How Do You Scout?

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Opposites may attract in romantic comedies, but in real life relationships can face major challenges when people disagree about finances, religion, values, and priorities.

The same is true in Scouting. Troops that look alike on the parade ground at summer camp may be different–sometimes very different–beneath the surface. Consider a few examples: Troop A offers a very full schedule of robust activities, while Troop B holds a relative handful of laid-back activities each year. Troop C has families that can afford to pay for expensive trips, while Troop D is sensitive to families’ financial challenges. Troop E is closely aligned with the church that sponsors it, while Troop F is proud of its multicultural makeup. Troop G is almost entirely Scout-led, while Troop H relies more on adults to guide its young members.

None of these troops is necessarily doing things wrong–unless what they’re doing doesn’t align with the priorities their families have. Such misalignment can led to struggles within the troop or exits from the troop by families that often don’t realize the troop down the street might be a better fit.

What can you do about troop/family misalignment? A good first step is to use the Spirit of Adventure Council’s nifty “How Do You Scout” survey.

Completing the survey is simple. First, for eight aspects of the Scouting experience, each family rates the current state of the unit and their own preference. Second, they mark whether misalignment in each area would be a big deal to them. Finally, they calculate a score that shows how aligned or misaligned they are with the unit.

The council recommends that all families in a unit complete the survey once a year and that someone collate the results. After that, it may be time for some hard conversations about whether the unit needs to change (if many families are misaligned) or whether the unit needs to help misaligned families find a new home in Scouting.

Breaking us is hard to do, of course. But it can be just as hard to stay together when you have nothing in common.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Amazon! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org

Rules, Rumors and Responsibilities

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It was one of those seemingly innocuous posts on social media that gets more attention than it deserves. I’ll have to paraphrase since it has been deleted, but it basically said, “Did you know Scouts can’t cook hot dogs over an open fire?”

Some of the people who commented tried to make sense of this comment (example: “Scouts can only reheat hot dogs because they come precooked”). Some took the opportunity to criticize the BSA for its “ridiculous” safety rules and the lawyers who allegedly wrote them (including the long-discredited belief that the BSA bans sheath knives). A dispiriting handful proudly announced that rules are made to be broken.

Fortunately, several people actually searched the Guide to Safe Scouting and pointed out that the only reference to hot dogs in the guide appears in the list of prohibited activities (page 42 in the current print version): “Water chugging and eating or drinking competitions such as “chubby bunny” or hot dog eating contests.” (If you aren’t sure what “chubby bunny” is or why it’s dangerous, read this article.)

In other words, there’s no rule about Scouts cooking hot dogs over an open fire. That’s probably why the post eventually disappeared. (Fun fact: The cover of the Guide to Safe Scouting actually shows a picture of Scouts roasting marshmallows and eating s’mores.)

Whatever you think about the BSA’s safety rules, as a Scouter you’re obliged to follow them. They’re mentioned in the Scouter Code of Conduct, which everyone who signs an adult application pledges to abide by.

A good way to make sure you and the other leaders in your troop are following the rules is to download the PDF version of the Guide to Safe Scouting and send it to your Kindle device (or Kindle app) if you have one. (In your settings, there’s a unique send-to-Kindle email address.) That lets you access the guide from anywhere–a PLC meeting, for example–and search for specific terms when you have questions. Just remember to check for updated versions occasionally, as the information does change.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Amazon! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

 

 

More than Perfume and Gasoline

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For more than 30 years now, I’ve been hearing Scout leaders bemoan the loss of their high-school-aged Scouts. And more often than not, these leaders have blamed “the fumes”–perfume and gasoline–arguing that high-schoolers leave Scouting when they discover girls and cars. (Obviously, the first part of this equation has changed with the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA.)

I always thought there was some truth to this argument, even though I knew Scouts also leave because of sports, academic pressures, part-time jobs, and other reasons. But lately I’ve decided that the “fumes” argument is not only incomplete but completely backward.

If Chap Clark is to be believed, our high-schoolers haven’t left us; we’ve left them. Or, to use Clark’s intentionally provocative term, we’ve abandoned them.

So who’s Chap Clark? He’s a pastor, youth-ministry expert, and author of Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, which came out in 2011. That book is based on both academic research and Clark’s own experience spending more than six months at a public high school in California, observing, interacting with, and (most importantly) listening to high-schoolers. (This project was akin to how embedded journalists report on the military.)

