Young and HIV positive: Should I tell my parents?


By: Jennifer McMillen Smith, MSSA, LISW-S, Division of Infectious Disease and medically reviewed by Ann Avery, Infectious Disease Physician at Metrohealth Medical Center

Some adults who are living with HIV never tell their parents. They don’t want to have Mom and Dad always worrying about them.

Knowing if you should tell your parents may be more complicated if you’re a teenager.

How come?  

Because your parents are responsible for your health. If they have health insurance that covers you, the insurance could help pay for the cost of your treatment.  

But knowing this doesn’t make it easy to tell them.


It’s understandable that you might hesitate to tell your parents because you don’t want them to worry about you.

Others feel their parents don’t accept their sexual orientation, making the idea of sharing your HIV status a difficult one.

Only you can make this decision.

The good news is there are ways to make it easier to answer that question:

  • Talk to a counselor at the clinic where you were tested. Ask them what other people like you have done, and how they did it.
  • Talk to other young people living with HIV and ask what they did. You’re not the first person to deal with this problem. Your counselor or social worker should be able to put you in contact with a support group for other teens living with HIV. Attend their meetings and ask what they did. And ask them how their parents reacted.
  • Ask yourself how your parents would react to this kind of news. If you think they’ll take it hard and start hollering at you, kick you out of the house or get violent, telling them yourself might not be the best way to go.


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But then again, how would they react if they learned it from somebody else?

OK, that was kinda grim, wasn't it? So let’s hold up a sec and clear one thing up:

Lots of parents totally support their kids when they find out one of them is living with HIV. They help them find doctors and get treatment and figure out how to pay for it. And they don’t judge their kids because they got infected. They’re like, “what happened, happened, OK? How do we make the best of it?”


Here’s one way to tell your parents you are living with HIV


The musicians you listen to don't just make up the stuff they sing and play on the spot. They write down lyrics, read music, memorize their parts and rehearse them before they record or play in front of an audience.  

Well, think of your parents as your audience, and start writing some notes for breaking the news to them.

You don’t necessarily have to put it down on paper, but you should think about the best way to tell them, and then practice doing it a few times until you feel pretty comfortable that you know your lines.

So, what should you say? Think about how you reacted when you heard the news that you were HIV-positive. You were scared at first, but the more you learned about HIV treatments, the more you calmed down and realized you could live a long healthy life & it would be OK.

You found out there are medicines available, and there are programs to make sure you can get your meds even if you don’t make much money.

Your parents might not know any of this. You have to be the one to explain it all to them.

Sure, it’ll be tough for them. But you’re the one who has to live with your diagnosis.

You’re young, strong and know how to take care of yourself. They should get used to the idea once they realize that.


Positive Peers is made possible through a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration, HIV/AIDS Bureau Special Projects of National Significance (SPNS) Grant to The MetroHealth System. Click here for more information about the SPNS grant initiative.
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