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Informed Consent for Minors and Their Parents

Students who are minors are not only unable to consent for themselves because they are minors, they may also face additional vulnerability if the researcher is their instructor as well. Because minors are unable to consent for themselves, you will need to at minimum provide information to parents about the study and/or possibly obtain consent from parents as well as assent from students. If you have a position of authority over students (i.e. teacher, administrator), you will need to create a mechanism for approaching and obtaining consent from parents and students so that they can give consent voluntarily. For more information about consent and working with minors, please see Consent and Including Minors in a Research Study.

Communicating with Parents and Students: Parent Consent and Student Assent

Parent consent forms and student assent forms are appropriate for students that are minors. Minors are unable to legally consent for themselves, thus it is important that you contact parents about your study. Nearly all studies, whether they are exempt or not, will require that you send home a letter to parents to explain your presence in their child's classroom, why you are conducting the study, how to contact you if they have questions, and what to do if they don't want their child to participate. For some schools, the principal and/or teacher may want to send a letter home as well about the study. It is important that the principal/teacher's letter does not promote the study to the parents but simply verifies that they gave permission for you to conduct the study at the school. For a template version of of a parent letter, see the Parent Notification Letter in the Consent Forms section.

For exempt protocols, in most cases, sending the Parent Notification Letter home to parents is the only contact you need to have with parents, though you will want to provide the same information from a consent form in your letter. You should introduce yourself and the research project, inform the parents about what you will do, what their child will do, and include information about the child’s confidentiality and any risks.  Provide information about how to contact you if they have questions and what to do if they don’t want their child to participate. For a template version of this letter, see the Parent Notification Letter in the Consent Forms section.

As for a student assent, if the protocol is exempt, you won't need to document consent. However, where appropriate, introduce yourself to the students and describe the purpose of your visit to their classroom. Take a moment to explain what it means to be a researcher and give them a chance to ask questions about your study.

If your protocol is not exempt, you will need to provide consent forms to parents and assent forms to the students. Often these forms can be sent home for parents to sign, but it may be appropriate to meet in person with parents and students to talk about the study. Generally parents should be contacted first about the study, so consider sending the consent form packet home in a sealed envelope or contacting parents directly about the study. Remember that the purpose of the consent form is to effectively communicate the ideas of the study to the participants and what their involvement will entail. Make sure that you are writing at a reading comprehension level that is appropriate for both the students and their parents. If you have questions about the readability of your forms, consider asking the students' teacher if he or she thinks her students and their parents will be able to understand your documents, or please contact our office and we will provide feedback and direct you to readability experts.

Please note that “consent” and “assent” are legal terms; all participants under the age of 18 are not legally able to consent for themselves and must have parental consent.  The assent form, however, documents that the student understands and agrees to participate in the research study.

Materials Release Consent Form

If you are collecting materials such as writing samples, drawings, exercises, etc, or if you are using video tape, audio tape, photography, or other recording devices, please describe this process in your letter to parents and/or in the parent consent form, student assent form, teacher consent form, etc. Include in the consent or parental notification under “What you will do/ What your child will do” a statement that the teacher/ child will be recorded and for what purpose. You may also need to explain what you will do if a child isn't participating in the study but may be part of the recording.

However, if you will publish a piece of a writing sample or a drawing, or if you will use a video tape in a presentation, in a class, etc, then you will need to use the Materials Release Consent Form to gain permission to use the materials in this way. The Materials Release Consent Form gives participants the opportunity to participate in the study but not allow their recordings for uses beyond the study.  If the materials you collect will only be used for research purposes and they will be reported in such a way that will not identify any individual, it is not necessary for you to use this form.

For more information on recording devices, please see Data Collection Tools.

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