– Danielle, diagnosed HIV positive at age 17
When she was 17-years-old, Danielle found out she was HIV positive. She contracted the virus because she had sex without a condom, despite warnings from her teachers and even her mom.
“She always used to tell me, ‘You’re going to catch something you can’t get rid of.’ And I did,” Danielle says.
Danielle, who doesn’t want us to use her real name, says when she got the AIDS virus, it helped her to remember that she was a mother.
“I was scared. I was thinking about… first thing I thought about was I was going to die. I wanted to kill myself, but I had to keep strong for my son.”
One in four teens will contract an STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control. And most have learned about condoms in sex education classes.
But as AIDS educator, Zina Age explains, teens often think it won’t happen to them, “They still think that they are invincible, they still think that they are not going to get the virus, and some people think, especially children, that there is medication that they can take if they actually get the virus.”
She says there is so much misinformation about AIDS that education is crucial.
Still, it didn’t work for Danielle. “I knew all about safe sex and all that. But I didn’t listen. I was hard-headed. I wanted to do my own thing,” she says.
Ideally, experts say, abstinence is safest, but if you think your child is sexually active, or will soon be, an open and honest talk about risk can help.
“If they ask you a specific question, they are ready for the answer,” says Age. “Because if you don’t answer that question, they are going to go get it from somewhere else, and a lot of times that information is incorrect.”
Tips for Parents
Teens are very concerned about possible infection with the HIV virus, and desperately want to know more about ways to prevent the disease. Parents can be an invaluable source of information about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases in general. Unfortunately, some parents still do not feel comfortable discussing issues associated with sex and sexual intercourse with their children. Given the deadly nature of this particular disease, it is imperative that parents find a way that is comfortable for them to discuss this subject with their children and teens.
What adolescents need to know in order to make decisions that will protect them from HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases is typically more extensive and detailed than what most younger children need to know. For example, because HIV is spread through unprotected sexual intercourse or sharing drug needles and syringes, teens need to learn about abstinence and, depending on the family’s values, about sex, condoms, drug use, hygiene, etc. Because alcohol and drugs can cloud thinking, teens need to learn that using these substances can cause them to make decisions that can put them at risk.
Teens also must learn to distinguish myths from facts about HIV infection and AIDS. They need to learn about the issues that the disease poses for society, such as the importance of opposing prejudice and discrimination. Discussing all of these things will help equip teens to make decisions that can prevent the spread of HIV infection and AIDS.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parents initiating a conversation with their teen about HIV and AIDS might consider including the following points in that conversation:
Provide the adolescent with a definition of AIDS. For example, explain that AIDS stands for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome. It is a condition in which the body’s immune system breaks down. Because the immune system fails, a person with AIDS typically develops a variety of life-threatening illnesses that almost always prove fatal.
Give a definition of HIV infection. The adolescent needs to understand that AIDS is caused by a virus that scientists call human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV. Once a person is infected, he or she can infect others, even if no symptoms are present. The fact that other STD’s share this characteristic provides an excellent opportunity to expand the conversation to include other sexually transmitted diseases should the opportunity feel right. Point out that a special blood test can detect HIV.
Explain how HIV is transmitted from one person to another. The adolescent needs to clearly understand that there are two primary ways that people become infected with HIV:
by engaging in unprotected sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal, or oral) with an infected person; or
by sharing drug needles or syringes with an infected person.
A parent might want to point out that women who are infected with HIV can pass it on to their babies during pregnancy, birth, or breast-feeding. The fact that some people have become infected through receiving blood transfusions might also be pointed out. Although these cases are rare, the fact that a parent knows about them and mentions them can only add to their credibility in discussing such an important subject.
Explain how to reduce the risk for HIV infection from sex. The easiest way to avoid getting HIV from sex is to not have sex. Abstinence is the only sure protection. This may seem simplistic in the face of the significant rates of sexual activity reported by teens in today’s society. However, it does provide an opening to discuss some of the values that your family stands for in regard to premarital sex. Reinforce the fact that if the adolescent does chose to have sexual intercourse, they should not feel ashamed to wait until they are in a long-term, mutually faithful relationship, such as marriage, with an uninfected partner.
Remind them of some of the realistic values of choosing not to have intercourse including:
Virtually guaranteeing their safety from all sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection. Point out that approximately every 11 seconds a teen in the U.S. gets a sexually transmitted disease.
Providing the teen with additional time to be sure they are physically and emotionally ready to engage in a sexual relationship.
Providing them with more time to learn and understand more about the physical and emotional aspects of sexual relationships.
Avoiding unwanted pregnancy. Some sources report that approximately every 30 seconds a teen in the U.S. gets pregnant.
If a teen makes the decision to engage in sexual intercourse outside of a mutually faithful, long-term relationship with an uninfected partner, it is imperative that they use a latex condom whenever having any type of sexual intercourse. Remind them that any partner who would refuse to use a condom is putting them at risk for catching diseases that may be fatal, incurable, or both. Considering this fact might just help the teen to battle against feeling pressured to participate in sexual activity about which he or she is unsure.
Tell the teen straight away that there are no circumstances under which they can assume it is safe to have sexual intercourse with people who may be infected with HIV. This includes people who have:
had multiple or anonymous sex partners
had any sexually transmitted diseases
The adolescent also needs to know that there is no way to tell, short of a blood test, whether a person is infected with HIV. They have to assume that every potential sexual partner may have been exposed to or infected with the HIV virus.
