Questions From You

Parenting questions submitted by our community members and answered by a YOU Program facilitator.
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What to Know About National Women + Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

March 10, 2015

By Nely Bergsma

What to Know About National Women + Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day | Use these talking points to start your conversation about HIV/AIDS with your daughter.

Image courtesy of

Today is National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This is an annual, nationwide observance that reminds us all of the impact HIV and AIDS continue to have on women and girls.

If you are feeling uncomfortable and have not engaged your daughter in a conversation about sex or drugs, this may be a great month to do so. As parents and mentors, we are faced with how to best approach the subject and begin the conversation. First and foremost, we need to educate ourselves on the virus and syndrome so that we remain current and available to offer any support our girls may need.

For example, did you know that about one in four Americans living with HIV are women 13 or older? In addition to this statistic, about 50 percent of women living with HIV are getting care and only four in 10 of them are managing the virus with the help of effective medication and treatment. Talk with your daughter not only about the decision she will make as to whether or not to be sexually active, but also about HIV and AIDS in particular. They are not just acquired through sexual activities, but also through use of intravenous drugs, so your conversation should also address drug use.

HIV and AIDS can be confusing, but an ongoing conversation is necessary so that she can learn how to stay safe and healthy. Perhaps you and your daughter can research the subject together and make it a mother-daughter project. Either separately or together gather information from credible sources, like Come together with your findings and launch a social media campaign this month to encourage the conversation between your parent and her friend communities. Make it an annual event and continue the discussion throughout the year.

This year marks the 10th observance of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. It is key that all women, young and older, learn and share this information with one another both in advocacy and support. Creating an open environment—and one that is free of judgment—for an honest and informative exchange of experiences is critical to preventing future generations from contracting HIV and AIDS.

Join the conversation today on social media by searching and using #NWGHAAD.


Choosing College: Where Your Friends Don’t Attend

March 3, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Choosing College: Where Friends Don’t Attend | For your child, choosing a college where their friends are going is probably high on their list, but there's a great opportunity to learn who they really are if they choose a college where a lot of friends aren't attending.

As juniors in high school are scouting potential colleges and seniors are choosing from the schools they were accepted to, a common deciding factor is where their friends are going. Many high school students go to one of the state schools, as it’s more cost-friendly and is usually a little easier to get into, which means a lot of friends will also be going there. But is going to a school where your high school friends attend the best decision?

Encourage your child to consider choosing a college where fewer of his or her friends will be attending for the following reasons:

Broaden horizons
Without an established group of friends to act as a crutch, your child has an opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds, try different ways of thinking, and really find him or herself.

Find independence and strengthen character
It’s easier to learn who we really are in moments of solitude, and starting college alone would help facilitate your child’s journey to discover that person. At first, starting a new school without an established group of friends to fall back on will be difficult and lonely, but the experience of getting through that loneliness will strengthen your child’s character and prepare him or her for the more difficult life moments ahead.

Get out of his or her comfort zone
Getting out of one’s comfort zone helps strengthen character and encourages independence. It’s really hard to do, and as a parent, you might need to field a few phone calls from your child crying, but assure him or her that it will get better.

Encourage your child to go to a campus event alone, no matter how dorky it might seem. Worst case, he or she can always leave after 30 minutes if it’s insufferable. Best case, your child meets new people, learns a little bit, and feels more confident for taking that risk and feeling a little uncomfortable at first.

Find your true matches
One of the best parts of college for me was meeting entirely new groups of friends who I truly clicked with—people who grew up in different environments with different stories, but in the end, we were true friend matches. Some of them have ended up being the friends I’ve now had the longest in my life, and it’s truly wonderful to have people who have known and liked me when I was finding my way through college and my twenties. I never would have met them, though, if I hadn’t branched out, met new people, and learned who I really was and am.

Focus on academics
For many college freshmen, the first few months of school are really difficult. Learning how to balance class, study time, group projects, chores, and a social life is tough, especially when they suddenly have this newfound freedom and the ability to do whatever they want whenever they want. Without a built-in group of friends, your child will have a little extra time to focus on establishing good study habits so that when he or she starts socializing more, studying will be less of a problem.

