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Teens and HIV: The Transition Into Adulthood

January 17, 2017

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Social and Emotional Growth

Teens deal with several social and emotional issues. One of the most important issues teens struggle with is their identity. Asking "who am I?" and "how do I fit in the world?" are normal questions. Some teens find it difficult to feel accepted and create a circle of friends. Among these teens, feeling alone and like 'no one gets you' can be common.

Teens are known to take risks and experiment with smoking, drugs, alcohol, sex, and sexuality. Unfortunately, these kinds of risk-taking behaviors can get in the way of your good judgment. If you are drunk or high, you are more likely to have unprotected sex. Having unprotected sex exposes your partner(s) to HIV, and may expose you to other sexually transmitted infections or diseases or infections (STIs of STDs) such as herpes, hepatitis B or C, or genital warts. STDs can interfere with your HIV treatment. There is also the risk of getting infected with another strain of HIV if you have unprotected sex with a partner who also has HIV; this can cause additional damage to your immune system.

It is important to know that in some places, not disclosing your HIV status before having sex is illegal and you can go to jail (even if you practice safer sex!). If you are drunk or high, you may forget to tell a sexual partner about your HIV status and may be vulnerable to serious legal consequences.

Even though living with HIV may make you feel isolated at times, it is important to have open, honest, and supportive friendships. Many teens living with HIV are afraid to tell their friends that they have HIV for fear of rejection or mistreatment. In fact, this can be one of the hardest decisions that a teen living with HIV can make. While telling someone may relieve the burden of keeping such an important secret and may give you the love and support you need from friends, it can also be scary.


Some things to consider before disclosing your HIV status:

  • Why do I want to tell this person about my HIV status?
  • Will he or she keep my confidence?
  • What happens if he or she tells other people?
  • What will happen if the relationship is changed by my disclosure?

If you want or need some support in disclosing your status, you can get help from your health care provider, a parent, a trusted relative, an HIV peer educator, or a friend.

Lastly, the teen years are all about preparing yourself for adulthood and your future. And your future may seem scary. Questions like "Should I go to college or university?", "Will I find love?", "Can I get a job?", "Will I be able to have children?", or "Will I ever have a normal life?" may arise. With the treatments now available, people living with HIV can live very healthy, normal, and long lives.

Support for the Teen Living With HIV

Where can you find help and support? Trusted family members, friends, teachers, counselors, clergy, and health care providers can be a valuable support system. Many communities have local HIV support groups, too -- try looking in the Poz directory for some places near you in the US, and NAM's e-atlas for locations worldwide. Some support groups are specifically for teens and/or young adults. In a support group, you can talk openly, safely, and confidentially with others who have similar situations and concerns.

You can also find support through online support groups and blogs (please visit A Girl Like Me to learn more). If you choose to participate in an online group or blog, it is important that you be careful not to share information about yourself that you do not want publicly available. Once information like your name, address, school, or workplace is out there (on the Internet), there is no way to get it back or erase it. If you join an online group or blog, you may want to use a pseudonym (made up name) or 'handle' instead of your real name to preserve your privacy.

There are also some important things that your parents, or guardians, can do to help you:

  • Answer questions about sex honestly and accurately
  • Encourage and model a healthy lifestyle, such as good eating habits and physical activity
  • Respect your privacy
  • Allow you to handle as much of your care as possible, including setting medical appointments and taking HIV drugs; encourage you to understand and be a part of medical decisions
  • Help you set both short term and long term goals that are realistic and achievable
  • Provide lots of love, compassion, and patience!

If your parents or guardians are not already doing these things, it is probably because they are learning how to live well with your HIV just like you. Show them this article to help them.

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This article was provided by The Well Project. Visit The Well Project's Web site to learn more about their resources and initiatives for women living with HIV. The Well Project shares its content with to ensure all people have access to the highest quality treatment information available. The Well Project receives no advertising revenue from or the advertisers on this site. No advertiser on this site has any editorial input into The Well Project's content.

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