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We need to tell our kids about HIV-AIDS because they hear about it all around them.

Everybody knows that it is a dangerous disease, caused because of unsafe sex, but do not have clear information about it.

I know that I must explain about condoms and all to my daughter…

I fear that all this knowledge might make them experiment…even then, it is better that they know how to be safe.

- Mothers of adolescents

If you have adolescent kids, on the threshold of the teen years, talking to them about AIDS needs to be done sooner than later. As the disease explodes all around us and ceases to be a dreadful something happening to some other people in some far off place, your child is likely to be bombarded by the words AIDS time and again. Many would have heard about it in the passing, gleaned information from the print and electronic media, or may have even been taught about it in a sex education or values education session at school.

Yet, while our children are hearing about AIDS early on, what they are learning is often insufficient and inaccurate and therefore alarming. Very often, even we adults may be at a loss for want of complete information, which needs to be remedied right away. As individuals who are responsible for their children, being able to influence them from early on, it is critical for mothers to be educated about AIDS. If you have the facts right and stay informed, and are able to share the information with your daughters, you will be able to allay their doubts and address their fears about AIDS. Most importantly, you will keep your daughter safe, which is the primary objective of every parent.

You may have to initiate the discussion, looking for an appropriate opportunity to raise the subject. Just watching the TV together, which one often does, or flicking through a magazine together may present you with some such occasions. There are social messages on AIDS, advertisements and articles aplenty. Provide her with basic information, appropriate to her age and levels of comprehension. For example you can begin by explaining that :

“AIDS is a very serious disease. It is caused by a virus, called HIV which stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, which makes people very sick (even leading to death)” You may want to consider her emotional maturity and accordingly decide whether to talk about death right away or a little later. If she is able to absorb the first bit and you feel she is ready for more, then you may continue by explaining -
"Your body is made up of billions of cells. Some of these cells, called T-cells, help your body stay healthy by fighting off any disease. This is called the body's immune system. But if you get a virus called HIV, that virus kills the T- cell which forms the basis of the body's immunity (fighting capacity of the body to eliminate diseases). Over time, the body can't fight disease any more and that person has AIDS."
AIDS is the short form of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
- Acquired, because it is not hereditary.
- Immune, because the immune system of the body is attacked.
- Deficient or lacking in immunity.
- Syndrome characterized by a number of symptoms occurring together.
“The virus is mostly concentrated in the people's blood. So if a person ill with the virus, gets a blood test done, the test will show positive, and that is why the person is called HIV positive.”
Being HIV positive does not mean you have AIDS. Although people who are HIV positive are mostly likely to develop AIDS, early detection, extensive care like proper nutrition, regular exercise and medication, one can avoid developing AIDS.

This last fact is an extremely essential aspect which even we adults are not very clear about and need to first clearly understand, and then explain to our daughters - that there is a difference between being HIV positive and having full blown AIDS. You could explain it in simple terms like :
There are various stages to any disease, the initial, less serious stage which if not attended to, advances from one stage to another, till it reaches the ultimate stage that is very, very serious. As in some diseases like malignant cancers, the disease AIDS will cause death in the final stage.
Similarly, being HIV positive is the first stage of the illness. After being diagnosed as HIV positive, one needs to take great care such as eat good food, exercise regularly, sleep well, take medicines. All this will help the body's immune system that is affected by the HIV virus. If the immune system is helped by a healthy lifestyle, then the HIV positive person will not fall ill and develop symptoms of various ills like continuous fever, severe cold and cough, stomach ailments, etc. In this way, the affected person can continue living a normal life and avoid reaching the final stages of the disease, which is understood as AIDS, meaning a 'syndrome characterized by a number of symptoms occurring together'.
However, the person cannot be cured of the virus, not yet at least. Intensive medical research is being carried out on a war footing to discover an antidote to the virus. Therefore, until then, the HIV positive person has to take immense care not only of himself or herself, but also be careful of not transmitting the virus to other people. This requires the HIV positive person to behave with great responsibility.
Avoid any form of unprotected sexual contact with a person who is HIV positive, and also be very careful in case that person has any open cuts or wounds since the virus can be transmitted through blood.

The HIV infection occurs due to the virus which is present in the
people's blood fluids like blood or semen (in case of men) and vaginal fluids (in case of women) entering the body. This can happen through infected blood transfusion or using the same needle used by an infected HIV person or using any infected equipment during any surgery.

Young people must also be taught to ensure that separate needles
must be insisted on in every situation requiring the usage of one. For instance, during blood donation, or in the event of any injection being administered on themselves or anybody else.

