Unique Ethical Complexities and Empowering Youth in the Research Process


  • Dawn E. Trussell


Ethical issues, power, children, youth, empower, positive youth development


Since the early 1990s, there has been a search for new ways of engaging youth in the research process that emphasizes research with not on youth. This paradigm shift conceptualizes youth as active and competent participants in the research process who are capable of speaking for themselves and shedding light on their own lives. Similar to the broader social sciences field, leisure scholars are now using research methods that mobilize young people as active participants. These methods include indepth interviews, drawings, rap music, ethnography, and program design and implementation. Despite the growing body of literature on youth, to date, little dialogue has occurred within the leisure studies field on the unique ethical complexities that researchers encounter when working with youth. Clearly, there is a need to examine how researchers can facilitate a research process that empowers youth participants and provides them with the opportunity to actively develop their own personal skills, competencies, and feelings of self-worth. This paper represents a step toward understanding the unique ethical complexities when working with youth and provides discussion as to how researchers can make conscious decisions throughout the research process to help engage and empower youth voices. In this paper, I explore five areas of ethical concerns in relation to research with youth: (a) Power: bridging the adult-youth age gap; (b) Negotiating the relationship triad: researcher, youth, and parent; (c) Informed consent and assent: empowering youth with the choice to participate; (d) Non-oppressive research: implications for design, interpretation, and dissemination; and (e) Researcher reflexivity: locating our own adolescent experiences in the research process. Although the ethical tensions presented in this paper are discussed in the research context, many similar ethical complexities emerge when working with youth in community recreation programs and during the process of program evaluation. Similar to the research process, youth recreation staff can empower young people’s lives by providing them with the opportunity to be active participants in the development, implementation, and evaluation of the programs in which they are involved.?