Anonymous youth survey to tackle tough topics

The state Healthy Youth Survey, given every other year, is scheduled for this month. It is optional.

EVERETT — Students around Snohomish County will be asked to take an anonymous survey this month that tackles some difficult topics.

The Healthy Youth Survey, given every other year, can show trends in the mental and physical health of young people. It gathers student responses to questions about a variety of subjects, including physical activity and nutrition, alcohol and drug use, physical and sexual abuse, school safety and depression and suicide. Some questions are only for older students.

The state-funded survey is for Washington youth in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12. This year, it is to be given between Monday and Oct. 19.

Although the survey is done at school, students do not have to take it, or they may skip questions. Those who opt out will be given a different activity.

Most local school districts plan to offer the survey.

“I think there are some critical questions, and we look to measure how things are trending,” said Heather Thomas, spokeswoman for the Snohomish Health District.

The data can be broken down by grade level. Officials search for spikes that can show the ages when prevention efforts are most needed. They work with schools and community organizations on those programs. The numbers also can be helpful in seeking grant funding or other support.

More than 14,600 Snohomish County students participated in the previous survey in 2016.

The results from two years ago showed a decrease in alcohol and tobacco use among teens, and that they are more likely to vape than smoke.

More than 90 percent of sixth graders who took the survey said they believe it’s wrong for someone their age to use marijuana. Among high school seniors, 28 percent felt that way.

Most students said they feel safe at school. However, more than a quarter of middle school students reported being bullied. Nearly one in four high school seniors said they had been kissed, touched or had sexual contact when they were unwilling.

As early as sixth grade, some students said they had seriously considered attempting suicide. Nearly 5 percent had made an attempt. By senior year of high school, it was up to about 10 percent.

Past surveys also have shown that most students get at least an hour of physical activity five days a week. Most also say they spend two or more hours a day playing on a smartphone, computer or video game.

Some adults question whether children and teens are honest in their answers, Thomas said. With thousands of participants, the sample size outweighs those who don’t take it seriously, she said. Also, students do not put their names on the surveys and do not have to discuss them.

Results from the 2018 survey are expected to be released in the spring.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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