How to approach and manage HIV education
HIV education usually focuses on adults. It is, however, critically important to educate your children around HIV and AIDS. We share a few reasons why educating children about HIV is important.
When should HIV education start?
We typically think of the education and awareness of adults when it comes to HIV, because we tend to think of HIV as an ‘adult’ disease. This, of course, is not the case. Anyone at any age remains at risk of contracting HIV. When it comes to informing and educating our children, giving them ‘Too Much Information’ can never be the concern.
HIV awareness and education for children
Children learn to attach stigma to HIV because they mimic the behaviour of others around them and invariably adopt the attitudes they are exposed to. By educating children and young people early on, we’ll curtail the stigma borne of ignorance, and our children will grow into knowledgeable and compassionate adults. It’s not just a matter of curbing the transmission of HIV – changing the way people think about the disease is just as critical.
Educating children who are at risk of contracting HIV:
In addition to preventing children from being drawn into perpetuating the stigma, there is the risk of them becoming infected themselves. In South Africa, we have a high HIV prevalence in the 15-24 age group, particularly among women and girls. According to the CDC’s US-based research, “Most adults with AIDS were likely infected with HIV when they were teens or young adults”. Shifting the focus to improving awareness and understanding of the disease by the younger age groups should start at home.
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What to say about HIV to children, and how:
While we can understand that the right thing to do is educate our children on the topic of HIV, we can all appreciate that it’s tough to talk to kids and young people about sex. The ‘when’, ‘what’ and ‘how’ of this discussion is dependent on the age of the child.
How to discuss HIV/AIDS with children aged 5-8:
At this age, concentrate on two main themes: the importance of healthy habits (like washing your hands) and the fact that HIV is not easy to get. Keep the facts simple. For example, explain that HIV is a germ that gets into some people’s blood but that it’s not like a cold that’s ‘easy to catch’. Make sure that you encourage empathy from this early age.
How to discuss HIV/AIDS with children aged 9-12:
This is the time to start talking to your children about sex, sexual orientation, sexually transmitted diseases, safe sex and HIV. Discuss the various ways that the virus can be transmitted and keep the focus on providing the facts. Correct misperceptions about HIV being a ‘gay disease’.
How to discuss HIV/AIDS with children aged 13-19:
Young people have typically had more exposure to HIV by this phase. The key messages here are focused on prevention:
- Abstinence is the best way to prevent the spread of HIV.
- Use a condom.
- Always use a clean needle for tattooing or body piercing.
- Never share a needle.
- Don’t use drugs or alcohol – they affect your decision making.
There are plenty of websites available that give good advice and detailed suggestions on how to have these conversations.
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Avert. n.d. [online] Available at: <http://www.avert.org/> [Accessed 10 December 2020].
Halton. n.d. [online] Available at: <http://www.halton.ca> [Accessed 10 December 2020].
Health.ny.gov. n.d. New York State Department Of Health. [online] Available at: <https://www.health.ny.gov> [Accessed 10 December 2020].
Kidshealth.org. n.d. Nemours Kidshealth – The Web’s Most Visited Site About Children’s Health. [online] Available at: <http://kidshealth.org/> [Accessed 10 December 2020].
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