A really tough subject for caregivers, parents, and guardians to talk about with children is HIV. It is important that this subject be covered and taught about.
There are a lot of reasons that you could want to talk to your family about AIDS or HIV which is a family member or you are diagnosed with HIV, you want to help your kids to understand HIV, or you have a child who has HIV. Sometimes you just want them to understand what it is about, so that they do not get this virus.
There are times when it could not be appropriate or even safe for a person to disclose their HIV status to family members or children.
All over the world, there is around 30% of the population that has been recently diagnosed with HIV between the ages of 15 and 25. There are around 60% of women have the virus and a combined 5 million people who are living with HIV.
The CDC states that people who are aged 13 all the way up to 24 years of age make up 1 out of 5 people who are recently diagnosed. However, 50% of young people who become infected didn’t know that they even had HIV. In 2017 alone, 40% of the high school population was already having sex and 30% of sexually active teens stated that they have had sex within the past 3 months. Almost 50% of that didn’t even use a condom. It is these statistics that have proven to be a huge reminder that parents need to talk to their children about HIV. It is something that you cannot avoid.
Teens and children often learn about HIV from all sorts of places like the internet, magazines, newspapers, friends, radio and even TV. When you talk to your child about HIV, it lets you give them the straight facts and you can correct any type of incorrect information or myths that they may have learned from outside of your home. There is also a chance that talking like this can help you to create an honest and open relationship with your kids.
Let’s face it, many parents are really uncomfortable about talking to their kids about HIV because they don’t have all the right information. Before you ever talk to your kid about HIV, be sure that you know all the facts.
HIV is an abbreviation for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. If you do not get treatment, then HIV will eventually destroy your immune system and it can get to a point where the person ends up with a really serious infection. A lot of people though will take effective and strong medications in order to fight the virus so that they can have a somewhat normal life. However, there is no cure for the HIV virus.
AIDS is an abbreviation for Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome. This is a very advanced stage of the HIV virus. Many people can take effective and powerful combinations of medications in order to fight this virus, however there is not a cure of AIDS.
A person can have the HIV virus for years and never have any symptoms of the disease or they can have mild to moderate forms of the symptoms. The CDC has stated that someone who has AIDS is someone who has HIV and has had a CD4 cell count of 200 cells/mm3 or less. Where the normal CD4 count being between 1500 to 600 cells/mm3 . They also have had to have a single AIDS defining infection.
Whenever a person is diagnosed with HIV, they will be able to live a somewhat normal life with HIV. It does not matter what viral load they have, even when it is considered undetectable, a person will not ever be HIV negative again.
The most common way for someone to spread HIV are:
A very important message that you are able to share with your kids is that HIV can actually be prevented. You cannot spread HIV unless certain body fluids are exchanged like spit, blood, or genital fluids. You can teach your kids that they can reduce their risk of contracting HIV by:
It is also very important that you tell your kids that you cannot get HIV through casual contact like:
Each parent will have their own style when it comes to talking about certain things. There are some who choose a specific time when the family will sit down and talk about HIV. They may even provide some printed information or other types of resources that can help their kids understand all the facts.
Then, some parents will take hints from their kids and what is going around them to start talking about HIV. For instance, they might bring up this topic when the child hears or sees something about HIV on TV. They may ask what the kid has heard and what they know about HIV. This can help you to figure out what they may already know and what you are going to need to explain.
Please, keep in mind whenever you start to talk to your kids about HIV, some questions about death could come up. Please explain what death is in simple terms and don’t explain that it is like sleep. This could cause your kids to worry that if they sleep, they won’t wake up. It is important to explain that even though HIV is really serious, it is able to be treated and prevented.
It’s never too early to start talking about HIV with your kids. Truthfully, by 8 years old, most children have already heard about it. When you talk to your kids about HIV, it is not a single conversation. Kids are going to be ready to hear various levels of information at different ages. Often times the questions that they have will allow you to know what your kids are ready to hear. The more that you are open to hear their questions, then the more likely that your child will be to ask questions and that provides a bigger opportunity to provide the right information and help them to make healthy choices. Talk to your kids early and talk as often as possible to ensure that your kids have the correct information for their ages all throughout childhood.
Children who are 4 and under are learning the basics about the body. They don’t understand disease, sex, or death. You can set the stage for any future talks by introducing then to the ideas of sexuality by stating the correct names for body parts. You also want to give them the message that you are open to any questions that they have. When a kid feels that they can ask you anything, they are going to be more likely to talk to you as they age.
Kids who are 5 year to 8 years are just now learning about sex, death, sickness, and health. They are going to be able to understand that HIV is a serious health issue which can be caused by a virus and that their chances of getting it are small. You don’t have to talk about sex at this age, but you can teach them that some bodily fluids will carry the infection and they shouldn’t be shared.
Kids who are 9 years to 12 years will often think about their bodies. Most of them are starting to go through puberty. It is at this age, that a lot of them are going to deal with peer pressure to try newer and possibly dangerous things. This is when you need to tell them how HIV is spread. Since it is normally spread through sexual contact, it is time to provide all the right information about sex. Tell them how important safer sex and sexual health is. Let them know that sharing syringes or needles for IV drug use, tattoos, body piercings, etc. can put them at risk for contracting HIV. Teach them that they do have a choice in life and that their choices that they make can affect their whole life. You may want to tell them that it is okay to talk to adults that they trust if they are bullied, pressured or unhappy.
13 years to 19 year old's were often be more concerned with friendships and self-image than what their parents say. Most teens are going to take risks and feel that nothing bad will happen to them. It is during these years that it is vital that you continue to provide them with the right information about safer sex and HIV. You may want to provide them with resources like videos or books that they can view on their own.
Talking to your kids about HIV can make anyone anxious. Educate yourself and have resources available. You will feel comfortable, especially if you know all the facts. Relax and let the conversation happen naturally. It is important that you start talking to your kids at an early age, so that you are comfortable with the subject and the words that are used to talk about it. You can use this time to create a loving and supportive environment where your kids feel comfortable and empowered to ask questions and make healthy choices.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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