Understanding research with children and young people
Understanding research with children and young people

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Understanding research with children and young people

6 Undertaking research with children and young people.

In the recording you just heard, Alison referred to ‘ethicality’; you will be looking in more depth at the ethical aspect of research later in this course. For now, you are going to think about issues that may arise for you, as a researcher, and how your own feelings and experiences may impact on your research. Throughout this Session you have been considering the importance of children’s and young people’s participation in research that affects their lives. Whether you are an adult or a young person conducting the research, you need to bear in mind that children and young people are not a homogeneous group; they bring their diverse views and backgrounds to research, and the same will be true for the adults working alongside them.

Sometimes, some groups of children and young people will have more in common with some adults with whom they share particular experiences than they will with their peers. For example, some children, young people and adults will all have experiences of being diabetic or growing up in poverty. At the same time, experiences of children and young people in these situations will, potentially, differ from those of adults, and for researchers these differences are worth investigating. You might like to look at the Our Voices website here [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , for more detail on this aspect of sharing experiences; there will be links to this website throughout this course and in particular in Session 4.

Activity 7

Timing: Allow approximately 15 minutes.

In this last recording for this Session, you will hear three adult researchers talking about the personal and emotional impact their research had. Before you start to listen, look at the questions below, and keep those in mind as you listen. Record your answers in the box as you listen to the recording, then click on ‘reveal discussion’ to see a summary of the key points raised.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 2
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Transcript: Audio 2

You all talk very passionately about your work with children and young people. Liz, can you say something about the emotional impact the research has had upon you?
Yeah sure. It’s an interesting question and one that I’ve been reflecting on, and I was trying to think about whether pride was an emotion. And in working with children in a kind of very close way with them as writers, both at home and at school, I found myself becoming very proud of the work that they did, and how they talked about it. So they would show me pieces of writing that they had done at home and at school. So that was definitely a feeling that I had.
And then I found myself then, when I was listening to teachers talk about the children, quite challenged in lots of ways. I knew what the children said about themselves as writers at home and how they kind of felt that they were seen at school, and then what the teacher was doing was talking about the children and framing them as non-writers or daydreamers. But of course I knew the other side of that, so I knew what the children had told me about why they were presenting as a daydreamer in some kind of way.
So I was probably quite conflicted about whether I should say anything to the teacher about that, but I was definitely – I found myself probably feeling quite defensive of the children but knowing that wasn’t the place to share that with the teachers. And one of the children that I worked with showed me a piece of writing which he termed ‘viewpoint writing’, which was actually a piece of writing taken from his perspective sitting in the back of a car and he was looking out of a windscreen. So, it is a very technical drawing, so when I looked at the writing I imagined that he would say one thing about it. But actually what he said about it was that it was a piece of writing that he had chosen to do on the way to the hospital to visit a grandfather who was very ill. And so that obviously had an emotional impact on me, but it was definitely not the place for me to be sharing that emotion back, so it was his time and his space – so that idea that sometimes you have to keep your emotions in check when you are hearing some of the stories that children are sharing with you.
So a mixture of pride and challenge. Alison, is that something that you similarly experienced?
Mm, absolutely. And I was thinking about the work I was doing when we were creating the social charter with the mixed-age range of children, straight through from eleven to their educators. And yes, feeling the pride of having created the safe space that children who were able to say things to their teachers, or teachers around them, that they hadn’t been able to say in other spaces because they were telling about the power of peer groups that they were using for support, but worried that their teachers, if they had spoken about them otherwise, would think that they had been cheating, but also the responsibility that you have as a researcher to make sure that that safe space is actually safe. Some of the things that Liz has been picking up on perhaps. And I think also what came with that, was sort of really paying attention to the conversations all the time that they were going on, to decide whether to intervene or how to manage those.
And this particularly fed into the work with the disadvantaged children, which we were working on a much larger scale, and feeling very frustrated when I wasn’t able to create those sort of same safe spaces with working with ninety children of the same age group but coming from different schools. There was some anger in the room. There was all sorts of issues being raised, and I sort of was really conflicted because the teacher in me, the educator in me, wanted to know those children, wanted to know how I should have been handling them, that perhaps this wasn’t the right thing to be talking about and researching just now, and looking to their tutors and mentors as to how to manage that. And working with them over time, that sort of eased as I managed to be able to get to know the tutors and mentors. But it was that conflict between teacher and researcher.
So a conflict of identities – is that something that resonates with your work, Martin?
It certainly does. I mean, a lot of my research has been around quite sensitive issues around identity, care and relationships. And I think if you are researching those issues with anybody, your own experiences inevitably come into play, your own emotional experiences. But if you are interviewing young people, then it inevitably calls up memories of your own childhood and youth, and can trigger quite powerful emotions. At the same time, as Alison was saying, I think there are particular issues if you are researching socially disadvantaged or emotionally damaged children and young people, I think I found it difficult at times not to be overwhelmed by sadness in the interview situation by some of the experiences that they are sharing in interviews.
But I am also interested in this issue as a man researching other men. I think men are still quite conditioned to suppress their emotions in professional settings, including research settings, or maybe to squeeze the emotional element out of the work and put it to one side. And I think I have to work quite hard to acknowledge what’s going on for me emotionally. I think you can’t escape emotion when you are researching children and young people. The question is what you do with it. And I think it is really important to have a support structure so that you can reflect on those experiences with your fellow researchers, and to be part of a team. And I think that’s what makes good research with children and young people.
End transcript: Audio 2
Audio 2
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As an adult, can you think of any issues raised in this audio that you have had to face personally in your work with children and young people, or in your daily life?

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As a young person, are there any issues raised by these researchers that you have had to face when working with an adult, or in your daily life?

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It can be difficult not to get emotionally involved in the lives of the people you are researching with.

People may share personal information. It’s important to have a ‘safe space’ for people to talk.

Some issues raised during a research project may be contentious or cause conflict.

Adults may find their personal experiences impact on the way they research the experiences of children and young people.


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