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Best Practices for Qualitative Research with Kids & Teens

Doing research with kids is fun. There’s unique energy present and an unpredictable nature to it. But, it can go south fast. One 10 year old might be super chatty when the next only provides ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers. Some kids are comfortable talking to strangers, others not so much. And the language we use as researchers might go over kids’ heads.

We’ve just wrapped remote qualitative interviews with kids and teens for a Fortune 100 athletic apparel company and a legacy skincare brand. Here are our top takeaways:

  1. Age matters.

    1. Kids 6 and under don’t have the attention spans to be interview participants. Talk to their parents instead and allow the kid(s) to chime in when they want. If you want to ask the child questions directly, save them for the end when they’ve had a chance to hear you speak with their parents for upwards of 30-45 minutes. This will make them more comfortable with you and more willing to open up.

    2. Kids 7 and 8 are experiencing a stage of introversion. Some of them will open up, but this is a vulnerable age. Rather than addressing them directly, have a three-way conversation with them and their parents to allow them to be as open as they choose to be. Adjust your questions accordingly.

    3. Kids 9+ can, for the most part, hold a conversation on their own. You can speak directly to them and ask their parents to add in anything that the child might not remember, or doesn’t have the words to express.

  2. Engage them early. When the interview kicks off, they’ll be very skeptical and somewhat reluctant. Ask them ridiculous, imagination-based warm up questions to set the tone, and to take the pressure off.

  3. Ask easy questions first. After your warm up, keep it light by asking the easier set of questions. While it might feel like jumping around, starting off with heavy questions or questions that are difficult to answer, tends to close the kids off a bit. Save the tough questions for the end and allow them time to think about their answers.

  4. Make them comfortable. Consider bringing some sensory elements into your discussion. Can you ask them to show you photos on their phone, get them to draw a picture or have them talk about something in their house? Can you frame questions in a way that allows them to "play a game" or "use their imagination"? You can start questions with, "if kids were in charge and grown ups couldn't say no, what would you do ..." as a way to take reality out of the equation. Finally, consider dyads instead of one-on-one interviews as comfort level will go up and they’ll speak to their friend differently than they would speak to an adult they’ve never met.

  5. Speak simply. Speak their language and try to find common ground. Keep questions really simple and direct. Adults can handle two-parters in a way kids can't. If kids still aren’t getting what you’re asking, have another way to state it in your back pocket. We’d recommend testing your questions on a kid prior to launching research as a litmus test to ensure true simplicity and clarity.

  6. Make parents your ally. Ask parents to help you translate your questions to their child, and ask them to translate anything stated by their child that you may not understand. At the beginning, you can also ask them to encourage their children to speak up or elaborate. Parents are much more likely to remember things that have happened recently than kids so they can prompt the kid with the memory and ask the kid to tell the story. However, sometimes the presence of parents will make kids feel like they have to answer “correctly”. In that case, you can either remind the child that you care about what they think or in some instances, you can kindly dismiss the parent.

  7. Build in extra time. Expect short answers. Kids are likely to answer with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and don’t naturally expound upon answers. Try to stay away from closed-ended questions and allow extra time to go deeper and ask why. As a rule of thumb, if your interview is 45 minutes long, prepare 30 minutes worth of material and use the extra 15 minutes as thinking time or time to go deeper on a topic they get particularly excited about.

  8. Embrace silence. Maybe more so than adults, kids need time to process what you’ve asked and think about their answer. Be okay with stretches of silence — the kids will fill the silence if you let them.

  9. Recruit more participants. As a loose rule of thumb, 1/3rd of your interviews might not produce the content or insight you’re looking for. Make up for it by increasing the number of interviews you conduct.

We hope these learnings are helpful. Anything we missed? Let’s keep the knowledge share going.

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