Youth Survey Results Shed Light on Alcohol, Drugs, Sex and More

Youth Survey teens

How are our kids doing? Actually, pretty well according to the 12th annual Youth Survey results…but there is room for improvement.

The anonymous and voluntary survey, which is co-sponsored by the Board of Supervisors and the School Board, helps to monitor behavior trends and changes by our youth and provides crucial information to help prioritize the focus for prevention efforts throughout the community. It is given each year to students in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12, and more than 40,000 students participated in 2016-2017.

“In the years that we have been conducting the survey, we have watched some behaviors spike and then trend downwards,” says Sophia Dutton, Youth Survey project manager. “We monitor emerging issues for youth and have added questions about texting while driving, e-cigarettes, stress and sugar-sweetened beverages, which could impact obesity.”

Read Latest Youth Survey Report


1.) Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Use

In several categories, the percentages of our students reporting substance use in 2016 were lower than in any of the previous four years.

  • The largest decrease occurred in alcohol use.
  • Cigarette use was the lowest reported in the past five years.
  • More students reported smoking e-cigarettes in the past month (4 percent) than cigarettes (2.6 percent).
  • Marijuana was the second most commonly used substance by Fairfax County students overall.
  • The percentages of students reporting use of alcohol, marijuana, inhalants and all forms of tobacco were lower than the national rates.


2.) Sexual Behavior
  • The percentage of students who reported having had sexual intercourse in their lifetime has declined steadily over the past five years.
  • The 2016 rate was 4.4 percentage points lower than in 2012.
  • Two-thirds of the students who reported sexual intercourse used a condom the last time they had sex.
  • One-fifth of the students reported having had oral sex in their lifetime.
  • Among students who dated or went out with someone during the past year, 9.1 percent reported being forced into sexual activity by a partner.
  • Female students were more than twice as likely to be forced.


3.) Aggressive/Risky Behaviors
  • Half of the students reported having something bad said to them about their race or culture in the past year – the highest rate reported in the past five years.
  • Thirteen percent reported being sexually harassed in the past year — more females (19.2 percent) than males (6.9 percent).
  • Approximately 5 percent of the students reported bullying someone on school property in the past year; more than twice as many reported having been bullied.
  • Both rates of bullying and of being bullied declined as grade level increased.
  • Almost 5 percent of Fairfax County students reported cyberbullying another student attending their school in the past year, while close to 10 percent reported being cyberbullied by another student.
  • Over one-third of the 12th-grade students reported texting while driving in the past month.


4.) Physical Health
  • Rates of physical activity decreased as grade level increased, with 46.9 percent of eighth-grade students participating in at least one hour of physical activity on five or more days in the past week, falling to 35.2 percent of 12th-grade students.
  • Almost half of the students spend three or more hours on an average school day playing video or computer games, or using a computer (including tablets and smartphones) for non-school activities.
  • Less than one-third of the students get eight or more hours of sleep on an average school night, ranging from 16 percent of 12th-graders to nearly half of eighth-graders.
  • Eight percent of the students reported going hungry in the past month (some of the time, most of the time or always) due to a lack of food in the home.


5.) Mental Health
  • Over one-third of the students reported a high level of stress in the past month, ranging from 21.6 percent of eighth-graders to 47.5 percent of 12th-graders.
  • Female students were more likely to report high stress levels.
  • Approximately one in six female students and one in 10 male students reported they had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.
  • Seven percent of female students and 4 percent of male students said they had attempted suicide in the past year.


Three to Succeed

The Three to Succeed concept is based on the Youth Survey analysis that shows how just having three assets (or strengths) dramatically reduces risky behaviors and promotes good decision-making.

Assets are strengths in young people, their families, schools and communities that help them thrive in health, in school, and daily life and in a safe environment. The more assets an individual has in his or her life, the fewer risk behaviors are reported. Young people report positive influences from their communities, families, schools and friends. This support demonstrates the benefits from everyone taking a role in ensuring that children are thriving in Fairfax County.

Youth Survey chart


What You Can Do To Make a Difference

Here are a few steps you can take to help children succeed in our community.

  • Provide FCPS students with the CrisisText number: Text NEEDHELP to 85511.
  • When they do well, provide positive reinforcement.
  • Provide opportunities for extracurricular activities, volunteering and mentoring.
  • Address attitudes about alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.
  • Increase awareness of risk factors and warning signs of mental health issues.
  • Address bullying and cyberbullying before and when it occurs.


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