Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day. Each year on that date we remember those individuals who have died from human immune deficiency virus (HIV) infection, remind ourselves that there still is no cure and realize that people still become infected with HIV daily. We also consider what we can do to protect our youth from catching or transmitting the virus, because some statistics are alarming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that:
▪ More than 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV infection at present, including approximately 150,000 who don’t even know they have it.
▪ One in four new HIV infections occurs in youth between 13 and 24 years old.
▪ Approximately 1,000 young people become newly infected with HIV each month.
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▪ About 60 percent of youth with HIV don’t realize they are infected.
▪ The Florida Department of Health reports the greatest number of people in Florida with both HIV and other sexually transmitted infections are youth under 25 who live in South Florida.
Douglas M. Brooks, director of the United States Office of National AIDS Policy, announced the theme of this year’s federal campaign is “The Time to Act is Now.” With statistics such as those presented above, we must act now to achieve an AIDS-free generation.
The Florida Department of Health advertises HIV prevention messages, promotes community educational programs, convenes health fairs and offers testing opportunities. Be on the lookout for billboards, print ads and audio public service announcements. Similarly, schools around South Florida often mark World AIDS Day by educating students generally about prevention of this and other infections, as well as promotion of healthy living.
This is a good time for parents, grandparents and other caring adults to make sure that family members, including children, are informed and current in their knowledge about HIV. This reinforces the messaging being provided by schools, health systems and government bodies while educating parents on what to expect from their maturing teens.
Middle school-aged youth undergo rapid physical growth that leads to adult size and shape. Parents may notice some clumsiness of movement or discomfort with appearance as adolescents get familiar with their changed bodies. This is a time when children are also aware of their own changes, as well as those of their friends and classmates. They continue to expand their learning abilities and thinking processes, while also appreciating maturing behaviors and new-found capabilities for independent actions. Puberty encompasses all of these activities, including reproductive aspects.
Body changes, new behavioral expectations and evolving social interactions of teenagers may cause some anxiety or concern in youth. Reassurance by trusted adults that these are common and typical findings will go a long way in children’s adjustment to the adolescent years. Some of this is done in school, some during extra-curricular activities and some at other times by family members. These reassurances may be repeated over time too, especially since humans learn by experiences and repetition.
Learning how to act like an adult and behave responsibly don’t just happen by themselves, though. Ideally kids would learn these concepts at home. Parents and others trusted for the care of children should take opportunities to discuss growth and development, behavior and expectations with their teenaged children and wards. Each encounter is another opportunity to impart family values, discuss personal morals, answer questions and assure accurate explanations accordingly.
Prevention of possible negative effects of maturing behaviors hopefully follows these encounters. However, there are some warning signs parents and caregivers should recognize as indicators that their teen is engaging in risky behavior, including:
▪ Onset of urinary or genital problems.
▪ Complaints of abdominal or pelvic pain.
▪ Noticeable changes in physical appearance, hygiene practices and style of dressing.
▪ Drastic changes in behaviors and attitudes.
Parents worried that their teenager is smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using illegal substances, maintaining poor nutrition and exercise habits, or struggling with sexual identity, initial sexual intimacies and activities should feel comfortable turning to experts for guidance. Health professionals can assist. Be sure to ask questions about these issues at your child’s next medical appointment, or call (305) 243-2174 to speak with an expert at UHealth — University of Miami Health System.
Lawrence B. Friedman, M.D., is Director of Adolescent Medicine at UHealth – University of Miami Health System, specializing in health problems of youth, including those related to sexual activity. For more information, visit UHealthSystem.com/patients/pediatrics.