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Editor,—The review “Children of the 90s II: challenges for the ethics and law committee”1 states that the study children are reaching an age when their own views and opinions will begin to eclipse those of their parents in importance. It emphasises the need to balance study benefits against research that is acceptable to the community.
Herman-Giddens et al have suggested that although the age of menarche has changed little in the last 45 years, the first signs of puberty are occurring earlier.2 We designed a pilot study to look at the age of pubertal change in the UK population. The study had local research ethics committee approval. A questionnaire was sent to the parents of 160 children aged 8–18 years. Parents were asked to pass the questionnaire to their child if they were happy for them to complete it. The young people were asked to complete the questionnaire themselves to obviate any difficulties that might arise in single parent families where the parent and child were of different sexes. The respondents were asked to assess their pubertal status using a “tick the box” format in relation to line drawings.
Respondents were encouraged to return the questionnaires even if they did not want to complete them. Seventy one per cent of the questionnaires were returned but only 39% were completed overall. Comments made by parents included: “I have been unable to persuade my daughter to take part in your study. She is at an age when she is extremely self-conscious of the rather rapid changes in her body.” “I find this all very fascinating and would clearly like my daughter to take part. However she is too embarrassed and refuses.”
This study shows that:
- Parents may be happier about completing questionnaires about their children than the children themselves
- Children as young as 8, when given the option, may choose not to take part in a study.
The way we tried to carry out this study was unacceptable to many of our study group. Involving young people at the design stage may increase the acceptability in what is undoubtedly a difficult area to research.