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Talking About HIV and AIDS

     As upsetting and confusing as it can be to bring up the subject of AIDS with young teens, it's essential to do so. Most likely they have grown up hearing about Aids but a lot of their information can be wrong. You can set the record straight -- if you know the facts yourself. HIV is transmitted from person to person through contact with blood, semen, vaginal fluid, or breast milk. HIV can be prevented by using latex condoms during sex, not sharing "drug needles," and avoiding contact with another person's bodily fluids. So stay informed. Sharing this information with your teen can keep them safe and calm their fears. Finally, talking with your child about AIDS lays the groundwork for any future conversations about AIDS-preventative behavior.

Here are some tips on how to get started:

1) Initiate discussion: Use an opportunity to introduce the subject of AIDS to your teen. For example, try tying a discussion into something your teen sees or hears, such as a commercial about AIDS. This way, you can figure out what they already understand and work from there.

2) Present the facts: Offer honest, accurate information that's appropriate to a child's age and development. A teen can absorb more detailed information such as: "Your body is made up of billions of cells. Some of these cells, called T-cells, help your body stay healthy by fighting off disease. But if you get a virus called HIV, that virus kills the T- cells. Over time, the body can't fight disease any more and that person has AIDS." Pre-teens and teens should also understand how condoms could help protect people from getting AIDS and that the disease can be transmitted between persons who share drug needles.

3) Set them straight: People's misconceptions about AIDS can be pretty scary, so it's important to correct them as soon as possible.

4) Foster self-esteem: Praising our teens frequently, setting realistic goals and keeping up with their interests are an effective way to build self-esteem. And that's important, because when teens feel good about themselves, they are much more likely to withstand peer pressure to have sex before they are ready, or to not do drugs. In short, they are less likely to engage in behavior that could put them at risk for AIDS.

5) Put Your Teens Safety First: Some adults mistakenly believe that AIDS is only a disease of homosexuals. Whatever your beliefs, try not to let your opinions or feelings prevent you from giving your child the facts about AIDS and its transmission -- it's information that's essential to their health and safety.

6) Be prepared to discuss death: When talking with your teens about AIDS, questions about death may come up.

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