I think everyone who works with high-schoolers ought to read this book, but until you get the chance here are five key takeaways:

  • High-schoolers are not plus-sized middle-schoolers. Since the 1990s, social scientists have almost universally agreed that adolescence now includes three distinct phases: early (roughly the middle-school years), middle (roughly the high-school years), and late (roughly the college and early-career years). When we infantilize teens, we not only insult them but also hinder their individuation, which Clark says is “the overwhelming motivational task of adolescence.” (I often say it’s far better to treat teens as the adults they’re becoming than the children they were.)
  • High-schoolers crave adult attention. Hurt 2.0 quotes a student who says, “We spend no time with adults from junior high on–maybe fifteen minutes every other day is the best we ever get.” And don’t let teen callousness deceive you. Clark says, “They often act as if they believe that adults are unnecessary. Yet this is never the whole story, for at their core each one is crying out for an adult who cares.”
  • Adult association is critical to teens’ development. As child-development expert David Elkind has argued, “Identify formation requires a kind of envelope of adult standards, values, and beliefs that the adolescent can confront and challenge in order to construct and test out her own standards, values, and beliefs.” (Sounds sort of like Scouting, doesn’t it?)
  • Almost no one today is putting teens first. I find this passage troubling, but true: “Organizations, structures, and institutions that were originally concerned with children’s care, welfare, and development have become less interested in individual nurture and development and more interested in institutional perpetuation (or the competitive, even pathological, needs of the adults in charge).” (Think of overbearing sports parents who are reclaiming their lost youth through their kids, and you’ll see what Clark means.)
  • The stakes are high. Near the end of Part 1, Clark quotes William Mahedy and Janet Bernardi, who wrote the following in Generation Alone: “No society that alienates its youth and sets them adrift can continue to exist, for it is already in a state of collapse.” I would say the same truth applies to youth-serving agencies.

Fortunately, there’s good news for us in Scouting. As I’m sure you know, adult association is one of the eight methods of the Scouts BSA program, although it doesn’t get the same emphasis as advancement, the patrol method, and all the rest. Moreover, well-designed troop programs offer plenty of opportunities for teens to develop mentoring relationships with adults that could mean the difference between triumph and tragedy.

To paraphrase Forest Witcraft, it is within your power to become the most important person in the world in the life of a Scout–and every Scout is a potential atom bomb in human history. How will you use your power?


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Amazon! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

 

 

Is Virtue Its Own Reward in Scouting?

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I’m a lurker in a few Scouting groups on Facebook, and I’ve become very familiar with questions like this:

  • Does your troop give service hours for participating in parades?
  • How does your troop allocate money to Scout accounts for group fundraisers like car washes?
  • What advancement requirements does attending National Youth Leadership Training fulfill?

Although I know nothing about the people posting these questions, it seems to me that they have a very transactional view of Scouting. In other words, if a Scout does X, he or she should earn Y.

But neither X nor Y is why the Boy Scouts of America exists. Instead, we exist, as our Mission Statement says, to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law. Our aims are not badges; they are character development, citizenship training, leadership, and mental and physical fitness. The journey, not the badge, is the reward.

If you find yourself asking questions like those above, perhaps it’s time to ask another question: How does our troop define success? In answering that question, you might be well served by reflecting on this quote from the Guide to Advancement:

Success is achieved when we fulfill the BSA Mission Statement and when we accomplish the aims of Scouting: character development, citizenship training, leadership, and mental and physical fitness. We know we are on the right track when we see youth accepting responsibility, demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. For a limited time, use the coupon code newyear20 to save 20% off the price of the new edition.

Solving the Puzzle of Youth Leadership

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Photo by chadou99 from FreeImages

One of the puzzles most Scoutmasters and other adult troop leaders must solve is how much leeway to give their youth leaders in making decisions. Should you keep them on a short leash? Or should you give them enough rope to hang themselves?

Of course, the right answer is somewhere in between. But where exactly is the sweet spot?

Here’s a story that may help you decide.

My nearly two-year-old grandson likes to work jigsaw puzzles, especially if they have buses, planes, and cars on them. He’s not all that proficient, however. For example, rather than match puzzle pieces by picture, he tends to match them by shape, which means he often gets a piece upside down.

