a guide to help website operators comply with the requirements for protecting children’s privacy online and understand the FTC’s enforcement authority:

“Will adhere to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act and will obtain permission and document consent of a parent, legal guardian or responsible guardian before interviewing children under 13 years of age. Prior to obtaining permission, the interviewer should divulge the subject matter, length of the interview and other special tasks that may be required of the respondent.”

COPPA applies to individually identifiable information about a child that is collected online, such as full name, home address, email address, telephone number or any other information that would allow someone to identify or contact the child. The Act also covers other types of information – for example, hobbies, interests and information collected through “cookies” (an attachable unique identifier to a person’s preferences on a Web site) or other types of tracking mechanisms – when they are tied to individually identifiable information.

Before collecting, using or disclosing personal information from a child, the researcher must obtain verifiable parental consent from the child’s parent. This means an operator must make reasonable efforts (taking into consideration on available technology) to ensure that before personal information is collected from a child, a parent of the child receives notice of the operator’s information practices and consents to those practices.

The researcher must post a link to the privacy policy on the home page of its website and in each area where opinion and marketing researchers collect personal information from children.  For an example of a Privacy Policy which includes compliance with COPPA and MRA please visit www.MindspotResearch/PrivacyPolicy. The Full text of COPPA available at the following FTC site locations:

https://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/rules/rulemaking-regulatory-reform-proceedings/childrens-online-privacy-protection-rule

https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/2012-31341.pdf 

http://www.ecfr.gov/cgi-bin/text-idx?SID=4939e77c77a1a1a08c1cbf905fc4b409&node=16%3A1.0.1.3.36&rgn=div5

Marketing Research Ethics Guidelines

The Marketing Research Association (MRA) recommends in their Code of Ethics that Interviewers must take special care when interviewing children or young people:

“The informed consent of the parent or responsible adult first must be obtained for interviews with children. Parents or responsible adults must be told some specifics about the interview process and special tasks, such as audio, video or IVR recording, taste testing, respondent fees before permission is obtained.  All researchers must adhere to all federal and state regulations regarding the interviewing of children under 13 years of age. All interviews conducted online must adhere to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA).”

Developmental Abilities

I could spend a lot of time here going into developmental psychology but I like to keep things simple. We have Moms working at Mindspot.  Once you have a basic understanding that there are certain things kids can and can’t do cognitively at certain ages, the best thing to do is ask a Mom of a child in the age range where you are conducting research.  If we are working with kids in person we take steps to ensure the research methodology is designed and tested so that we believe everyone in the group can participate.  In our opinion, the most important consideration is to take special care with kids.

If we have a survey we are sure to pre-test the survey with children prior to sending the online survey link to the parent. We obtain parental permission and request their parent helps them but does not answer for them. We keep it short and simple for young children.

Keeping Kid’s Interest is Key

The digital age is not as simple to maintain a child’s interest and this applies in person as well as to online research.  We have been in the field conducting interviews with young girls who are capable of answering in a very articulate way while texting and not looking up. It is a new age.

We often describe the new generation not just as multi-taskers but as “Brain Dividers” or “Splitters”.  Yes, we did make the words up so be sure and credit Mindspot Research if they go viral. Splitters seem to have the capability of doing many things (cognitive functions) at once and doing them well. This is not the same as rubbing your head and standing on one leg. I am pretty sure they could do that if they could have one hand free to text.

Getting to the point the biggest challenge with kids is HOW do you keep and maintain their attention to make it a good experience for everyone. Research design based on their cognitive ability that can engage them is key. We have learned that using games, drawing, sorts, emoticons and other interactive web tools can be helpful.

We have also learned to limit the use of the tools because they understand how to use them quickly and the group can go off somewhere you did not expect and if you are not very checked in you will lose control. A good moderator can appreciate conversation “runs” AND maintain control.

Mindspot Research Guidelines for Working with Kids

We have guidelines internally that we follow. We always (by this I do mean no exceptions) obtain parental permission for anyone 13 or younger.  Even those who are between the ages of 13 and 18 we encourage them to let their parents know they are participating and to provide our contact details.

We offer a phone number and an address and let parents know they can call us to find out we are a legitimate business.  We find that Dads call us most often about their daughters and appreciate those calls.

We keep our Privacy Policy updated on our website.  We only collect name and address so that we can pay our participants for their time if it is a project which involves compensation. When we report research results we only report by the total aggregate results. Children are not identified individually and we do not mention any names when we produce the final report.

Once the legal and ethical considerations are satisfied, we design the research with cognitive ability in mind, then we decide how to make it engaging for the participants and get the information we are looking for to inform the decisions for a new product, an ad, or a new concept.

Things We Have Learned Over The Years:

1)      Kids are wonderfully creative. If you want a new idea, ask a child.

2)      Children are more likely to tell you the truth. They have fewer things to sift through to get to their top-of-mind response.

3)      Young people especially teens type fast. If you are in an online chat group like our online focus group platform, you better be able to type faster.

4)      Pre-test your survey instrument. We pre-test both surveys and activities and usually with someone slightly younger than the desired age and the desired age. We want kids who participate with us to be able to have a positive experience. Once we have a successful pretest we are set up for success.

5)      Kids are insightful. The best part of research with kids is actually listening to what they have to say.  It still surprises me at how clever and articulate children can be.  It’s quite humbling.

6)      Horses are only as good as your worst horse. Groups of kids (especially teens) are like that too – it’s important to manage any participant in a group who is being disruptive or unresponsive and we have procedures built in as activity monitors and use an extra moderator to ensure everything goes as planned.

In closing, conducting research with kids takes more care and planning than projects with adults. Once you put in time to ensuring the project’s success we find these are some of our most challenging and entertaining projects.

If you have questions, we’ve got answers. Contact us!

By Lynnette Leathers, CEO of Mindspot Research and Focus Group Moderator

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