The top five concerns of Loudoun County teenagers are not having anything to do for fun, the rapid changes in their homes and community, lack of public transportation, bullying and drugs and alcohol, according to a survey of middle and high school students this summer and fall.
The survey was conducted in response to a request from Supervisor Stephen J. Snow (R-Dulles) to find out what the county should be doing for its youth. It asked only two questions: What was good about growing up in Loudoun, and what was challenging?
Carol Kost, chairman of the Loudoun County Advisory Commission on Youth, told the Board of Supervisors at its meeting Tuesday that the five issues cited by the teenagers were related and part of a growing "disconnectedness" caused by the rapid transformation of lifestyles in the fastest-growing county in the nation.
For example, Kost said, the problem of bullying is exacerbated by frequent shifts in school boundaries, which divide groups of friends and thrust teenagers into unfamiliar environments in the sensitive middle and high school years. "Kids are feeling the pressures of having to change their friends," she said.
Kost said that although many resources are directed toward troubled or delinquent teens, the needs of "good kids" are often overlooked. Although they are many extracurricular activities for elementary students in the county, she said, more park, library and other programs are needed for middle and high school students to limit what can easily become "mischief time."
About 500 students at camps, church groups, schools and recreation centers took part in the survey, along with teenagers who are home-schooled and those at juvenile detention centers, Kost said. "Every group was amazed we came out to listen and not to lecture," she said. "We're looking for the youth to tell us what they need."
The teenagers cited Loudoun's schools, safe neighborhoods and strong families as positive things about living in the county.
Kost said the commission was still analyzing the survey and would release more details at a forum Nov. 10.
At least 200 high school students are expected to attend the conference and will be asked to suggest solutions for the problems identified.
She said she expected the students to make such concrete suggestions as creating an after-school program similar to one in another county or organizing a shuttle to help teenagers get around Loudoun.
"The usual mantra, 'There's nothing to do,' is tied in closely to, 'We can't get to anything to do,' " Kost said in an interview after the meeting.
Kost said one unexpected finding was that Loudoun's affluence contributes to some youths' experimentation with drugs and alcohol.
"Kids have the money to buy drugs," especially more expensive -- and often dangerous -- ones, such as cocaine and heroin, Kost said.
Jessica Walker, 17, who is chairman of the commission's two dozen youth members, said she was also surprised by that finding. The survey "shared what we're going through in everyday life," said Walker, whose mother, Rhonda, and sister Shannon are also on the commission. "It gives adults a better sense of what teens feel."
Kost said the county could benefit from conducting similar surveys on a regular basis, perhaps every year. "Teen lifestyle dynamics change so much, you have to ask them," she said.
The county allocated about $30,000 for the survey, but Kost said that thanks to volunteers and donations, little of that had been spent. The November forum will be hosted by America Online Inc., which has given more than $35,000 toward the event, she said.