What I’ve started doing is to hand him two pieces that go together and let him solve that small challenge. I’ll also take one piece out of a 25-piece puzzle that’s already put together and let him figure out how that piece goes in. As he gets better, we’ll progress to more pieces until he’s able to work a whole puzzle. Of course, along the way, I’ll suggesting things like starting with the edge pieces or leaving the background for last.

You should do something similar with your youth leaders, especially if they’re new to leadership. Give them small challenges to tackle, guide them along the way, and then gradually increase the difficulty level. They’ll progress without becoming frustrated and–perhaps more importantly–you’ll learn what level of challenge they’re ready for.


NOW AVAILABLE: The fourth edition of The Eagle Court of Honor Book is now available from EagleBook.com and on Kindle! Updated to reflect the inclusion of girls in Scouts BSA, the book features gender-neutral ceremonies, a new Scouting segment called “Scouting for Girls,” and downloadable boys’ and girls’ versions of all ceremony materials. Print versions will be available soon from Amazon and ScoutStuff.org.

Be a Scouting MythBuster

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It’s recruiting season for packs across the country–and for smart troops that realize many families are looking for new activities as the school year kicks off. And that means it’s time to put on your Scouting MythBusters hat.

What do I mean? Consider the experience of one of my old Eagle Scouts. He recently took his 1st-grade son to a pack signup night—much against the boy’s will. Brandon tried to reason with his son and finally played the dad card by insisting that they at least check the program out. When they went up to meet the Cubmaster, the boy ran away and hid. Brandon eventually found him and discovered what his problem was: he was deathly afraid of having to sleep in a tent by himself. As soon as he heard that wasn’t going to happen in Cub Scouts, he was ready to sign up.

After I posted this story on a Facebook group for Cub Scout volunteers, I heard a couple of similar stories:

  • “We had a boy at our den meeting Monday who came with his sister. He didn’t want to join because he doesn’t like to wear shorts. I assured him he could wear pants. His mom signed him up online on Tuesday.”
  • “We discussed Scouts who became astronauts with my oldest (then a Tiger) son. My 5-year-old thought that he would have to go to space if he became a Scout. Once we cleared that up, he was all about signing up to be a Lion!”

The lesson, I think, is that those of us who’ve been around Scouting a long time assume new families know more than they do. And often they have problems that can be easily overcome if we just figure out what they are.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

One Purpose or Two

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Here’s a question for you: What was the purpose of your last troop activity (or meeting or service project or fundraiser or whatever)? I’ve been thinking about that question recently because of two recent Scouting magazine interviews I did.

In the first interview, a couple of Cub Scout leaders were talking about their recruiting efforts. They said they always try to have two purposes for each activity. For example, their pinewood derbies are open to the public, so the dual purposes are fun for the Scouts and community outreach for the pack.

In the second interview, a troop leader was describing a nine-day high-adventure trip his troop had done that broke down into three distinct phases. He said each phase had a single purpose (aside from getting safely from point A to point B, of course!). With the canoeing phase, for example, the purpose was to make sure each Scout qualified for the Canoeing merit badge. He said having a singular focus helped leaders worry less when other things went wrong (like when the Scouts forgot to pack spaghetti sauce to go with their pasta).

I love both of these approaches because they force you to think about what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. So what was the purpose–or purposes–of the last thing you’re troop did?


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Don’t Fence Your Scouts In

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I recently spent a week serving as conference chair at the Philmont Training Center, which is the home of the BSA’s best training programs and best family vacations. (By the way, you can now enjoy the vacation part of PTC without the training part, thanks to the new Family Adventure Camp offering.)

When I was visiting one of the week’s conferences, I got to hear a presentation from a Philmont wildlife biologist about bears, mountain lions, and other animals that live at the ranch. One bit of trivia: pronghorns, the antelope-like mammals found all over Philmont, are very fast runners but very bad jumpers. Unlike the ranch’s mule deer, they can’t jump fences, so they either duck under a fence’s bottom strand of barbed wire or get stuck where they are. That’s why the U.S. Bureau of Land Management recommends putting the bottom row of wire 16 inches above the ground.

Later in the week, my wife and I drove through a couple of neighboring ranches and saw several small herds of pronghorns trying to get from one side of the road to another. Often, they would have to run half a mile along a fenceline to find a gap they could go through.

