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Talking to Your Children About HIV and AIDS

Having the "birds-and-the-bees" talk never was the easiest thing to do. As challenging as it is, you can learn how to talk about sex, drugs, and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Here's why it's so important and some tips for starting to think -- and talk -- to children about HIV.

Why Parents Don't Talk to Children About HIV and AIDS

Only about half of students say they've discussed HIV and AIDS with their parents. You might put off talking about it due to embarrassment, taboos, or lack of information. Or maybe problems like these are creating stumbling blocks:

  • Lack of confidence. You might feel unsure about talking with your kids about sex, HIV, or AIDS. Many of this generation of adults didn't learn from their parents how to start tough discussions, especially since AIDS didn't exist when they were children. But the AIDS era demands more open discussion.
  • Fear. You might fear that it's "too much, too soon" or that a discussion about sex will encourage early experimentation. Research shows that's not true. Remember that kids are hearing a lot from TV, movies, magazines, school, and friends. As many as 93% of kids have heard about AIDS by the time they reach 3rd grade.
  • False security. Once your child reaches high school, you might think you've discussed these topics more than you have. Why? It might be because you've touched on medical facts only. That lays the groundwork. But it's not enough. Your child needs important practical information, such as how to use a condom and other ways to prevent HIV. Did you know that 7.4% of kids have sexual intercourse by the time they're 13?


The Benefits of Open Communication About HIV and AIDS

Children often prefer to get information about sex or HIV from their parents. It's an opportunity to provide accurate information, framed by your own personal values. Research has shown other benefits of parent/child communication.

  • Talking with children about HIV and AIDS increases the chances of delaying sex and protects against risky behavior.
  • Talking about HIV and AIDS decreases the chances of unprotected sex. If the use of condoms is discussed before teens have sex, they are three times more likely to use condoms later on.
  • Teens who discuss sex with parents are seven times more likely to feel comfortable talking with a sex partner about HIV and AIDS.


The Risks of Not Talking to Kids About AIDS

Teens or children can get HIV by having sex, being sexually abused, or by sharing needles and syringes with someone who has HIV. But often parents don't want to believe that their child is at risk. In fact, half of mothers of teenagers who are having sex think their children are still virgins.

Here are more reasons to become a better-informed and more communicative parent.

  • More than three out of four 12th graders have had sexual intercourse.
  • Almost one out of four teenage girls felt pressured the first time they had sex.
  • Four million teens are infected each year with a sexually transmitted disease (STD), which also increases the risk for HIV.
  • More than one out of four new HIV infections in the U.S. occurs in teens.

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