|Image from Scouts BSA - https://beascout.scouting.org/|
This is an unsolicited advertisement for Scouts BSA, the organization formerly known as “Boy Scouts of America.” Scouts BSA is for youth of all genders from 11 to 17. (The name changed after they welcomed girls in 2019. Cub Scouts is the version for ages 5 - 11.)
If you’re reading these words, it’s unlikely that you’re in that age group. (Read… a long article?) But you might have kids/grandkids of that age or know others who do. My goal here is to promote Scouts BSA to you, so that you recommend it to kids you know or share it with their parents.
All of the ideas expressed in this article are my personal statements and opinions, and do not reflect the opinions/statements of the City of Urbana.
Additional disclaimer: All ideas here are my thoughts, in my words, and not quoted from Scouts BSA or any other source. (Except for the image above, which is an official recruiting image.) No one asked me to write this, and this piece was not shared with Scouts BSA prior to posting. I take all responsibility for the content.
As a parent I know this struggle: how do we prepare our tweens/teens for a healthy, positive, and productive life - and counter the negative impacts of phones, gaming, and too much time indoors? (All of which were amplified by the pandemic!)
Tweens/teens will always resist guidance on this, especially if it’s their parents’ platitudes or grief from their grandparents, who (let’s be honest) really did grow up in a radically different environment. Another difference: traditional sources of guidance like schools, religion, and popular culture have a diminished influence on their personal development. (Note #1)
My message is this: Scouts BSA is a ready-to-use program that develops character in tweens/teens through activities that emphasize life skills, leadership, and appreciation of the outdoors.
I’m going to pitch Scouts BSA in three ways: to the exasperated parent who wants their kids to just put down the damn phone, to the frustrated parent who wants an activity that’s inclusive of the whole spectrum of athletic and emotional development, and to the parent who wants fun outdoor activities that they can do along with their kids.
For exasperated parents who want their kids to just put down the damn phone
Outdoor events are integral parts of the Scouts BSA program. Spending a weekend camping keeps Scouts busy cooking, cleaning, setting up tents, breaking down tents, hiking, playing games, and working on achievements. They may not even notice that many camping sites lack cell service entirely. (It’s a beautiful thing for adults, too...) Even when there is a signal, many troops ban phones during events - for example our Troop’s policy is that Scouts must leave phones in the car at outdoor events like a weekend campout.
Phone use - and the pandemic - create a more subtle problem for teens/tweens that will impact their social growth: fewer in-person interactions with peers and adults. Kids at this age need to practice skills like public speaking (Scouts make lots of Troop announcements to their peers) and conversing with adults. (There’s a wonderful recurring event called a Board of Review that Scouts have at the end of rank advancement when they meet with three or more adults to talk about their experiences. A Scout who has passed through several Boards of Review will be comfortable sitting down with an adult and answering questions while making appropriate eye contact… excellent skills to develop for job or college interviews.)
Mentioning Scout-adult interaction requires that I address sexual abuse and Scouting: some Scout leaders committed horrible crimes and should be punished to the full extent of the law. Many of those leaders are now dead, so I hope that the bankruptcy settlement gives victims and their families some closure. However, Scouts BSA today takes Youth Protection very seriously, with required training for all adults that covers abuse from adults and from other kids. I am impressed with the level of ownership that Scouting showed with these crimes, and the importance placed on safeguards. It would be a tremendous loss if Scouting cannot survive the sexual abuse bankruptcy & pandemic one-two punch, which is what caused me to write this piece.
For frustrated parents who want an activity that’s inclusive
By the tween/teen years, many sports can be harshly competitive - with less room for kids who don’t excel, who may not get playing time or even make the team. Sports at this age can also require a training and travel regimen that not every kid or family wants to sustain, and at the expense of time or money for other interests.
Scouts BSA provides an option for youth who aren’t on the sports trajectory to explore different interests and activities. (Some Scouts are active in sports also, but I’m being honest here: it’s a difficult juggling act to do both.)
Scouting involves three kinds of activities: Scout skills, outdoor events, and Merit Badges.
- Scout skills are the core of the program for new Scouts as they learn the basics of first aid, outdoor safety, citizenship, and (yes) knot-tying – among many others.
- Outdoor events are a major part of the program. Advancement for Scouts requires outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and service work. Many Troops camp regularly (ours camps monthly from April to November) and we regularly include activities like canoeing, biking, and hiking on the weekend trips.
- Merit Badges are a focus of the program once Scouts advance past basic skills. The fourteen “Eagle Required” badges (http://www.eaglecoach.org/merit-badges/12-eagle-required-merit-badges/ - yes, they need to update the link name!) show the heart of the program, while the 120+ others are electives about fields of study, job exploration, hobbies, sports, and outdoor skills. Full list: https://scoutmasterbucky.com/merit-badges/ Scouts can focus on rising through the ranks to Eagle, which requires 21 Merit Badges, but they can also enjoy earning more Merit Badges while progressing at their own speed.
In each of the activities described above, the Scouting program can be calibrated to the individual. Adults (and older Scouts) are there to help at each step of the way, and to help each Scouts advance at a speed that meets their capabilities. For example, a counselor conducts each Merit Badge, and the counselor can adapt the program to the individual abilities and interests of the scout. The whole point is to engage the Scout in the hopes of sparking an interest in the area… or at least broaden their horizons. (Note # 2)
For the parent who wants fun activities that they can do along with their kids
Scouting is a family-friendly activity. Some families go camping with the Scout Troop – including younger siblings. Parents can go on “high adventure” trips with the Scouts – although minimum ages apply here, so younger siblings wouldn’t qualify. (Note #3)
Scouting provides a wonderful way for parents to experience the outdoors with their kids, without requiring the parent to plan and supervise all aspects of the trip. (Or purchase all the necessary gear!) This is an incredible opportunity for parents who enjoy the outdoors. Speaking personally: by the summer of 2023, my son and I will have completed 50 nights camping together and *bonus* that experience has also made him a better traveling companion even when we’re not camping.
