What do children and young people understand about how the law relates to them? This has been the focus of a recent ESRC-funded project using participatory research methods with young people. Here Dr Dawn Watkins explains the background of the project, the development of a tablet-based game, and some of the main research findings.
Law in Children’s Lives
Law in Children’s Lives is a research project, funded by a ESRC transformative grant from 2014-16, which has taken a child-focussed approach to finding out what children aged 8-11 know about the law and their legal rights. Knowing that traditional research methods can sometimes be alienating to children, we wanted a familiar and comfortable way for them to talk to us. With 60% of 6-11-year-olds using tablets each week (Ofcom 2014) and 99% of children playing digital games (UKIE), framing these scenarios in a game made sense. And so, an alien called Lex was born…
Adventures with Lex
Adventures with Lex is a tablet-based game that the research team developed through participatory research methods – working with children in focus groups, as well as the young research advisors at the National Children’s Bureau and adult consultants from Law for Life. The game involves a cartoon alien, called Lex, who comes to Earth, asking children to show it around their world. The children, and Lex, visit four familiar settings – school, the park, a shop and a friend’s house. In each setting, the children are faced with different scenarios and they are asked to decide what to do or to explain to Lex what they think about each situation.
The game captures quantitative data, through the answers the player selects on the screen, and qualitative data, by the player speaking directly into the tablet. This gives us an insight into the decisions children make when faced with legally relevant dilemmas, as well as their reasoning behind these decisions. Children play the game individually in the classroom, wearing a headset with a microphone to immerse them in the game and to eliminate the surrounding noise of the other children. We worked in eight primary schools across Leicester and Leicestershire, and some 634 children participated.
We found out a great deal about children’s views on legally relevant issues. The most heartening finding was that children have a strong understanding of and concern for gender equality, and some good understanding of their rights as consumers. However, children demonstrated a general lack of knowledge of human rights and children’s rights and uncertainty concerning the levels of force that adult authority figures are permitted to exercise over them. Of particular relevance to UKAJI’s work is our discovery that children had very low expectations concerning their opportunity to express their views on matters concerning them; both in school and in wider society.
More details of these findings and information concerning our publications can be found at the ‘Law in Children’s Lives’ website, together with a short film that provides an overview of the project and its aims. The project’s key findings are due to be published in a forthcoming article, ‘Exploring children’s understanding of law in their everyday lives’, in Legal Studies.
The research team
The project is led by Dr Dawn Watkins. Other members of the interdisciplinary team funded by the ESRC from 2014-16 were: Professor Effie Law (Informatics), Dr Jo Barwick (Information Science) and Dr Elee Kirk (Museum and Childhood Studies). Sadly, Elee passed away in 2016 and she is greatly missed by us all.
About the author:
Dr Dawn Watkins is Associate Professor at Leicester Law School, University of Leicester.