To Engage Teens – Love Them & Tell the Truth, Says AIDS Educator

Let’s face it, teenagers and adults don’t often see eye to eye and sometimes aren’t even able to communicate with each other effectively. For counselors in HIV/AIDS prevention and education, these barriers can be life threatening. How can you better engage teens?

“Tell the whole truth, everything, and love them,” says Scott Fried, AIDS educator and motivational speaker. “If I leave a presentation with young people and no one is talking about hope and love, I have failed. Who cares about medicine and viral loads if there is no hope?”

Fried begins his presentations by reading from the opening of his book about how he became infected at the age of 24 in 1987. He said depression and loneliness drove him to have sex with an older man who had HIV. “I thought that maybe one day he could love me,” Fried says. “I think teens are having unsafe sex today because they can’t say, “I have a life worth saving.”

“Sacredness, the part of us searching to reclaim something inside that we think we’ve lost,” says Fried, is how he wants teens to think of themselves. “There’s no such thing as a perfect life,” he teaches. “Everyone has something they have to learn to live with. Teenagers need someone to say, “I see you. I know you’re hurting.’ If they tell someone the risks and unsafe sexual choices they are making, they become visible through their accountability in another’s presence and might begin to recognize the value of their days.”

Fried gives some tips for reaching teenagers better:

Don’t judge them.
Plant seeds to help them to come up with the answers themselves.
Keep them talking.
Bring in peer examples and role models.
Never use scare tactics.
Don’t call them “a kid.”