A subtle benefit to the Troop model is that those parents who go camping are “shared” by all the kids. You don’t need to guide your kid on setting up a tent; in fact, it’s better if you don’t! Let some other parent step in or, fulfilling the BEST part of the Scouting program, let an older Scout practice leadership by showing them. (Seriously: there is nothing more gratifying than watching a 16-year-old guide a 12-year-old through skills and knowing that it’s a growth opportunity for both.)
Parents can get involved in lots of ways, even if they don’t like to camp. Troops need volunteers with lots of different skills: teaching Merit Badges, tracking funds as Treasurer, being on the Troop Committee that guides Troop direction, or my favorite job: Assistant Scoutmaster!
A final benefit: there’s a camaraderie among the parent volunteers that is the basis of strong and lasting friendships. From our shared experiences (“remember when it poured rain at camp and we played five hours of Uno?”) or just small talk waiting for the coffee water to heat up on a cold Fall campout, my adult friends from Scouting will be friends for life.
So how do you sign up?
Scouts BSA has this site, where you can connect with local Troops in your area: https://beascout.scouting.org/
My advice is to check out several Troops before you commit to one. Like people, Scout Troops have different sizes and personalities. Attend a meeting and even go camping with them if you can.
Once you join, be active in it. Like many good things in life, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. Once Scouts have completed their first 1-2 years of the program, their advancement will depend on their own efforts. Having an active parent makes it an activity you share together and is more likely to result in the Scout advancing through the ranks and getting the full benefit of the Scouting Program.
My Experience with Scouting
I want to end this blog by describing my experience, because as you’ll see I didn’t begin with good feelings about the Scouting program.
I was never a Scout as a kid, nor do I even recall it being discussed. It simply wasn’t on my radar.
Our family’s experience with scouting started with a “Join Cub Scouts” flyer our son brought home at the beginning of first grade. Our son’s best friend was joining because his brother was already in. Since the friend was doing it, our son wanted to join, too.
My wife and I were not excited about Boy Scouts as an organization – this was 2012, when Scouting did not seem to welcome non-traditional lifestyles. In fact, my wife purposefully recycled the flyer when our son wasn’t looking. However, that didn’t stop his desire, so we attended a parents meeting. We were immediately impressed by the Cub Scout Pack. It sounded like they did fun activities and the parent leaders seemed reasonable and weren’t pushing any kind of doctrine.
I found that this Pack was a good representation of modern Scouting, which changed quickly before our eyes: welcoming gay youth in 2013, gay adults in 2015, transgender boys in 2017, and all genders in 2019. It’s amazing what a change the organization made over those six years!
Scouting started at just the right time for me: the same month that I finished my career as a Movie Theater Operator, when I suddenly had more free time and a desire to spend it with my family. Scouting became an excellent way to do that. I became a Den Leader, which launched me into other roles: Committee Member, Committee Chair, and Assistant Scoutmaster.
Being a Scout Leader has been one of the most fulfilling efforts I’ve ever done. Forever, one of my most cherished honors will be the “Eagle Scout Mentor” pins I received from Eagle Scouts I’ve had the chance to get to know on their path.
I can’t imagine how different the last ten years would be for our family without Scouting; I only know how fortunate we are that Scouting made it out of our recycling bin and into our lives. I hope that by writing this piece I can help other families have the same enriching experience.
Schools step gingerly through this minefield, mostly promoting behaviors that make kids better students (be quiet, stay in line, respect your teachers) while avoiding stances that could trigger an inflamed reaction.
Attendance at religious services is in a multi-decade decline – here’s a graph with all you need to know: (https://content.gallup.com/origin/gallupinc/GallupSpaces/Production/Cms/POLL/1mlbpqjqyuma9i2skgqowa.png)
Limits have changed in popular culture for tweens/teens. Showing my age: TV in the 80s featured wholesome shows (some good, some bad) and dropped in extra bits like a “One to Grow On” (https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLDBEA189AF350423F) message during a commercial break. And you couldn’t skip them!... I know, it was medieval. Now, be happy if the worst thing they watch is Stranger Things.
Being a Merit Badge Counselor is a wonderful way for adults to contribute. While not everyone can lead the Welding or Robotics badges, many of the Eagle-Required ones center on basic life skills like Cooking and Personal Management (covering basic concepts of budgeting, investing, and time management: https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/merit_badge_reqandres/personal_management.pdf)
Personally, I love conducting Citizenship in the Community – about local government. Among the requirements are for Scouts to research an issue in their community and what branch of government deals with it. They also need to attend a public meeting – then tell the Counselor about a topic discussed, and what both sides had to say about it. (https://filestore.scouting.org/filestore/merit_badge_reqandres/citizenship_in_the_community.pdf )
High-adventure trips are an optional part of the Scouting program but serve as a wonderful capstone to a Scout’s progress – providing a rigorous experience balanced by appropriate safety controls and guidance. I loved my experiences at the two bases my son and I visited so far. We went canoeing in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters (see my blog and GIS map about trip here: https://blog.tectonicspeed.com/2022/07/two-adventures-canoeing-and-arcgis.html) and spent five days at West Virginia’s Summit Bechtel Reserve where we did all of these: mountain biking, rock climbing, BMX biking, skateboarding, zip line canopy tours (and a ¾ mile zip line appropriately called “The Big Zip”), shotgun skeet shooting, high-power rifle target shooting, archery, knife throwing, a water obstacle course, paddle-boarding, and white water rafting. In the summer of 2023, we’re heading to the Florida Keys for a 5-day sailing adventure.