User Testing with Minors

Minors (people under the age of 18) encompass a wide range of levels in physical, social, emotional and cognitive development. Accordingly, some of the guidelines vary based on the participants’ age, while some of them are applicable for all ages. 

Overall Guidelines 


  1. While teenagers can be reached directly by posting on social media or in public places (libraries, schools, gyms, malls, etc.), most recruiters go directly to the parents. Minors under the age of 18 in the US, and 16 in the UK (no matter how mature they are) are not allowed to participate in studies without parental/guardian consent. Note: The age of majority in ALL US states is 18 or higher (unless someone is an emancipated adult by getting married or having a child younger)
  2. Besides getting written consent from the parent/legal guardian, researchers also need to get participants’ agreement, a.k.a. assent, which does not need to be in writing. Assent is the informed consent given by the minor – this needs to be communicated in an age-appropriate manner. So while minors are not allowed to participate in research without consent from their legal guardian, they themselves are required to give assent – an informed consent as a second requirement for the study.
  3. Talk though the assent form days before the research. This accomplishes two things:
    1. Making sure that the minor participant understands what is asked of them to ensure an informed assent.
    2. Screening for sociable participants as many kids and teenagers are shy with strangers. 
  4. Recruit more than the number of participants needed because the risk of something happening that prevents a participant from showing up is doubled when a parent needs to provide transportation to the testing facility.
  5. As both the parent and the minor are involved, make sure you offer compensation to both of them. While cash is appreciated by everyone, younger people appreciate gift cards to their favorite online and brick-and-mortar stores. 
  6. Try advertising in places where parents are likely to hang out:
    1. Offline, using fliers in public places
      1. Storytime places
      2. Extracurricular programs for kids (swim school, indoor playgrounds, children’s museum, YMCA, etc.)
    2. Online:
      1. Facebook groups involving parents
      2. Post ads on relevant websites, use GoogleAds, or Facebook Banner
  7. In your recruiting material, spell out the following pieces of information:
    1. Targeting criteria (What kind of participants you are looking for)
    2. Incentives (In what ways participants will benefit – not just financially. Many children are happy to help if they see the research as a worthwhile activity)
    3. Logistics (time commitment and location) 
    4. Sign-up information (URL, email, phone number)

COPPA – The Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, a federal law

Effective starting April 2000, revised in 2008

  1. Applicable to any website/application that may collect information from children under the age of 13. This federal law requires that the website/application discuss – in terms that are understandable to children – the following
    1. The child is not asked to provide any more information than necessary for participation
    2. Their parent can refuse the information collected on the minor, can request to have it deleted, and refuse further collection or use of information and explains how to do this. 
    3. Name and contact information of all operators collecting and maintaining the information
    4. The kinds of information being held and how the information is being collected. 
    5. How the operator will use the information.
    6. Whether the information is disclosed to 3rd parties and if so, who they are, and what it is for, and giving the parent the option to opt-out of sharing the information with 3rd party 
    7. See Nickelodeon’s website information for example.
Mother and daughter each on their computers, working
Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

Conducting Research

General Guidelines

  1. Dress casually
  2. Building trust is crucial – set a friendly tone by sharing information about yourself so that they can relate to you.
  3. Promote a casual and fun atmosphere.
  4. Tailor your language to the kids. Remember, they don’t want to be considered younger than their age,at the same time, you don’t want to be obscure.
  5. Make sure you are prepared with a variety of activities – younger people tend to complete the usability tasks faster, and are satisfied once they get an acceptable answer. Unlike older participants, they tend not to double check their work!
  6. Vary up the activity at least every 20 minutes, or more frequently depending on how fast your minor participants get bored.
  7. Bring plenty of materials such as paper, scissors, markers, etc.
  8. Encourage them to give a free answer by using creative techniques such as word associations, drawings, fill-in-the-gaps.
  9. Understand that children’s everyday experience will strongly influence their answers till they reach the maturity level of abstract thinking and hypotheticals (around age 11).

Broken down by Age Groups

Under the age of 3

  • Hard to research but is possible starting at around 18 months
  • Test material must have visual and physical elements to it
  • Make sure that toddlers react to your test material and not to you.
  • They need to be in their own environment (at home, with their usual caregiver)

Between 3 and 6 of age

  • Lay down the ground rules at the beginning of the session
  • Testing material must be visual
  • Tap into their imagination and empower them with role play – Preschool children tend to be highly creative.
  • Still important to have an adult they know around to provide reassurance to them

Between 6 and 11

  • As their memory is still limited, make the stimulus available right in front of them
  • Best to interview them with a friend

Between 11 and 16

  • Teenagers are generally capable of abstract thinking: they are able to engage in in-depth discussions about hypothetical issues (what ifs)
  • They want to be treated like adults – that way they are more likely to respond maturely and share their ideas.
  • They are proud and happy to talk about their personal interests and tastes. It is important to treat them as individuals and not to patronise them.
  • Paired interviews often allow them to share more freely


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