Youth Leadership: Knowing When to Say When


It’s probably the most daunting, and potentially divisive, question adults in youth-led Scouts BSA troops have to ask themselves: When do we interfere with the job our youth leaders are doing?

Ask 100 veteran leaders this question, and you’ll probably get 100 different answers. That’s because–aside from issues of health and safety–it can be really hard to tell whether your interference will be helpful or harmful.

A Scouter I taught with at the Philmont Training Center several years ago had a great approach. Adults in his troop used the mnemonic device CFD to ask themselves–and each other–whether adult involvement was warranted in any given situation:

  • Confusion
  • Frustration
  • Danger

Danger is obvious, of course, but confusion and frustration hint at the gray area where adults dither over whether to get involved. But if you think about a time you’ve taught a child of any age any skill that’s a stretch for them, you’ll realize that confusion and frustration often lead to dysfunction, not accomplishment.

My friend said the adult leaders in his troop had all bought into the CFD concept. In fact, if they saw a leader beginning to overstep his boundaries, they would quietly ask “CFD?” as a gentle reminder.

Another good question is “Good chaos?” There’s no doubt that Scout-led troops tend to be chaotic, especially in the early days of transitioning from adult-led. If that chaos is productive, you should let it continue. If not, it’s time to briefly get off the sidelines and onto the playing field.

Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at