National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day is an annual observance that takes place on April 10 to educate the public about the impact of HIV and AIDS on young people and to highlight the work young people are doing across the country to respond to the epidemic.
Today our young people are of the first generation that has never known a world without HIV and AIDS. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 in 4 new HIV transmissions is among youth ages 13 to 24. Every month, 1,000 young people acquire HIV and over 76,400 young people are currently living with HIV across the country. While there has been much talk about an AIDS-free generation, we know that this is not possible without focusing on our nation’s youth and having conversations about sexual health.
Parenting a teen is not always easy. Youth need adults who are there for them—especially parents* who will connect with them, communicate with them, spend time with them, and show a genuine interest in them. Talking with teens about sex-related topics, including healthy relationships and the prevention of HIV, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy, is a positive parenting practice. *For the purpose of this article, “parent” refers to the adult primary caregiver(s) of an adolescent’s basic needs. These caregivers could include biological parents, other biological relatives, or non-biological parents.
What can parents do? When parents communicate honestly and openly with young adults about sex, relationships, and the prevention of HIV, STDs, and pregnancy, they can help promote their teen’s health and reduce the chances that their teen will engage in behaviors that place them at risk. Following are some approaches parents might take to improve communication with their teen about these challenging, hard-to discuss health concerns.
■ Stay informed about—
▪ Where your teen is getting information
▪ What health messages your teen is learning
Your teen may be getting messages about sex, relationships, and the prevention of HIV, STDs, and pregnancy from a variety of sources, including teachers, friends, health care providers, television, and social media.
Some of these messages may be more accurate than others. Don’t assume that your teen’s health education class includes the information you want your child to know—school-based curricula vary from state to state.
■ Identify unique opportunities to have conversations with your teen, such as
▪ In the car. The car is a private space where your teen doesn’t have to look at you but can hear what you have to say.
▪ Immediately following a relevant TV show/movie. Characters on TV shows and movies model many behaviors, and certain storylines may provide the opportunity to reinforce positive behavior or discuss the consequences of risky behavior.
▪ Text messaging, which may provide an easy, acceptable way to reinforce messages discussed in-person.
■ Have frequent conversations. Although you may know that having “the talk” with your teen about sex and HIV, STD, and pregnancy prevention is important, having a series of discussions that begin early, happen often, and continue over time can make more of a difference than a single conversation.
■ Be relaxed and open. Talking about sex, relationships, and the prevention of HIV, STDs, and pregnancy may not always be comfortable or easy, but you can encourage your teen to ask you questions and be prepared to give fair and honest answers. This will keep the door open for both of you to bring up the topic. It’s OK to say you’re feeling uncomfortable or that you don’t have all the answers.
■ Avoid overreacting. When your teen shares personal information with you, keep in mind that he or she may be asking for your input or wants to know how you feel. Let your teen know that you value his or her opinion, even if it is different from yours.
■ Provide opportunities for conversations between your teen and health care professionals. By taking your teen to regular, preventive care appointments and allowing time alone with the provider, you create opportunities for your teen to talk confidentially with doctors or nurses about health issues that may be of concern, including HIV, STDs, and pregnancy. Be prepared to suggest that you step out of the room for a moment to allow for this special time, as not all health care providers will feel comfortable asking you to leave the room.
Where can parents get more information?
■ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Positive Parenting Practices www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/protective/positiveparenting/index.htm
■ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Teen Pregnancy: Parent and Guardian Resources www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy/parents.htm
■ Office of Adolescent Health. Talking with Teens. Teens and Parents Talking www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/resources-and-publications/info/parents/get-started/quiz.html
■ Advocates for Youth. Parent-child communication: Promoting sexually healthy youth www.advocatesforyouth.org/the-facts-parent-child-communication
■ The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Parent-adolescent communication about sex in Latino families: a guide for practitioners https://thenationalcampaign.org/resource/parent-adolescent-communication-aboutsex-latino-families
■ Hult Center for Healthy Living, Peoria, IL (309) 692-6650; https://www.hulthealthy.org/
For education and information on free sexual health screenings (HIV/HepC/Sexually Transmitted Infections) in the greater Peoria area contact Central Illinois FRIENDS at (309) 671-2144 to set up an appointment.
If you live outside the greater Peoria area please visit: www.hivcareconnect.com to find a resource near you.