Mental Health Research May Be Altered By Parental Consent Requirement


Parental consent requirement may put restrictions on mental health research. Teens would be required to get permission from their parents or guardian prior to participating in studies about behavioral health – a new study suggests.

Teens that need to ask their parents for permission to participate in studies that involve drugs and alcohol may be reluctant to answer questions about illegal or risky behaviors. The findings show, if not enough older adolescents, black youth, or boys take part in the studies the results would inaccurately reflect what’s happening in these populations.


Passive Or Active Parental Consent

“Requiring parental consent may introduce a systematic bias that excludes certain segments of our population,” said lead study author Chao Liu of Oklahoma State University. “If this is the case, then the treatments and prevention interventions developed may not adequately address the needs of these populations,” Liu said.

Researchers note, minors under the age of 18 typically need permission from parents or guardians to participate in research and get medical treatment in the United States.

Research studies can require either “active” or “passive” parental consent. Passive consent requires a letter to be sent to parents, explaining the nature of the study and provides a method to retract permission. An active consent requires a similar introductory letter, but the parent or guardian must give permission in writing. The difference in the two consent procedures, is passive content assumes the parent has consented unless they opt out, while active consent requires the parent to provide written permission. Any study that involves patient care typically utilizes active consent, while survey research utilizes passive consent.

Researchers examined data from 15 previously published studies with 104,074 minors to see how consent polices impacted which children participated and how they responded to questions regarding illegal and risky behaviors.

The study found that younger youth and females were more likely to take part than older teens and males. Hispanic youth were less likely to participate than white children, but the variance was so small that it could have been coincidental.

With passive consent, black teens were more likely to partake in studies, when compared with active consent.

With active consent, teens were less likely to report utilizing alcohol and drugs than with passive consent.

The authors note that the analysis was limited, because it included too few studies to make broad conclusions about how the type of consent influences what volunteers say and who agrees to take part in the studies. The findings may be different, if the study was performed outside the United States, where parental consent may differ.

The findings were published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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