ACSPRI Conferences, ACSPRI Social Science Methodology Conference 2010

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Conducting Sensitive Research with Adolescents

Spring Chenoa Cooper Robbins, Kate Steinbeck, S. Rachel Skinner, Margot Rawsthorne, Karen Paxton, Catherine Hawke

Building: Holme Building
Room: Holme Room
Date: 2010-12-01 01:30 PM – 03:00 PM
Last modified: 2010-11-17


Introduction: Conducting research with adolescents brings issues of independence, autonomy, and ethical considerations to light.  Conducting research on sensitive topics, regardless of the age of the participant, also involves specific challenges.  Issues of privacy, protection, and trust are obvious considerations when the research topic is a personal or delicate subject.  Using data and examples from the ARCHER (Adolescent Rural Cohort study on Hormones, Health, Education, Environment & Relationships) research study, we describe the challenges and document the successes we have experienced in conducting sensitive research with adolescents.

Methods: The research examples are from a qualitative study that was part of pilot work for the longitudinal ARCHER study. We conducted 7 focus groups with 10-15 year olds (mixed and single gender) in two large rural centres in the state of New South Wales, Australia.
Results: Our focus groups identified that adolescents discussed both external and internal factors that were salient to their involvement in the focus groups, as well as factors that may influence their involvement in a larger longitudinal study.  Thus, we describe methods that researchers may employ to achieve success with sensitive research with adolescents.  Adolescents had a positive view of research at the outset of the focus groups but were reluctant to engage in research that involved collection of biological specimens. Therefore, we also discuss methods for capitalizing on adolescents’ positive attitudes.  Our recruitment process, focus group design, and engagement and feedback to the adolescents will all be described. 

Discussion: Effective recruitment and engagement of adolescents to sensitive research requires an appreciation of motivators, as well as time and resources to extend potential participants’ understanding.