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How Does HIV Impact Teens?

An Interview With A Teenager.

By

Updated October 05, 2007

HIV is not a disease specific to one group, population, or ethnicity. It affects both sexes, all ages, and all socioeconomic groups. Teens are no exception. In fact, some feel teens are a very underserved and unheard group. How does HIV impact teens? I have talked to teens, visited their forums, and observed them clinically and from a father's perspective. Here are excerpts from one interview that I feel typifies the teen community and their feelings on HIV. This sheds some light on how HIV impacts teens.

Who's At The Greatest Risk For HIV?

My Interview With Brenda

We will call her Brenda*; a sixteen year old high school student from a small Midwestern community. Brenda is the daughter of divorced parents who have both since remarried. The blended family gets along very well with one another, sharing birthday celebrations, joint outings with the kids, etc. Brenda is the oldest of four kids. Despite their divorce, mom and dad play a big role in Brenda's life. She is athletic, stubborn one minute and kind the next. She cherishes her religion and is a good student; in short she is a typical teenager. Recently, I spoke with her to see what she knew, felt, and feared about HIV.

*To maintain confidentiality, Brenda is not our teen's real name.

  • Guide - Do you think about HIV very often? Do you feel at risk?

    Brenda - "I really do not think about HIV/AIDS often but when I do it does scare me to think of all the bad things that can happen; especially death. I am definitely not at risk and I feel once I do get a boyfriend that I will be very responsible with my actions."

    How Many Teens Have HIV?

  • Guide - How often do you and your friends talk about sex? How often do you think about sex?

    Brenda - "My friends and I do talk about sex but not as often as parents think. When it does come up HIV/AIDS and STDs are never really mentioned. I think though we all know the consequences of our actions."

  • Guide - Does the topic of HIV, AIDS, or STDs ever come up in conversations with your friends?

    Brenda - "The topic rarely comes up in our conversations. Mainly I think so because it is such a sensitive subject and I think we as teens are afraid to express our emotions in front of each other. I don't because of peer pressure and a fear of getting made fun of."

  • Guide - In school, what have you been taught, if anything about HIV and sexually transmitted diseases?

    Brenda - "When I was in health class my freshmen year, we did have a whole unit on HIV/AIDS and STDs. We were all taught about safe sex, protection, consequences, and where to seek help."

  • Guide - What do you know about HIV & AIDS?

    Brenda - "HIV/AIDS is a very serious disease and there is no cure. The disease kills all of your white blood cells (immune system) which decreases your chances of living. People most often get it though unprotected sex. Anyone can get this disease...even a child who's born to a mother with HIV."

    HIV 101 - Basic Information About HIV

  • Guide - In your opinion, what do teens think condoms are for;preventing pregnancy or preventing HIV and STD's?

    Brenda - "Mostly I think, teens really believe condoms are to prevent pregnancy."

    Using Condoms the Right Way

  • Guide - What do you think living with HIV and AIDS would be like?

    Brenda - "Living with HIV/AIDS would be very dreadful just knowing that you could have prevented this disease. Also I would feel very alone and scared all the time. I would never feel I have a chance of living a complete life without worrying about something bad happening at any moment."

    Living With HIV

  • Guide - If you had a friend who found they were HIV infected, how would you feel?

    Brenda - "Honestly, I would feel disappointed and embarrassed around her but I would still be there by her side because I would want the same thing if something like that ever happened to me."

  • Guide - Finally, how do you think HIV positive people are treated by society in general?

    Brenda - "When people get HIV infected I think the public treats them like they have a disability. Mostly though not a lot of people can tell that you have HIV, which is a good thing."

Teens are rarely heard but what's on their mind is very important. To understand this group and to best meet their HIV prevention needs, we need to listen and learn. As the interview demonstrates, teens do have concerns about HIV but they also have some misconceptions as well. We need to clear up any misconceptions, deliver our prevention messages in ways with which teens can identify and most importantly listen to their concerns and questions.

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