Teaching Ethical Decision Making in Scouting

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New Boy Scout leaders are often surprised when they hear the BSA’s mission statement for the first time: “The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

It’s safe to say that most Scouters spend more time teaching knot tying and Dutch-oven cooking than ethical decision-making. That’s unfortunate. While lots of Scouts will undoubtedly use their Scoutcraft skills as adults, every single one of them will face ethical choices. We need to help them get ready.

A good way to do that is to allow and encourage your Scouts to make frequent decisions—from simple decisions like picking a campout dessert to complex decisions like choosing which trail to take at a backcountry crossroads. Unless health or safety becomes an issue, don’t veto your Scouts’ decisions. Instead, let them learn from their mistakes.

It’s also a good idea to role-play ethical decision making, presenting real-life scenarios and challenging Scouts to make tough choices. Try to avoid obvious right-vs.-wrong situations, where Scouts will know the right answer and tell you what you want to hear. (I call these Sunday-school answers because my church kids give them to me all the time.) Instead, invent right-vs.-right and wrong-vs.-wrong situations, where there’s no easy solution.

A good source for ideas is my regular Ethics column in Scouting magazine. Each installment sets up an ethical dilemma (often related to Scouting) and offers a series of discussion questions you or an older Scout can use. Another good source is the DELTA Handbook. This book is now out of print, but you can access it online at http://pinetreeweb.com/delta-hb.htm.

Like knot-tying and Dutch-oven cooking, decision-making isn’t a skill we’re born with. That’s why we Scouters need to teach it. In fact, you might say that’s our mission.

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One thought on “Teaching Ethical Decision Making in Scouting

  1. I concur. Setting the stage at a Scout meeting where Scouts are faced with multiple-choice-scenarios was an activity we featured at our meetings back when I was a Scoutmaster. In conjunction with attention to outings and outdoor skills, competitions and games, opportunities to get the Scouts to scratch their heads—figuratively stirring their personal pot of values by applying them to an intriguing set of real life circumstances, always contributed to a well-rounded and interesting meeting. Along these lines are well-presented, thought-provoking SM minutes. Good stuff.

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