MIL-OSI USA: Usability Testing with Kids and Teens

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Source: US Government research organizations

Working with children and teens can be an enlightening experience. You can learn so much about how young people reason, think, and express themselves. Usability testing—or any goal directed conversations about improving your site or tool’s user experience—with children and teens requires special considerations. Be prepared to adapt your methodology, language, timeframes; prepare to work with parents; and make changes to your recruiting methods and even your location.

Preparing and Working with Minors

When working with minors, keep these tips in mind to make things run a bit smoother:



Use age-appropriate language.

Don’t dumb it down, just simplify, especially when working across age groups

Be sensitive to maturity levels.

When designing the test:

  • Specify grade levels or ages, instead of “teens,” specify age levels 13-15 and 16-19
  • Consider segmenting elementary school children, for example K-2nd or 3rd-5th, and adapting the test accordingly

Give yourself more time between sessions.

Working with younger children can take extra time and care and sessions can run over

Recruit more participants than you need.

This will help you in case there are absences or shy children

Use visual scales, instead of numbers or words.

When possible and appropriate visual scales work specifically well with elementary school children

Consider giving them something to take home in addition to their other compensation.

Comply with the rules of your organization but, if possible, consider giving kids or teens something for helping you through their participation

Involving Parents throughout the Process

If you are working with participants under eighteen, you will likely work with their parents or guardians. Consider these tips:



Determine which pre-approvals are required.

  • Ensure you have signed consents and receipts prior to testing, if necessary
  • Adhere to the strictest guidelines your organization outlines
  • Decide how long and where you will maintain this documentation
  • Have the parent or guardian bring a valid photo ID, if testing in the Federal space
  • The parent/guardian may want or need to observe the session so make allowances

Be prepared for siblings to come along.

  • Assure they can wait out of earshot of testing
  • Stock drawing paper, markers, activity or puzzle books & magazines to keep the kiddos entertained
  • Print extra test scripts in case you have a cancellation and/or they offer to have another child participate
  • Be gracious and do what you can to settle the family in and return to your testing if a sibling is causing a distraction

If compensating, ensure it’s an incentive for parents in addition to the kids, especially if their attendance is required.

  • Consider cash or gift cards from major companies or brick and mortar stores in your area
  • Ask if the parent/ guardian would like to handle the compensation or if it can go directly to the child/teen


Consider working with schools or other local facilities to recruit students. Most children are bound by their academic calendar, so working with schools enables you to test during the school day which provides you with greater options and faster turnaround for testing.  There’s the possibility of using school facilities—such as media equipment or wireless internet—which may simplify testing.  If you are able to get organizational buy in, it may encourage children to participate and parents to agree.

Testing Locations

  • Testing in a familiar environment, such as a school, library, or community facility will help your entire test run smoothly. A successful lab space for school aged children is a space that is familiar, convenient, and feels safe and secure. 
  • When selecting your location, determine:
  • Who should be aware of your arrival and departure
  • Whether you can make audio and/or video recordings of sessions
  • Whether your host requires a staff member to observe
  • How comfortable your host is with you potentially compensating participants
    • Should you send the compensation through the mail
    • Present to the child or teen
    • Present only to the parent

You can also test in your own lab space but you may need to work a little harder to make your younger participants feel comfortable.

Recent Examples

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in the process of creating a new webpage made especially for students, had a genius idea of leveraging “Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work Day” as a way to get some usability feedback from kids.  The evaluation was focused on the two sections of the site that would appeal most to students: the Games and Quizzes section, and the Student Resources section, which contains information about careers. There were four sessions, with groups of about 20 students each (one group of elementary school students, two groups of middle school students, and one of high school students). Each session lasted about 20 minutes combining elements of traditional usability testing and focus groups.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has tested with minors and parents for the cross-agency website  That evaluation focused on assessing labeling and terminology used, being able to locate high-value content for these groups like cyberbullying and knowing the warning signs and how to get help, getting general impressions on the content for younger students, and assessing the effectiveness of various outreach platforms.  The participants for this test included middle schoolers (grades 5-8), high schoolers (grades 9-10), and their parents.

Have You Tested with Kids or Teens?

Though testing with minors requires special care and considerations, the benefits far outweigh the costs in time and preparation.  What have your experiences been?