Parental Permission and Online Survey Research

As we conduct online research its important to keep best practices in mind at all times. When conducting research with minors (for most states, persons under the age of 18) this may be even more pertinent. So, what are some guidelines for age of consent when asking young adults and teenagers to respond to a survey which is available online?

Most survey work goes through an IRB submission process, and luckily for us IRB's are supposed to follow these guidelines, taking some of the pressure off of us to remember these facets. But here are a few points which are great to be aware of if you are in the field.

The OHRP (Office of Human Research Protections) states that in general the law considers anyone under the age of 18 to be a child. Additionally, it tells us that when the interviewee (or survey respondent) is a "child" (i.e., under 18), we need to get the permission of not only the child, but also the child's parents.

We also have to keep in mind a law specific to contacting children online - the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA). The law applies to the online collection of personal information from children under 13. The rules spell out what a web site operator must include in a privacy policy, when and how to seek verifiable consent from a parent and what responsibilities an operator has to protect children's privacy and safety online.

Again a best practice when conducting any type of survey research (be it online, paper or in-person) is to obtain parental consent when conducting work with young adults, teenagers and of course children.
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