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The ever advancing needs of children

In my work, as a clinical psychologist of the development age and then as a market researcher (as well as the father of two grown-up children), I have always dealt with children. I have observed with attention, curiosity and interest how their behaviour and development stages have changed over the time.

Over recent years the interests of the children have changed as they have become more advanced in their playing and learning. Of particular note are traditional toys aimed at pre-school to primary school age. Not only has the age range of the product been reduced (what a 3 years old child likes, is likely to be already abandoned by a 5 year old child); but we have also seen a significant decrease in the age at which their interest is piqued for a product. It’s a far cry from days when girls at middle school were interested in Barbie; nowadays the target audience for this long loved doll is pre-schoolers or those just starting primary school.

These changes inevitably impact on the research methods we use, ensuring they are flexible enough to adapt to the new realities of today’s children is key. Conducting research with kids has never been easy and it has always been necessary to adopt age appropriate strategies and methodologies (in addition to respect the constraints of the ethical code of ESOMAR), but nowadays we must ensure we review them in light of developmental stage changes, utilising innovative qualitative techniques for maximum benefit.

Sometimes ago it was preferred to interview early age primary school children in friendship pairs to overcome shyness with both adults and unknown peers. Today, there is a tendency today to interview children in groups of no more than 4 who generally do not know each other. This prevents ‘pester power behavior; mutually competitive, provocative behaviour and/or open alliance in opposition to the moderator of the group!

To really understand the attitudes and behaviours of children both among themselves and in relation to objects, products and media, it is essential to follow them in their normal living environment. An ethnographic digital approach based on photos and videos of relevant moments made by parents or by adults who regularly follow them in their activities (teachers, educators, sports coaches), possibly supplemented by in-depth interviews, can replace the need for direct contact with children, especially when budgets are tight. Moreover the kids’ ability to use technology can open new perspectives to kids’ research.

Umberto Avanzi is the Founder of Social-Qualitative.com and a Partner in LEXIS Ricerche.  Playground, the kids research brand from SPA Future Thinking, has a collaborative relationship with Social-qualitative, not only for research projects but also to exchange ideas and information around best practice.

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