Depressive symptoms (such as chronic sadness and hopelessness), vaping, healthy eating and screen time are among the issues that influenced the health and well-being of Fairfax County youth in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the annual Fairfax County Youth Survey. In addition to shedding light on students’ behaviors and experiences, the survey also identifies ways that you can actively help teens succeed and avoid or reduce risky behaviors.
Since 2001, the Board of Supervisors and the School Board have co-sponsored the Youth Survey, which helps to monitor behavior trends and changes among our youth and provides crucial information to help prioritize the focus for prevention and youth development efforts throughout the community. It is an anonymous and voluntary survey given each year to Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) students in grades eight, 10 and 12 (sixth graders take a modified, shorter survey).
In 2019-2020, a total of 35,832 eighth, 10th and 12th grade students participated, representing 84% of enrolled students. A total of 13,083 sixth grade students participated in the survey, representing 89% of enrolled students. The survey was administered in the fall of 2019, prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, youth in Fairfax County continue to report prevalence near historic lows for risk behaviors including alcohol use, cigarette use and cyberbullying. However, there remain some challenges as well.
Here are five things to know about the 2019-2020 Youth Survey.
1. The Prevalence of Depressive Symptoms Continues to Increase
Depressive symptoms (defined as feeling so sad or hopeless that the student stops engaging in regular activity for two weeks) were reported by 29.9% of eighth, 10th and 12th grade students, continuing an upward trend from 25.9% in 2015. Sixth graders reported prevalence of depressive symptoms (24.8%) at its highest rate since 2011.
2. Vaping and Alcohol Use Remain Common
One in seven eighth, 10th and 12th grade students (15.1%) reported vaping within a 30-day period. Fifteen percent (15.2%) reported drinking alcohol in the past month. Among all substance use behaviors, vaping and alcohol use were most common.
3. Fruit and Vegetable Consumption Continues to Decrease
Fewer than one-fourth of the eighth, 10th and 12th grade students (22.4%) ate fruits and vegetables at least five times per day in the past week and less than 30% (28.8%) of the sixth grade students reported doing so. The 2019 rates were the lowest ever reported.
4. Screen Time Increases While Physical Activity Level Drops
Almost two-thirds of the eighth, 10th and 12th grade students (66.2%) get three or more hours of screen time (watching TV, playing video games or using a computer or other devices for non-school activities) on the average school day. The percentage of students getting at least one hour of physical activity per day on five or more days in the past week (38.5%) continued a downward trend since 2010.
5. Most Students Feel Safe and Supported at School
The majority of the eighth, 10th and 12th grade students reported feeling safe at their school (85.3%), having opportunities to talk their teacher one-one-one (81.7%) and that their teachers notice if they do a good job (60.3%).
Three to Succeed
Three to Succeed is the notion that the presence of three or more positive, protective factors in a student’s life can lead to making better choices, engaging in healthier habits and managing stress in a positive manner. A few of these protective factors include:
- Having high personal integrity.
- Performing community service.
- Having teachers recognize good work.
- Having community adults to talk to.
- Participating in extracurricular activities.
- Having parents available for help.
Visit the Youth Survey webpage for more information, including the Prevention Toolkit, presentations and fact sheets that all have resources and ideas for what parents, service providers and others can do to help support children and youth.