World Aids Day on 1 December is a reminder to reach out to others and bring conversations about HIV/Aids into the open. The group that most needs our support is the young people just starting to explore their sexuality.
Do you remember what it’s like to be a teenager thinking about physical relationships? It’s both thrilling and terrifying. You’re dealing with new emotional experiences that can be quite overwhelming – and that’s even before thinking about HIV/Aids.
The good news is that there are more tools than ever to prevent HIV, and medical advances have unlocked excellent treatments. The bad news is that too many people still die of Aids, since they don’t get the help they need. That’s because our society is still not talking openly about HIV/Aids.
Far too often we avoid conversations about HIV/Aids and sex – the main way the virus gets transmitted – especially with young people, due to our own discomfort, cultural taboos, lack of accurate knowledge, or the belief that teens simply aren’t at risk. However, the reality is that an estimated 38% of new infections is amongst the 15-24 age group. Young people are
particularly vulnerable because they are more prone to risk-taking and unprotected sex. They are also having sex earlier than in the past.
How do we turn the tide? This is only possible if we take our heads out of the sand and talk about it. Whether you’re a parent, grandparent, older sibling or other trusted adult, here’s how you can start bridging the divide.
- It starts with you
Conversations about HIV/Aids start with educating ourselves so we have the answers our teens need, and dispel some of our own tendencies to stigmatise. Get useful information from UN AIDS or at your local clinic or GP.
- Get active
Nobody enjoys awkward conversations – and a formal sit-down to discuss such an enormous subject is pretty awkward. Instead, broach the subject while cooking, shopping, playing sports or walking the dog. Conversation tends to flow more easily if you’re actually doing something. It takes the focus off the subject matter, creating a more relaxed, natural atmosphere.
- Seek out relatable stories
Celebrities and fictional characters tend to be wildly popular with teenagers. They also make great starting points for having a chat about something like HIV/Aids, so use these stories to help teens relate to the issue, create empathy, dispel myths and inspire hope. Avoid ‘scare-story’ films like “Philadelphia” and “Texas Buyers Club”. Rather opt for more relatable, less frightening options like the home-grown series “Shuga” or Netflix’s “Sex Education”.
- Listen actively
Give the young people in your life your undivided attention. Avoid interrupting, ask open-ended questions and paraphrase their words to show you understand. Pay attention to their opinions, concerns and experiences to show you value their perspectives. This helpful tutorial on active listening about HIV will get you started.
- Suspend judgement
It’s tough to avoid freaking out if your teen shares something shocking, but creating a supportive, non-judgemental environment is crucial to open dialogue. You’re not condoning unacceptable behaviour; you’re giving them space to express themselves so that you can work together. Get inspiration on talking to teens about HIV.
To put a stop to the spread of HIV/Aids, we must start talking. Use this opportunity to chat to the teens in your life.