Once this basic understanding of HIV/AIDS is achieved, and if you have already had your talk about sex with your daughter and she is aware of sperms and ova, you may add that :
“The virus is mostly in the people's body fluids, like blood, or semen in case of men and vaginal fluid in women. Mostly people will get the disease if blood or semen which contains the HIV virus enters their body. This can happen through infected blood transfusions, or the same needle (like those used to inject) being used by many people, or if the infected semen from the man enters the woman's body during sex or vice versa from the woman's infected vaginal fluids to men during sex.”

When talking to your daughter about AIDS, it is important to present the facts in a balanced manner. One must also point out that while HIV is a virus, it is not contagious like the common cold or flu. People do not transmit the virus by touch or by droplet infection via air (as in case of cold virus) by sneezing or coughing and it is quite hard to catch the virus if people take necessary precautions (separate needles, condoms).

While mothers may take a call on when to tell their children about condoms and sharing needles, older children, in their teens definitely need to understand these facts. They must be told that young people can often be forced into trying drugs, by their friends. What can initially be an occasional fun thing to do, which gives you a high, can soon become an addiction. From apparently harmless pills and smoking, hard core 'druggies' can move on to injecting themselves and often end up sharing the same syringe and needle. If any one user is HIV positive, the virus will surely pass on to the other users. This is how friends can transmit the dreaded virus amongst each other. The kids should therefore be made to realize that it is best to stay away from drugs
in the first place.

One will appreciate that notwithstanding the more conservative values much of our society espouses, no matter what parents believe and know, more and more teenagers these days are experimenting with sex and are sexually active from a rather early age. It may be impossible for parents to control and restrain the kids at every step. The best that one can do is to instill the right values in our children and provide them with information, enabling them to make the right decisions and take appropriate protection. In this context, therefore, it is pertinent to stress on the need for 'safe sex', to explain how condoms could help protect people from getting AIDS.

Another manner in which parent's can be supportive is by fostering a child's self esteem. By being involved in your daughter's life, sharing her interests, doing things together, communicating with her, praising her often, encouraging her efforts, being honest and forthcoming with her, you will help her to acquire a positive, healthy self image. Young people with high self esteem, who feel good about themselves, are better able to deal with peer pressure, are able to say no, when being compelled to experiment with alcohol, smoking, drugs or sex. They are less worried about 'not belonging' and conforming to the peers not so healthy pursuits. This in effect will keep them from indulging in activities that might cause AIDS.

Some of us have the notion that AIDS is something that happens only to people who are highly sexually active, who lead promiscuous lives and to homosexuals. AIDS has become most closely connected to homosexuality (sexual relations between people of the same gender). While it is true to an extent that people who are sexually active and who have sex with multiple partners stand the greatest chances of contracting the disease, it can actually happen to anyone. No mother can afford to be complacent with the belief that AIDS has got nothing to do with her family or her child. It is better to fear the worst and prevent anything from happening in the first place, by making your daughter aware and responsible. As a mother of an adolescent, you will agree that it makes more sense to be concerned about her safety than about ending her innocence with harsh truths like AIDS.

Finally, while one cannot emphasize enough the significance of conveying the seriousness of AIDS to our children, one also needs to
explain to them, that there is no need to avoid normal contact with people who are HIV positive. This would imply that one will not be infected with the HIV virus by:

* Touching or casual contact with a HIV positive person.
* Shaking hands.
* Sharing food, dishes or eating utensils.
* Sharing bathrooms or toilet seats.
* Dry kissing or hugging.
* Working together.

Those diagnosed with the virus, should instead be supported to lead as
normal a life as possible. In fact, it is the negative attitudes of people, stemming mostly from ignorance, which keeps people from discussing about it and dealing with it openly, thereby leading to disastrous consequences.

Due to fear of being ostracized, people who are HIV positive keep the fact from their family and friends. Those who have a doubt that they may be tested positive refuse to undergo the test. These people carry on with their lives as if nothing has happened, not taking the necessary precautions, and certainly not seeking medical advice or intervention. While they are certainly headed towards imminent disaster, they also put other lives in danger along the way. For example, this person can pass on the virus to his wife or partner, who, if she is pregnant can pass it on to her baby. Further, if his condition deteriorates, leading to full blown AIDS, there is no measure of the trauma that both he and his family will undergo.

It is therefore imperative for you as a mother to present the full picture to your child. Warn her of the dangers to ensure her own safety, also teach her to be accepting of people with the condition. Provide her with complete and accurate information so that she is equipped to deal with people with HIV/AIDS appropriately.