Methodological and ethical issues in conducting qualitative research with children and young people: a literature review

Int J Nurs Stud. 2007 Sep;44(7):1250-60. doi: 10.1016/j.ijnurstu.2006.08.015. Epub 2006 Oct 9.


Background: There is an increasing interest in involving children in research that has been influenced by the recognition of children's rights and by the reconceptualisation of children within the social sciences as active agents rather than as the objects of research.

Objectives: To review the methodological and ethical issues involved in conducting qualitative research with children and to consider the implications for nursing research in light of recent debates within the social sciences.

Design: Narrative literature review using a systematic search of computerized databases.

Data sources: Published papers, key texts, reports and policy documents that relate to the methodological and ethical issues in conducting qualitative research with children.

Results: There are three ethical issues in relation to conducting research with children: power relations, informed consent and confidentiality. Two key methodological issues are identifiable in relation to conducting research with children. One is epistemological and relates to the different cultures of childhood and adulthood and the second relates to the heterogenous nature of childhood itself. Novel techniques and task-based activities are being increasingly used to establish rapport and as a method of data collection.

Conclusion: There are both differences and similarities in conducting qualitative research with children and with adults but often the similarities have been overlooked and the differences overstated. Nursing and other health-related researchers conducting research with adults could learn much from children's researchers, particularly in terms of sensitivity to ethical issues. Nursing research need to consider the methodological issues that have been debated in the social sciences and to critically reflect on the use of novel techniques in qualitative research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child Advocacy / ethics*
  • Child Advocacy / psychology
  • Confidentiality / ethics
  • Confidentiality / psychology
  • Data Collection / ethics
  • Human Experimentation / ethics
  • Humans
  • Informed Consent / ethics
  • Informed Consent / psychology
  • Nursing Methodology Research* / ethics
  • Nursing Methodology Research* / methods
  • Patient Selection / ethics
  • Power, Psychological
  • Qualitative Research*
  • Research Design
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / ethics
  • Researcher-Subject Relations / psychology
  • United Kingdom