Adults play many roles—mentor, ally, parent, or friend—in the lives of youth. Parents, or caregivers, play the most important role for preventing HIV infections among youth. In the context of youth programs for HIV prevention, adults also serve as allies, contributing positively to development and sustainability of programs that focus on keeping youth engaged.

Role of an Adult Ally

An adult ally is a trusted partnership between an adult and youth where the adult puts the youth's interest and voice before their own. They provide guidance and advice while allowing youth to take the lead. Allies such as parents, teachers, family members, college students, and community members are needed to help support youth programs.

How to Be a Good Adult Ally

Engagement is central to empowering youth. A good adult ally is one who can take the extra steps needed to engage youth and keep them engaged. This includes engaging and communicating with youth in the ways that are most comfortable to them such as through text messages or other messaging apps. Allies help to bridge the gap and act as a liaison to ensure that the youth “voice” is heard and that youth are continuously involved in a program or organization. The following are additional characteristics that make a good adult ally:

  • Understands the youth perspective and is able to honor it
  • Knows how to engage youth at their level
  • Encourages youth participation
  • Makes youth feel connected
  • Committed to youth
  • Able to play a supportive role providing guidance to help youth meet their goals
  • Able to let youth take the lead
  • Believes in youth empowerment and leadership
  • "Nothing about youth without youth"

Youth HIV Facts

LGBT students with supportive educators feel safer at school & earn higher grades than students without allies.
Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network

Parents As Allies

Parents can play an active role in their child's sexual health education at school and in their communities. They can provide social support to their child's teen-led sexual health program by being an adult leader, liaison, or volunteer. All these roles are needed to help facilitate a youth program's activities, such as driving youth to events, being an adult chaperone, and helping to set up events among others.

Parents can also get involved in their child's school health education committee or community health program to ensure that the curriculum is comprehensive, accurate, and non-bias or discriminatory, as well as taught by trained sexual health educators. According to Advocates for Youth, parents can become advocates for comprehensive sex education by:

  • Learning what their child's school offers in sex education
  • Acknowledging that sex education is a life-long process and that parents are only one of the primary sex educators of young people
  • Supporting honest, balanced sex education that is comprehensive and that includes education about abstinence and contraception
  • Knowing what training their child's teachers have had in sex education
  • Knowing the official school system policies on sex education

Best Practices for Parent-Teen Communication

Parents play a critical role in influencing their child's decisions about how and when they engage in sexual activity. Communication between a parent and child about sex is an ongoing process rather than a one-time conversation. Parents' communication will have an impact on their child's sexual behavior: how and what they say matters, as does when and how often they talk with their child about sex.

It is important for parents to approach discussions about sexuality, sexual orientation, and how their child can engage in sexual activity from a positive perspective. Often when parents, caregivers, or adult allies talk with young people about sex, they start the conversation with the dangers of sexual behavior, including the risk of HIV, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and pregnancy. Maintaining a positive approach by focusing on facts and the benefits of protecting themselves from HIV, STIs, and pregnancy will help teens make healthier choices and avoid risky sexual behaviors.

Youth HIV Facts

Teens who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to delay having sex and to use condoms when they do.
Toolkit Resource

This Adolescent Health Initiative Spark training on being an "askable adult" contains presentation slides and activities for health centers.

Page last updated: January 2018