Of course, it’s also possible to gain these benefits by attending a college where many of your child’s high school classmates are attending. Just encourage him or her to make an effort to meet new people in addition to strengthening high school friendships. The above reasons can still apply even with an established group of friends if your child branches out just a little.


Dangers of Prescription Medication

February 18, 2015

By Amelia Orozco

Dangers of Prescription Medication | How to talk to your teenager about prescription medication use and overdose dangers. | A teenage girl, looking depressed, stares at pills sitting on her bed.

Today’s drug scene looks much different than what many parents may have been schooled on. It is wise to assume that our children must know more than to “Just Say No” nowadays, but to also know why they should refuse drugs in the first place. Aside from the typical street drugs, they should know about prescription medications and why they should only take those prescribed to them by their doctor.

To begin, it is essential to refrain from accusing your son or daughter of any wrongdoing without clear evidence. Doing so may alienate them, which may be difficult to remedy. Instead, be a role model when using medications, and make time for this important conversation.

It is best not to even start.
One good piece of information to share with your son or daughter is that the younger a person starts using any type of drug, drinking alcohol, or smoking cigarettes, the tougher it will be to break the habit later in life. In addition, many of these drugs—which may be seemingly harmless to them—are known as gateway drugs, or drugs that entice the use of harder drugs. Children’s formative years are truly influential to the rest of their lives. Remind them that as with many habits, it can happen gradually, so it is important to be fully aware of their decisions to ingest any type substance.

Use your thinking cap while it still works!
Thinking that an occasional pill here or there will not do any harm is dangerous because there could be long-term effects. Your son or daughter could be allergic to one of the ingredients in the medication, which may cause some type of illness, paralysis, or even death. Although there may not be any signs of ill effects even when used for years, there can be lifelong repercussions. Some are addictive and may cause heart disease, complications to the nervous system, and behavioral problems that result in making bad choices. Any of these factors, of course, will affect physical and mental health well into the future.

Stay one step ahead of the game.
As a parent, it is important to keep track of all your medications. Aside from storing them somewhere private and safe away from your children, you should also know how many pills you currently have, both at home and in refills at the pharmacy. In addition, try to only purchase your prescriptions from one drugstore to avoid the possibility of someone trying to get your refills at different locations. Nowadays, drugstores have online and automated services that will indicate how many times your prescriptions have been filled. This will keep track of everything in one secure place.

Finally, because YOU are your child’s first teacher, remind your son or daughter how proud you are of their decisions and accomplishments. Have an open door policy, where they are always welcome to talk to you about anything without pre-judgments. Allow them to use social media or texting to communicate with you if they prefer. As a parent, you have become more keenly aware of their style and gestures, and can pick up on cues that will help you start these important conversations with them.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago and Extra Newspaper. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.


Accepting Your Teen's Personal Style

January 28, 2015

By Ana Vela

Accepting Your Teen's Personal Style | A teen poses for a photo with her skateboard in a leather jacket, big round sunglasses, flannel and printed shirt.

During the teen years, your child will begin defining his or her identity. According to PBS's This Emotional Life, "the main goal of identity formation in adolescence is to develop a clear sense of self." There are many ways teens will explore their identities—one of those being personal style.

Fashion becomes a very important form of expression to a teen. As a parent, you have a critical role in helping your child shape the image he or she projects to the world. It's possible your teen will decide to make personal style choices that do not align to what's considered normal in society. Or your teen may make choices that you do not agree with. Regardless, be supportive through these phases to help your teen's self esteem.  

As someone who dressed "weird" as a teenager, being bullied and teased in school didn't nearly hurt me as much as having my own mother disapprove and be embarrassed of my appearance. 

According to Dr. Alexandra Dells-Abrams, a transpersonal psychologist, low self-esteem has been linked to violent behavior, school dropout rates, teenage pregnancy, suicide, and low academic achievement. If your teen feels that you do not like his or her identity, it may lead to further feelings of isolation and a household of constant arguing.

This happened with my family while I was a teenager. If my mother had attempted to understand me and be more supportive, the tension in our household would not have existed. Should this situation arise with my daughter, I plan to handle it differently to help build my daughter’s self-esteem. 

