Talking with Young People About HIV
It can be difficult to know what to say to young people about HIV. Whether you are a parent, educator, counselor, or other person who needs advice on speaking to young people, this information can help.
Information for elementary and middle school students
Since most children who are in the elementary and middle school aged group are not sexually active or trying drugs, you may decide that the young people you speak with do not need to know the details of how HIV is transmitted through unprotected sexual intercourse and injection drug use. However, if you think they may be considering or may be doing things that put them at risk of infection, you will need to be sure they know the risks regardless of their age.
Children this age probably have heard about AIDS and may be scared by it. Much of what they have heard may have been incorrect. To reassure them, make sure they know that they cannot become infected through everyday contact, such as going to school with someone who is infected with HIV.
Children also may have heard myths and prejudicial comments about HIV infection and AIDS. Correct any notions that people can be infected by touching a doorknob or being bitten by a mosquito. Urge children to treat people who are infected with HIV or who have AIDS with compassion and understanding, not cruelty and anger. Correcting myths and prejudices early will help children protect themselves and others from HIV infection and AIDS in the future.
Consider including the following points in a conversation about HIV infection and AIDS with children in the late elementary and middle school aged levels:
* People who have AIDS should be treated with compassion.
* AIDS is a disease caused by a tiny germ called a virus.
* Many different types of people have AIDS today-male and female, rich and poor, white, black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American.
* As of December 1993, nearly 68,000 people aged 20-29 have been diagnosed with AIDS. Because a person can be infected with HIV for as long as 10 or more years before the signs of AIDS appear, many of these young people would have been infected when they were teenagers.
* There are many myths about AIDS. (Correct some of them if you can.)
* You can become infected with HIV either by having unprotected sex with an infected person or by sharing drug needles or syringes with an infected person. Also, women infected with HIV can pass the virus to their babies during pregnancy or during birth.
* A person who is infected can infect others in the ways described above, even if no symptoms are present. You cannot tell by looking at someone whether he or she is infected with HIV. An infected person can appear completely healthy.
Reference: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (1994). AIDS prevention guide: The facts about HIV infection and AIDS – Putting the facts to use (OHA 8/94 D458). Rockville, MD: CDC National AIDS Clearinghouse.