Finally, reinforce the critical importance of avoiding making decisions about sexual intercourse while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. These substances can cloud their judgment and cause them to take risks that put them in danger of becoming infected with HIV.
Kaiser Family Foundation
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention
Bradley Hasbro Research Center
Truancy is a term used to describe any intentional unauthorized absence from compulsory schooling. Children in America today lose over five million days of their education each year through truancy. Often times they do this without the knowledge of their parents or school officials. In common usage the term typically refers to absences caused by students of their own free will, and usually does not refer to legitimate “excused” absences, such as ones related to a medical condition. It may also refer to students who attend school but do not go to classes. Because of this confusion many schools have their own definitions, and as such the exact meaning of the term itself will differ from school to school and district to district. In order to avoid or diminish confusion, many schools explicitly define the term and their particular usage thereof in the school’s handbook of policies and procedures. In many instances truancy is the term referring to an absence associated with the most brazen student irresponsibility and results in the greatest consequences.
Many educators view truancy as something much more far reaching than the immediate consequence that missed schooling has on a student’s education. Truancy may indicate more deeply embedded problems with the student, the education they are receiving, or both. Because of its traditional association with juvenile delinquency, truancy in some schools may result in an ineligibility to graduate or to receive credit for class attended, until the time lost to truancy is made up through a combination of detention, fines, or summer school. This can be especially troubling for a child, as failing school can lead to social impairment if the child is held back, economic impact if the child drops out or cannot continue his or her education, and emotional impact as the cycle of failure diminishes the adolescent’s self-esteem.
Source: Connect With Kids
– Gloria Meaux, Ph.D., psychologist
How much do teenagers tell their parents?
“I hardly share anything with my parents,” says 16-year-old Derek Kelley.
“I share very little with my parents,” says 18-year-old Tyler Wichelhaus.
And Jessie Donaghy gives an example of a question she hates: “How was your day?”
“When you’ve had a horrible day, you just feel like people at school are mad at you,” she says. “Your classes went horribly, you failed a test. It can almost be an insult without them knowing it, because it just seems insensitive.”
Experts say parents are better served asking about something specific: school projects coming up, weekend plans with a friend, or a test that the child may be worried about
“The specific questions, you’ll get more bang for your buck if you want them to communicate back to you than some general question that you could ask a stranger on the street,” says Dr. Meaux.
“Sometimes she’ll be like ‘so how is that situation going with this person’ and I’ll just burst out crying,” says Jessie.
Experts say it starts by being easy to talk to. “You’re sort of the approachable parent, that you listen more than you talk, and listening is the hard thing,” says Dr. Meaux.
And once they truly believe you’re listening, experts say they’ll open up more.
“The more talking they’ll do because they’ll be open,” says Licensed Clinical Social Worker Freddie Wilson. “[They’ll be more open if they feel] you’re open to hearing what I’m saying rather than talking and giving them solutions and solving their problems for them. They want someone to hear them.”
And knowing when your child really needs your ear comes from getting to know your child.
“I’ll look at her and I’ll say ‘You look like you’re down, did something happen?’ Yea. Was it so and so? Yea,” explains Mrs. Donaghy.
“It helps to know that she cares and that she’s actually wanting to know about things,” says Jessie.
Tips for Parents
While the teenage years can be a very frustrating time for parents and teenagers alike, no secret formula exists for talking to teens. But the Harvard School of Public Health’s Parenting Project, which conducted extensive research on parenting teens, found that “significant agreement” exists among experts regarding important basic principles for opening the communication lines.
The project’s most recent report highlights the basics of raising and communicating with your teenagers and includes a list of strategies for each. In the report, Dr. Rae Simpson says parents need to “love and connect” with their teen.
“Teens need parents to develop and maintain a relationship with them that offers support and acceptance,” Dr. Simpson writes, “while accommodating and affirming the teen’s increasing maturity.”
According to the report, you can connect with your teen by following these suggestions:
Watch for moments when you feel and can express genuine affection, respect and appreciation for your teen.
Acknowledge the good times made possible by your teen’s personality and growth.
Treat each teen as a unique individual distinct from siblings, stereotypes, his or her past or your own past.
Appreciate and acknowledge each teen’s new areas of interest, skills, strengths and accomplishments, as well as the positive aspects of adolescence generally, such as its passion, vitality, humor and deepening intellectual thought.
Provide meaningful roles for your teen in the family, ones that are genuinely useful and important to the family’s well being.
Spend time together one-on-one and as a family, continuing some familiar family routines, while also taking advantage of ways in which new activities, such as community volunteering, can offer alternative ways to connect.
By respecting and loving your teenager, you open the lines of communication and build a supportive and trusting environment so that your child feels comfortable opening up to you.
Dr. Simpson offers this key message to parents: “Most things about [your teen’s] world are changing. Don’t let your love be one of them.”
Research has shown that while teenagers want their freedom, they also appreciate their parents showing concern for them and being interested in their daily activities. Experts have listed guidelines for parents to set for their teenagers while still allowing them room to grow.
Monitor what your teen watches on television.
Monitor what your teen does on the Internet.
Put restrictions on the music your teen purchases.
Know where your teen spends his or her time after school and on the weekends.
Expect to be told the truth by your teen about where he or she is going.
Be “very aware” of your teen’s academic performance.
Impose a curfew.
Eat dinner with your teen six or seven nights a week.
Turn off the television during family meals.
Assign your teen regular chores.
By setting some or all of these rules, you will be in control and have a working knowledge of your teen’s activities, while still allowing them to make their own choices and decisions.
Families are Talking
The Media Project
Focus on the Family