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Parents Can Learn to be Effective AIDS Educators for their Children

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Press Release

Researchers funded by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) are training parents to teach their young children the knowledge and skills needed to protect themselves from HIV infection.

Parents are often uncertain about how to begin talking with their children about HIV/AIDS, but research shows that education must begin early. When their peers begin to pressure them to engage in high-risk behaviors, children must have the knowledge and skills to choose healthy behaviors instead.

Educating the parents about the disease and helping them practice parent-child communication techniques empowers them to decide how and when to increase their children's knowledge and decrease their unrealistic worries about HIV/AIDS.

"This research is crucial for reducing the spread of HIV and the techniques involved can be adapted and applied in many cultures and societies around the world," said Ellen Stover, Ph.D., Director of the NIMH Division of Mental Disorders, Behavioral Research and AIDS.

The research will be presented in poster sessions at the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona, Spain, July 6-12, 2002.

Velma McBride Murry, Ph.D., at the Center for Family Research in Athens, Georgia, is working with 400 rural African-American parents with 11-year-old children, to reduce the children's sexual risk-taking. The rate of HIV infection is much higher among African Americans in the rural South than it is among minority populations in other areas of the United States.

The intervention Dr. Murry is testing is based on the theory that developing positive ethnic and sexual identities will foster social skills and academic success. These in turn are expected to increase youths' inclination to avoid peers who engage in high-risk behaviors such as early sexual activity, unsafe sexual practices and the use of alcohol and other substances.

The training sessions are presented in videotapes of family interactions that illustrate key points. Each family receives program worksheets, homework assignments, and publications designed to reinforce program content.

A second NIMH study designed to help parents discuss HIV/AIDS with their 10-13 year old children is headed by B.J. Krauss, Ph.D., at Hunter College in New York. Participants in the research are parents and children from 240 families from New York City neighborhoods where 10 percent of the population is HIV-infected.

The study's program of four weekly 3-hour training sessions for parents has significantly increased parent and child knowledge of HIV disease and the children's comfort in talking about the disease and being with HIV-infected persons. This intervention builds upon two nearly universal concepts—parents are the initial health educators of their children and parents care deeply about the well-being of their children. In other studies Dr. Krauss has found that children of parents who have received this training have much higher intention to avoid HIV risk behaviors.

This intervention originated in a high-minority, high-immigrant neighborhood in New York City. It has since been replicated with positive results in Mexico City, and it is being implemented and enhanced for Latino immigrants in Miami as well as being used to help design an intervention in India.

Dr. Murry and Dr. Krauss will be at the NIMH booth, A27, on Monday, July 8, 2002, between 11 am and 1 pm to talk about their research.

NIMH is part of the National Institutes of Health, (NIH), the Federal Government's primary agency for biomedical and behavioral research. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Velma McBride Murry, Ph.D.

Professor of child and family development and co-director of the Center for Family Research at The University of Georgia, Dr. Murry received her Ph.D. in human development and family relations from the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1988. She has been Commissioner for the State of Georgia Children's Trust Fund since 1997.

Dr. Murry studies issues that affect the lives of rural African-American families and has made important contributions to understanding the significance of socio-cultural factors in studies of African-American families and youth. In particular, she has investigated the way external stressors, such as racism, cascade through African-American families and on the ways family members buffer each other against these stressors. In 1999, Dr. Murry and a colleague discovered several classes of family protective factors, including personality characteristics, coping behaviors, and dynamic contextual interactions among personality, social support, and family processes. The finding suggested that such protective factors could reduce the impact of several risk factors on children and adolescents. She now seeks to use these protective factors as guidelines for the development of family and community-based prevention programs for rural African-American families and youth.

Beatrice J. Krauss, Ph.D.

Dr. Krauss received her Doctorate in Social-Personality Psychology at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, in 1979. She became Executive Director of the Hunter College Center on AIDS, Drugs, and Community Health and Professor of Urban Public Health in August 2001. She was formerly Deputy Director of the Institute for AIDS Research and Deputy Director of the Center for Drug Use and HIV Research at the National Development and Research Institutes, Inc., in New York City.

Dr. Krauss has been actively engaged in HIV-related research since 1989, serving in more than 20 HIV-related research projects. She has published and presented on sexual risk taking and risk reduction, women's issues in HIV, the impact of HIV on families, communication about HIV within families, HIV and the minority community, adolescents' and pre-adolescents' questions and concerns about HIV, street recruitment, psychosocial adjustment to HIV, HIV prevention intervention design, HIV information sources, sensitive socializing with persons with HIV, and methodological problems in the psychosocial study of HIV. In 1998, Dr. Krauss received the Kurt Lewin award from the New York State Psychological Association for her research on destigmatizing HIV.

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About the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): The mission of the NIMH is to transform the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through basic and clinical research, paving the way for prevention, recovery and cure. For more information, visit the NIMH website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit the NIH website .