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When to tell a 12 year old they are HIV +
Jul 13, 1998

I recently learned that my wife and stepson are HIV positive. I am negative. My wife and I have not yet told him the truth. What advice do you have? Thank you.

Response from Mr. Shernoff

Children are tremendously sensitive, empathic and perceptive creatures, often, more so than we are as adults. Keeping a big secret from a child is terribly toxic. He will begin to sense that there is something going on that he is not being told about. In the absence of facts he will possibly construct his own reality, which will often be worse than even the most dire, potentially life threatening reality. Your child and family needs to be able to deal with this crisis openly and honestly in order to strengthen the love and communication among all of you. Often out of a misguided sense of wanting to protect a child, parents keep them uninformed about important events in their own lives. Your son needs to and deserves to know the truth so he can educate himself about living with HIV, and draw a sense of support and love from you and your wife. If you live in a large city where there are teaching hospitals that have pediatric AIDS programs, call them and inquire about counseling for you and your family and additionally see if there may be a special support group for children living with HIV. This is too important not to tell him the truth about very soon and very gently. Look at the example of how Ryan White became an advocate for all people with AIDS inspiring millions of people in the process. Your son may never choose to become a public advocate, but still, this is his life, and he needs to begin to learn how to live in a world with this tragic reality.

Best of luck, and my heart goes out to you and your family.

Michael Shernoff, MSW



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