I think there’s an important lesson here for us Scout leaders. All too often, we erect fences between where our Scouts are and where they’re trying to get to. Maybe we don’t clearly communicate campout details and deadlines. Maybe we make them jump through hoops to schedule Scoutmaster conferences. Maybe we add requirements that aren’t BSA sanctioned (like full uniforms at boards of review). When we do that, they either run out of their way to find a path forward or they simply run in the other direction toward an activity they perceive is more welcoming.

What fences have you erected in your troop? How could you create more gates and less barricades.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Just an Organization?

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In my volunteer life, I bounce back and forth between two worlds, Scouting and my church’s youth choir program, and I’m constantly amazed at the differences between the two. Scouting offers many things the church can’t match—an advancement program that gives Scouts a clear pathway, publications like Program Features for Troops and Crews that simplify planning, and the safety policies found in the Guide to Safe Scouting, which not only keep us all safe but save us the trouble of formulating our own rules through trial and error.

But in our strength there is weakness. In many corners of the program, Scouters seem more interested in the rules than the Scouts. We’ve all run into the uniform police, who are intent on pointing out every patch that’s sewn in the wrong spot. And then there are those advancement gurus who want to maintain the purity of the Eagle Scout badge by making the advancement process even harder than it already is.

This love of bureaucracy is something Scouting founder Robert Baden-Powell himself encountered. He was quoted as saying, “First I had an idea. Then I saw an ideal. Now we have a movement, and if some of you don’t watch out we shall end up with just an organization.”

Does your troop look more like an organization than a movement? If so, I hope you’ll give some thought to something else B-P said: “Scouting is not a science to be solemnly studied, nor is it a collection of doctrines and texts. Nor again is it a military code for drilling discipline into boys and repressing their individuality and initiative. No – it is a jolly game in the out of doors, where boy-men and boys can go adventuring together as older and younger brother, picking up health and happiness, handicraft and helpfulness.”

Add girls, sisters, and “girl-women” to that quote, and it’s as true today as it was when B-P said it. Or at least it should be.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.

Within My Power

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“A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a boy.”

You’ve probably read some variation of those words before. But did you know they first appeared in Scouting magazine in 1950? They did, and they end a powerful essay by BSA administrator Forest E. Witcraft. Here it is in its entirety:

I am not a very important man, as importance is commonly rated. I do not have great wealth, control a big business, or occupy a position of great honor or authority.

Yet I may someday mold destiny. For it is within my power to become the most important man in the world in the life of a boy. And every boy is a potential atom bomb in human history.

A humble citizen like myself might have been the Scoutmaster of a troop in which an undersized unhappy Austrian lad by the name of Adolph might have found a joyous boyhood, full of the ideals of brotherhood, goodwill, and kindness. And the world would have been different.

A humble citizen like myself might have been the organizer of a Scout troop in which a Russian boy called Joe might have learned the lessons of democratic cooperation.

These men would never have known that they had averted world tragedy, yet actually they would have been among the most important men who ever lived.

All about me are boys. They are the makers of history, the builders of tomorrow. If I can have some part in guiding them up the trails of Scouting, on to the high road of noble character and constructive citizenship, I may prove to be the most important man in their lives, the most important man in my community.

A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove. But the world may be different because I was important in the life of a boy.

These days, of course, Scouting serves girls as well as boys. These days, of course, the world is threatened by people with different names than Hitler and Stalin. Nonetheless, the truth of Witcraft’s words remain.

I recently interviewed a leading university president who became an Eagle Scout in 1960. He told me he loved Scouting but struggled with swimming and lifesaving. Fortunately, his Scoutmaster wouldn’t let him give up. Instead, the man gave him unlimited access to his motel’s pool and, probably more importantly, the encouragement to persevere and overcome the challenge he faced. And the world is different because one man was important in the life of one boy.

Too often in Scouting, we focus on numbers, thinking we’re only successful if we have lots of kids in our troops or produce lots of Eagle Scouts. But the most important number is really one. If you change the life of just one Scout this week, this month, or this year, you will be a very important person indeed.


Need more great troop program ideas? Check out The Scoutmaster’s Other Handbook, which is available in both print and e-book formats at https://www.eaglebook.com/products.htm#scoutmasters.