Here are various ways you can help as your teen explores his or her personal style:

Encourage Your Teen's Style

  • Find something to compliment him or her on. You may not like all the choices your teen made, but maybe there's one thing you can compliment.
  • Try to purchase gifts that align with his or her style as a way to show support. Buying gifts that do not align may be viewed as a sign of disapproval.
  • Talk to your child about the fashion choices you made as a teen. Show him or her photos if you have any. Have a good laugh about it, as it will help your teen see that everyone goes through an awkward phase.

Define Fashion Boundaries 

  • Outline what fashion choices are appropriate and inappropriate. Make sure your child understands what personal style options break the school's dress code and are not permitted.
  • Guide fashion choices based on the occasion. Help your child express him or herself even in situations such as a job interview, formal event like a wedding or funeral, or eating at a nice restaurant.

Teach Responsibility

  • Consider giving your teen a fashion budget. This will empower your child to make purchases within his or her budget, and will teach responsibility.
  • Discuss career options with your teen and what the dress code may be in a professional setting. Point out how social media images can be viewed by potential employers. Help your child understand how permanent personal style choices (such as a tattoo) may impact his or her future. Once your teen has that understanding, he or she can make a more informed choice.

Monitor Your Teen’s Behavior

  • Keep track of your teen’s school grades and performance to make sure his or her identity exploration is not negatively impacting his or her academics.
  • Meet your teen's friends. Are they making the same fashion choices? How do they behave when they are together?

Having good communication with your child will be critical. Find out why he or she is making the choices before you negatively judge your teen. Adolescence can be an awkward phase, and it will be so important that your teen knows you are there to support him or her through it.


Resolutions: Physical Well-Being

January 20, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Resolutions: Physical Well-Being | New Year's Resolutions: social well-being, emotional well-being, physical well-being, academic success

This month, YOU Parent is featuring a series on making resolutions that address a child’s four core needs for success in life: social well-being, emotional well-being, physical well-being, and academic development. Visit us next Tuesday for the final article addressing academic development.

Children mimic so much of our behavior it’s sometimes a little unnerving. Do you remember how bad you felt the first time your toddler said a cuss word, without even realizing what he or she had said? What about the pride you felt the first time your child voiced an opinion that sounded like something you would do—something so unique that it linked the two of you together?

Whether it’s good or bad, our children model our behavior. That’s why it’s so critical to behave the way you want your children to, from watching your language to living a healthy lifestyle. We live in a challenging time for health—teen obesity has quadrupled in the past 30 years and anorexia and bulimia are prevalent in the teenage years and beyond. How you choose to behave around your children can make a big difference in their physical well-being in childhood, through the teenage years, and beyond.

This year, try one or more of these resolutions to promote a healthy lifestyle with your children.

  1. Eat healthier.
    Load your plate with vegetables and fruits of all colors. A colorful diet of whole foods will give your body more nutrition and energy to tackle anything that comes your way. Do some research online to find out which foods keep your immune system ready and have the most vitamins and minerals, and talk to your kids about why those things are important. Need inspiration? Read how this mom teaches her kids about nutrition in the foods they eat every day.
  2. Exercise more.
    Some people love to exercise and others loathe it. But exercise isn’t just about going to the gym. Find weather-appropriate activities you can do with your family to get the blood flowing and your bodies sweating (try dancing, playing in the snow, or indoor jungle gyms this winter). Sign up for a 5k race with your teen and train together. Whatever you do, you’ll be releasing toxins and kicking those endorphins—which help you fight pain and stress—into gear. You’ll feel better immediately and your body will thank you.
  3. Speak positively about your body.
    Most of us have something (or many things) we’d like to improve with our bodies. Whether it’s a trimmer tummy, losing the stretch marks, or bigger goals, it’s okay to want to improve within reason. But be careful how you speak about your body in front of your children.

    Instead of looking in the mirror and saying, “I’m so fat,” find something you like about yourself, and share it with your children. “I love my tiger stripes because they remind me of when you were born,” or “I like that my body curves in at my waist and back out again like an hourglass.” Ask your children what they like about their bodies. Your child will pick up on your attitude and message, regardless of what you say, so why not make it positive to promote better self-esteem?

These resolutions seem small and simple, but they may be more challenging than you expect. That’s okay. Take the challenge and choose at least one of these resolutions for 2015. Not only will your body and mind thank you, your children will benefit from the important lessons you’re teaching them.

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