Taking children's voices seriously: sustaining dialogic engagement with children in individual and group interviews

Year: 2013

Author: Ey, Lesley-anne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There is a widely held belief that researching with young children is essential to obtaining authentic data around issues that concern them. However, some argue that single interviews may locate children in a position of power-imbalance and should be avoided (Davis, 1998; Mahon & Glendinning, 1996) -  recommending instead group interviews with children. It has also been recommended that interviews with children do not exceed 20-30 minutes (Curtin, 2000; Morgan, Gibbs, Maxwell, & Britten, 2002).  Such views focus on children's vulnerabilities rather than their strengths.

Morrow and Richards (1996) claim that researchers' views of the child direct their research approaches, and further argue that certain views supress rather than privilege children's voices.  The four views Morrow and Richards draw attention to are: the developing child view that sees children as immature and commonly underestimates their abilities; the tribal child view that detaches children from the adult world and considers that children are capable in their own world but not in an adult world; the adult child view that sees children as miniature adults and expects children's abilities to be on par with adults; and the social child view that appreciates children's age-related capabilities.
 The interview-based study reported in this paper is based on the social child view and used strategies to redress power-imbalance. Accordingly, children were viewed as competent participants, capable of sustaining active engagement in both single and group interviews for long periods of time, when the topic of research is of interest to them. This presentation reports on single and group interviews conducted with children aged 6 and 10 years. The data for this study were collected over three visits to six diverse socio-economic schools in an Australian capital. The single interviews with children explored children's music preferences and lasted for approximately 20 minutes with each child. The group interviews were conducted with mixed gender groups of around 2-6 children within the same age range. The group interview began with a play activity of dressing dolls and then semi-structured, open-ended questions around children perception of gender were asked. This interview lasted approximately one hour per group.
Implications of the success of these methods are discussed in terms of engaging children as active participants in research in ways that see researchers and ethics committees alike acknowledging and respecting children's capabilities and strengths in order to take children's voices seriously.