Affecting children’s development
The third area of ethical concern regarding research with children is that their development itself can be seen as vulnerable to negative influences, more so than older individuals, who may be expected to be more resilient and robust. Taking part in research can be a daunting prospect for children, especially if the research has potential for evoking negative emotional reactions. It is not always obvious what may trigger such reactions. Children may consequently suffer heightened reactions, and the memories of these may remain with them.
An example of this is given by the ‘Strange Situation’ assessment of a child’s attachment security. Researchers using this technique follow a strict set of procedures to minimise the upset caused to a child by the separations, so that the child is not left with a traumatic memory of distress, and to ensure a standardised administration, allowing results to be amalgamated or compared with others. For some children, the unexpected ‘loss’ of a parent in an unfamiliar and possibly threatening environment can indeed be a serious matter if it is not sensitively contained.
This example also serves as a reminder of how important the parent or caregiver presence can be for many children in helping them to feel secure in an unfamiliar situation. However, it is very common for researchers to seek to collect data from children without the parent or caregiver present, or at least with them kept well in the background, to avoid possible influence on results.