Fairfax County Releases Youth Survey

Fairfax County Office of Public Affairs
12000 Government Center Parkway, Suite 551
Fairfax, VA 22035-0065
703-324-3187, TTY 711, FAX 703-324-2010

June 13, 2006

Fairfax County Releases Youth Survey

Students in Sixth, Eighth, 10th and 12th Grades Participated

The results of the 2005 Fairfax County Youth Survey were presented on June 12 at a joint meeting of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and the Fairfax County School Board. The survey was a collaborative effort by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, Fairfax County Public Schools, Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board and Fairfax Partnership for Youth. The anonymous, voluntary survey was administered in December 2005 to approximately 14,000 randomly selected Fairfax County students in sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th grades.

“The results of this survey give us a snapshot of how the youth in our community are doing – and how we as a community can work together to address their needs,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly. “The good news for Fairfax County is that most indicators are on a downward trend, and that’s heartening.”

In general the survey found that Fairfax County youth are involved in fewer risky behaviors and are thriving. Steps in the right direction include:

  • Cigarette smoking and marijuana use are down.
  • Binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) also has decreased.
  • Sixth-graders, in general, reported low involvement in risky behaviors.
  • There are many opportunities for positive social involvement for youth and families in Fairfax County — a significant majority of the youth surveyed reported participating in extracurricular activities with lots of chances to get involved; doing fun things with their families; and being involved in religious activities or volunteer activities. However, youth who speak a language other than English at home are less likely to perceive that these activities are available for them.

The survey provides insight into the prevalence and frequency of substance use and other problem behaviors, as well as positive behaviors by youth. This provides Fairfax County with a barometer of the effectiveness of the community in fostering healthy choices in youth and assisting in the development of prevention and other strategies. For example, age of onset for substance use is an important predictor of regular adult use. Many youth who responded in the survey that they use drugs also reported that they first used substances such as alcohol and cigarettes at age 12 or younger, indicating that there is an important window of opportunity to reach youth as they transition to middle school.

Information from previous youth surveys has helped guide county initiatives focused on youth, including gang prevention and teen driving. As part of the gang prevention effort, this spring the Board of Supervisors and School Board kicked off an expanded after-school program in all county middle schools. Teen driving safety was the focus of both a summit and a forum for teens and their parents in the ongoing safe teen driving initiative.

This is the third time that Fairfax County youth have taken part in a survey of this type, which can help to monitor behavior trends and changes. The 2005 survey was expanded to include sixth-graders as previous surveys often indicated that substance use and risky behaviors might begin around this time. Results also were compared to national data from the University of Michigan’s 2005 “Monitoring the Future” study.

The survey also pointed out challenges to be recognized and addressed by the community, including:

  • Early onset of substance use, including inhalants among sixth- and eighth-graders, and the use of prescription drugs/painkillers without a prescription.
  • Depression is impacting a significant number of youth and there is a strong correlation with substance use.
  • Gang members show increased risk factors across all major life areas.
  • The use of alcohol, and youth who drive while drinking. 

Substance Use

  • Alcohol is the most frequently used substance. Close to half (47.9 percent) of 12th-graders used alcohol in the 30 days prior to the survey; 16.8 percent of 12th-graders reported coming to school drunk or high. Of those youth who have used alcohol, 45.7 percent of males and 34.5 percent of females first did so at age 12 or younger.
  • Binge drinking, having five or more drinks in a row, was down to 26 percent of 12th-graders from 31 percent in 2001 and also declined among eighth- and 10th-graders.
  • Cigarette smoking is the lowest it has been in five years in all grades surveyed and is lower than the national rates. Of those youth who have smoked a cigarette, 44 percent of males and 35.6 percent of females first did so at age 12 or younger.
  • Marijuana use has declined overall and the rate is lower than the national rates. Of those youth who have used marijuana, 19 percent of males and 7.8 percent of females first did so at age 12 or younger.
  • Inhalant use, which includes common aerosol products found in cleaning supplies, lighters and some spray food products, was most frequently reported by sixth- and eighth-graders, and it is the only substance where 12th-graders reported substantially lower use than younger students. Inhalants are the second most commonly used drug among eighth-graders, ahead of marijuana and cigarettes.
  • Prescription drugs and painkillers are the most commonly used “other drug” in Fairfax County. Less than 1 percent have used methamphetamines or Ecstasy.


  • Bullying and aggression was most frequently reported in eighth and 10th grades: 59 percent of eighth-graders and 56 percent of 10th-graders reported bullying someone, and 14 percent of eight-graders and 11 percent of 10th-graders reported that they attacked someone with intent to harm. Of all the students surveyed, 51 percent reported that they have been bullied, taunted, ridiculed or teased (10 percent reported more that 20 times). Nearly 36 percent (35.8) reported that someone said something bad about their race or culture and 20 percent reported that they had been sexually harassed. Youth who have been bullied are more likely to report that they have carried a weapon; used drugs, alcohol or cigarettes in the 30 days prior to the survey; were lonely or depressed; and have considered suicide. The survey also found that youth who used drugs in the past 30 days were three to five times more likely to attack someone or carry a weapon to school.
  • The number of youth reporting gang involvement at some point was 2.8 percent, down from 5.6 percent in 2001. Of those who indicated that they were ever in a gang, 44.9 percent said they joined when they were age 12 or younger. Those reporting that they had ever been in a gang were found to be substantially higher in all risk factors measured by the survey.
  • Mental health questions covered depression and suicidal thoughts and behaviors. One-third (33.9 percent) of the youth in eighth, 10th and 12th grades reported that during the 12 months before the survey, they felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities. Girls (40.1 percent) were more likely than boys (27 percent) to report those feelings. When asked about suicide, 12.9 percent indicated that they had seriously considered it during the past 12 months and 3.4 percent reported ever actually attempting suicide. Youth who reported that they had considered suicide were nearly twice as likely to report illicit drug use in the past 30 days.
  • Driving safety questions resulted in finding that 74 percent of students reported riding in a car without a seatbelt at some time, 23 percent do so regularly; 19.9 percent of those 16 and older have driven a car after drinking alcohol; and 27.4 percent have ridden in a car driven by someone who had been drinking (this may include an adult of legal drinking age).

This survey also examined a set of risk and protective factors in five major life areas — community, family, school, and peer and individual interactions. Young people in Fairfax County reported positive influences from their communities, families, schools and friends and strong social skills that empower them to make healthy decisions. They reported higher risk in the factors of transitions and mobility, family conflict and sensation seeking.

Overall, the survey results can provide a motivating force for community action around the opportunities and challenges identified. The survey results will be used to guide the development of programs and services throughout Fairfax County. The youth survey report, along with the reports from 2001 and 2003, is available at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/demogrph/youthpdf.htm.

As with the 2001 and 2003 surveys, parents of the students selected to participate in the 2005 survey were informed of the content, given an opportunity to preview the questions and to sign an “opt-out” form to exclude their student from participating in the survey.

For more information about the youth survey, contact Fairfax County Prevention Coordinator Denise Raybon at 703-324-7124, TTY 711.

To request this information in an alternate format, call the Office of Public Affairs at 703-324-3187, TTY 711.

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