Talk to your child about HIV

By admin
27 April 2014

As a mom you know your children should get important information from you first. Discussing HIV is no different. Here’s how to go about it.

A lot of moms get caught up in the fast pace of everyday life – commuting to and from work and doing their best to provide for their families. Frustration and tiredness at the end of a long day or busy weekends can make it easy to miss warning signs that all may not be well with their teenagers.

Honest and open discussions with your teenager, especially about HIV/aids, can lead to life-saving conversations and avoid heart-breaking consequences.

Dudu*(17) was made pregnant by her HIV-positive boyfriend. She had been a virgin and didn’t know her boyfriend’s status. When Dudu missed her period, she suspected that she was pregnant, but she was even more shocked when the clinic sister also confirmed that she had HIV.

Dudu was too scared to speak to her parents. she worried about what they would say when she told them she was pregnant and HIV-positive. How would she get treatment and who would look after her when she became ill? Vusi thought she had nobody to turn to, so she had an abortion. to this day, she continues to deny her positive status.

Thembi* (21) and her mother never spoke about HIV when she was a teenager. Then she moved in with her boyfriend and her mom started to notice that Thembi always complained of headaches whenever she visited. she was also coughing and her feet were so sore she could hardly walk. Whenever her mother asked her what was wrong, Thembi said she was fine. One day her mother insisted that she and Thembi go to the clinic for an HIV test. the results came back positive. Thembi’s CD4 (white blood cell count) was only 95 and she also had tuberculosis (TB). she was soon admitted to hospital, treated for TB and also began taking anti-retroviral medication (ARVs). Thembi’s mother learned the hard way. “I would encourage all parents to be honest with their children. Thembi didn’t need to worry that I would abandon her just because she has HIV. She knows now that wê are here for her.”

Bad decisions and delays in treatment are often the result of communication barriers between teenagers and their parents. And these are in place because of cultural or social traditions that place a taboo on talking about sex.

“Misunderstanding HIV over the past 30 years has made the problem worse because it has led to denial, ignorance and fear,” says Dr Edward Ngwenya, who works at Kalafong Hospital in Pretoria West.

He says the biggest difficulty in treating HIV/ Aids in South Africa is that people come for treatment when it’s too late. “Our drive is to get every adult (and teenager, if need be) who is sexually active to be tested so we can help them live longer and healthier lives,” he said.

Dr Ngwenya says our social dynamics are changing. “Where there is poverty, a young girl may turn to prostitution to help feed the family. She may also get hooked on material possessions from her older ‘sugar daddy’,” he says.

“Rape is also huge problem. At the hospital I see girls as young as 11 who are  pregnant and also have HIV. This can spiral into a lifetime of unhappiness and poverty – for them and their families,” he says.

Some parents may not feel equipped to speak about HIV because they don’t understand the virus themselves. Many parents have to deal with their own issues around HIV and are insensitive to their teenager’s needs, while other parents feel uncomfortable talking about sexual issues because their own parents never spoke to them about it.

Here are some tips from the experts on how to approach the topic of HIV/Aids with your teenager.

Start the conversation like this:

  • Use TV programmes or songs your teenager may know to start discussions.

  • Use meal times to talk about things that happened during the day.

  • Teenagers may feel more comfortable asking the questions.

  • Talk about what happened at work to help teenagers realise that parents are also human.

  • When culture says that it’s disrespectful for children to ask questions, let the parents do the asking.

  • Parents should keep themselves up-to-date with information so that they give their teenagers the facts, not myths, when answering their questions.

  • Make time for your teenager – in the evenings or over weekends. Both fathers and mothers need to make time to bond with their sons and daughters.

  • Don’t reprimand your teenager if you find their question shocking. This could make them feel ashamed or selfconscious.

  • Teenagers are shy – don’t laugh at their questions.

  •  Encourage your teenagers to bring their friends home – this way you will know who they are.

  • Bring out the positive in your teenager by complimenting them. This will give them the confidence to ask questions.

  •  The worst way to teach your child about sex is to let pornography or TV do it for you.

  •  Daughters want approval from their fathers – it shows that they care.

This is what you need to tell your teen:

  • Spell out the dangers of being sexually active: teenagers can become addicted to sex, sex with multiple partners can lead to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV, and unprotected sex leads to pregnancy.

  • Although girls are legally allowed to have an abortion from the age of 12 without their parents’ consent, this can lead to life-long guilt, regret, resentment and anger.

  • Sex outside of marriage or commitment comes with a price tag.

  • Sexually active teenagers need to have regular check-ups. Girls need to have Pap smears and have their blood pressure monitored if they are using contraceptives.

What teens need to know:

  • HIV is alive and well and living in South Africa – especially among the youth.

  • Once you’ve started having sex, it’s difficult to stop.

  • “Sugar Daddy” is a nice word for older men who sexually abuse younger women and compensate them with luxury goods they otherwise couldn’t afford.

  • Pregnant HIV positive women risk passing on the virus to their babies. Pregnant school girls seldom finish school and rarely achieve their dreams.

  • Young girls are at a greater risk of contracting HIV simply by the design of their reproductive systems.

Here’s help

LoveLife

  • 011-523-1000; ‘please call me’
  • number 0833-231-023; toll-free
  • youth line 0800-121-900; toll-free
  • parent line 0800-121-100;
  • www.lovelife.org.za

Girls and Boys Town SA

Life choices

  • 021-696-4157; www.salesians.
  • org.za/lifechoices.html

Bosco House

  • 011-949-2360;
  • www.boscocentre.co.za

* Not their real names.

- Burgie Ireland

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