By Amy Johnson, MSW
Each year, December 1 is World AIDS Day, which is publicized in order to increase awareness about this topic. Even though there have been many advances in information about HIV and AIDS, and in treatment of people who are HIV-positive, there is no cure, and the rates of infection are still staggering.
On a recent trip, I saw a bulletin board in an airport proclaiming that every nine and a half minutes, someone in the United States is infected with HIV . In addition, one in five people who are living with HIV in our country do not know they have it. That means they can unknowingly pass it on during subsequent sexual contact. One in four of those affected by HIV are women, and African American women are most vulnerable.
Why should parents care about this? First of all, the chances of you or your child knowing someone who is HIV positive are high. The HIV-positive person may not have shared that information with you, but with over 1,000,000 people in our country living with HIV and over a million more living with AIDS, the chances are, somewhere in your circle, someone is affected.
Also the statistics take a dramatic turn for youth. Every hour, two young people are infected with HIV, and of those 80% do not know they are HIV-positive. Your teens need to know that if they become sexually active, there is no way to look at someone and know if they are HIV-positive. And if your partner has had previous sexual partners, even if you haven’t, they may be infected and unaware. The only sure way to know is to get tested.
In the “Get the Facts” section of the 9 ½ minute website, they suggest: Focus on Awareness, Focus on Abstinence, Focus on Monogamy, Focus on Condoms and Focus on Drug Use. All of these topics are conversations you can have with your children and teens, conversations where you can discuss your values, listen to your children’s thoughts, answer their questions, and become more informed and connected as a family.
This week, make a pledge to have a discussion with your children and teens about World AIDS Day. Here are some discussion starters:
- What do you know about HIV and AIDS?
- What have you learned in school about HIV and AIDS?
- Do you know what abstinence means? (Note to parents: abstinence is different from virginity. Anyone can choose to be abstinent at any time—to refrain from being sexually active. This is an important distinction to make, especially with youth. Some may not realize they can always make that choice).
- Let’s talk about monogamy—do you know what it is? Tell me what you think about it. What about monogamy might help prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS?
- Before your child reaches middle school, talk about condoms. Do you know what a condom is? What are some reasons people might choose to use them? Why might people not use them? (Note: even the Pope has come out in favor of using condoms to prevent the spread of HIV).
- What do you know about drug use and HIV? What’s the difference between this type of drug use and us taking medicine when we have a cold? How is how people get HIV different from how people get a cold?
If you do not know the answers to any of the above questions, make sure you find out and are clear on your values before discussing them with our child. Asking questions is a great way to find out what they do and don’t know, as well as what they think they know that may be incorrect. Taking time to talk with your family members about this topic is one way to make a positive difference in the world.
Amy Johnson, MSW, is a Coach, Educator, and Trainer in the Pacific Northwest. She is co-author of the book, “Parenting by Strengths: A Parent’s Guide for Challenging Situations.” Amy facilitates classes and workshops in the Puget Sound area and online. She specializes in working with parents and also in sexuality education.