Start Your HIV Prevention Planning for Adolescent Health with the New School Year

How young people learn about health issuesDon’t wait till spring! The beginning of a new school year presents a great opportunity to start thinking about integrating HIV prevention programming into young people’s lives. While youth as a whole are not overrepresented among HIV positive communities, adolescents are particularly vulnerable to disease transmission due to their risk-taking stage of life. Currently, each year, approximately 14 percent of all people diagnosed with HIV are aged 13-24. Within this group, African American teens are disproportionately affected, representing close to 60 percent of HIV diagnoses among youth and young adults nationwide. [ Fact Sheet] .

The White House National HIV/AIDS Strategy aims to reduce the number of young people who become infected with HIV by providing them with accurate, current information so they can make healthier decisions related to HIV/STI prevention practices. At ISIS, Inc., we believe this needs to happen both inside the classroom and in virtual environments so we can reach our more vulnerable “digital natives.”

In most states, HIV prevention programming is recommended for high school students as part of a health education course, although the manner and delivery are uneven and the information sometimes inaccurate. These traditional sex education courses include human anatomy, unplanned pregnancy prevention, dating violence prevention and HIV/STI prevention. According to a 2011 national survey of 1,500+ young people aged 13 to 24, conducted by ISIS,Inc, with funding from the Ford Foundation, today’s youth say these classroom efforts are, at best, moderately successful. These findings were reiterated in focus groups in Oakland, California and Chicago, Illinois with hundreds of urban youth of color and reported upon in a white paper: Youth Sexual and Reproductive Health in the Digital Age.

When young people don’t feel like they’re getting what they need from an adult they typically turn to their devices – mobile phones, online search engines, digital video sites, and other forms of new and social media. More than 89% percent of ISIS survey respondents told us that they’ve searched online for sensitive health information (via Google, or Yahoo! search). The problem is that what they find isn’t necessarily what we would expect or hope for. Because of the generational digital divide, adult expert-created materials aren’t always hitting the top of the search results page. As one focus group participant told ISIS: “Kids know about it [HIV], but they aren’t educated about it.”