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AIDS Educ Prev. 1997 Feb;9(1):14-30.

Attitudes about AIDS education and condom availability among parents of high school students in New York City: a focus group approach.

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Academy for Educational Development, New York, NY 10011, USA.


This paper describes parents' views of the New York City Public High School's AIDS Education and Condom Availability Program. It presents findings from 12 focus groups with 81 parents of students at six representative high schools. Focus groups were conducted as part of an independent, comprehensive 3-year evaluation of the program, consisting of both qualitative and quantitative components. Participants were mostly supportive of the program, citing intense concern about AIDS among adolescents, fear that teenagers do not adequately perceive themselves as being vulnerable, and personal experiences with infected relatives and friends. Implications of these findings for program development are discussed and recommendations for social policy changes are presented.


During 1992-94, focus groups of parents of students from six randomly selected New York City public high schools were conducted to determine the parents' attitudes about changes affecting implementation of the AIDS Education and Condom Availability Program. The changes included failure to reappoint the chancellor who initiated the program, voluntary departure of many of his staff who were architects of the program, and the court-order parent opt-out. Most parents supported school-based AIDS education and condom availability. They considered AIDS to be a deadly threat to teens. They thought that sexually active adolescents do not adequately perceive AIDS as a threat. Some parents saw a general sense of invincibility and futility among teens as a major barrier to their understanding of the seriousness of AIDS. The death of a family member made AIDS salient to teens. Parents were most interested in the protection afforded by regular condom use. They believed that schools can reinforce what parents teach at home. A minority of parents objected strongly to the program, especially the availability of condoms. They wanted the program to focus on abstinence, moral values, and self-respect. Opponents of the program were most likely to object to the lack of outreach of the program to involve parents in the development of the program. Informational workshops have helped parents communicate with their children about AIDS and helped them alleviate their fear that condom availability promotes sexual activity. These workshops were not in place at all schools, however. Many parents said that the threatening nature of the AIDS epidemic supersedes issues of parental authority. A minority of parents chose the opt-out provision because sex and condoms were the parents' responsibility, not the school's. Their reactions again suggested frustration with not being included in the decision-making process. Most parents talked to their children about AIDS, sex, and condoms. The media more than the school promoted such discussions, however. Parents who had poor communication patterns especially appreciated the program.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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