When you find yourself on the outside of an organization you once devoted a large majority of time to, you often find that you can see things in a much different light.
In the fall of 1996 I joined the Boy Scouts of America as a young, 10-year-old Webelos scout. I joined 13 other boys and started a journey that would make a significant difference on my life. Out of those other 13 boys, only myself and 1 other boy received his Eagle Scout award, the highest award in boy scouting.
After I turned 18 I continued with the scout troop and signed up as an adult volunteer. I spent the next 7 years helping to manage the troop and mentor to the boys in the troop. During this time, God showed me that He was going to make great things happen with the troop. I was thrilled about this! I watched the troop slowly dwindle from 60+ scouts to a meager 13. I was determined to see the troop return to its former glory and God was there to help things along.
For a few years things didn’t pick up much, however within the last two years I was actively involved with the troop, our numbers began to climb. We accepted a group of 7 boys from a local cub scout pack and then had 1-2 more scouts join shortly after them. Within the next year we started receiving interest from scouts looking to transfer into our troop from other local troops. Before I left, we had climbed from 13 boys to 25.
God was finally starting to turn things around and bring the troop where He wanted it. Unfortunately, around that same time I was falling away from God and needed to be pulled back into His fold. So He allowed me to be separated from the troop. After the initial shock wore off and I had learned to hear His voice once more, I started to watch the slow decline of the troop I dedicated so much of my life to.
Please note that these are my observations and opinions. None of these examples are intended to blame or put-down those involved.
I hope that by posting these observations that other scouters might recognize some similar patterns in their own troops and work to prevent what has happened to my troop. I will also point out that I believe that God has some say in the current state that my troop is in. He has shown me that there is still hope left for my troop, and that He still has plans for it.
This list is in no particular order.
One of the most important things that I have noticed while being in the scouting program, is that respect goes a long way. It is quite true that when you give respect, it is returned to you.
During my early years in the troop and for a couple of years as an adult, the scoutmaster–Mr. Clark–was a man who gave respect to everyone and he in turn received respect from everyone. He was one of the best men to have ever served as scoutmaster of a boy scout troop and I am proud that he served as my scoutmaster. Mr. Clark knew the best way to lead a troop was by example. He let the youth leadership plan, manage, and operate the troop while letting the adults handle the behind-the-scenes work. Mr. Clark was willing to let a scout fail so that he could help them learn.
One of his famous lines is this:
“Every boy who goes through scouting leaves with more than he came with.”
When Mr. Clark stepped down as the scoutmaster of the troop, it was uncertain how things would progress. The troop committee and other adult leaders decided upon a new scoutmaster. He had previous experience as the cubmaster of a cub scout pack and was thought to be the best candidate. I will admit that I hoped the position would have been awarded to me, however that was not in the cards.
Donn started out with his head in the right place. The transition from one scoutmaster to another was practically seamless, however at the same time strife began to trickle up through the scout ranks.
Unfortunately, there were many scouts who were not happy with the new scoutmaster. I know at least two scouts quit the scouting program because Donn became the scoutmaster. When I asked them why they decided to leave the program, they both told me that they didn’t have any respect for Donn because he didn’t show any respect to them.
I did my best to patch holes that were made and overall the troop ran smoothly. Aside from a few rough spots, the boys still enjoyed the program as a whole and would vent their frustrations to me. I always did my best to show respect toward each boy and always lent an ear to what they had to say.
Respect is the key to a strong mentoring relationship with scouts and is fundamental to the operation of a successful boy scout troop. When the scoutmaster has the respect of his scouts, the troop will thrive and grow exponentially.
This topic may be touchy for some readers, however I do not believe that women should have any involvement on a troop level. I do not mind if women are involved on a committee, district, or council level but they do not have any place with a boy scout troop.
The boy scout program was designed as a place for boys to come together and have a safe place to be mentored by men. When boys reach a certain point, they begin to separate from their mothers and learn to stand on their own. Sir Robert Baden-Powell realized this as did the founders of the Boy Scouts of America. They need positive male role models to help them become men of character.
One of the first problems I have noticed with mothers who insist on being involved with a boy scout troop is this: their children cannot separate from them and learn to handle things on their own.
In my former troop, the scoutmaster was allowing one of the mothers to become significantly more active in the troop. Her children would constantly attempt to undermine the youth leadership and when they didn’t get their way, they ran to their mother for support. They have yet to learn the simple lesson that they will sometimes have to listen to leaders they don’t agree with. Unfortunately I fear that these boys never will learn that lesson.
Another problem with women being involved is that the rules fundamentally change for everyone in the troop. No longer can the troop simply select a campsite and camp. They have other requirements to keep in mind. The women have to have their own area for sleeping (their own room in a cabin, or they have to be x-amount of feet from the troop if tent camping). They have to have separate bathroom facilities (requiring a campsite with male/female lavatories or a campsite that can accommodate this requirement).
This next problem will likely be varied and not apply to a majority of women involved in the scouting program. Unfortunately this does happen and I watched it happen with my former troop.
The woman that was able to work her way into the adult leadership had a very poor choice in wardrobe. Oftentimes when she was in her scout uniform, she would leave the top buttons undone to allow some cleavage to show. Whether this was intended for the adults, boys, or both I do not know, however I do know that it was highly inappropriate and was a distraction to the entire troop. Thankfully, one of the scouts was brave enough to mention that to her and for a few weeks she did button the top buttons of her uniform.
After a while though, she was back to her former ways when in uniform and was even more poorly dressed when out of uniform. This woman is highly manipulative and I watched as she slowly worked the adult leaders to her side.
From the reports I hear out of the troop, she has not changed and is simply continuing to make advances to take control of the troop. In my personal opinion and from what I have observed of her, she is strikingly similar to the serpent from the book of Genesis:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made.” –Genesis 3:1a
Overall, the boy scout program is designed for boys to have positive male role models to teach them leadership and character. The scoutmaster and other adults I grew up with did just that. They used teachable moments and taught me more than scouting itself.
I can remember an incident on one campout where some scouts decided that they were going to have a spitting contest one night after everyone had gone to bed.
The chair these scouts happened to spit over was the scoutmaster’s chair. This was poor judgement on their part (they were 13 at the time) but I do believe that the punishment dished out to them wasn’t fully appropriate.
They were told that they had to wash the chair (which I agree with) and then they were told to write about what they did and why it was wrong in addition to having individual conferences with the scoutmaster about it. This latter part of the punishment wasn’t taken well by them and I will say that it was a bit over the top.
Cleaning up the mess they made is one thing. Maybe also have them clean all the dishes and pick up all the garbage. Writing about what they did and then conferencing about it was going too far. They already know that they were wrong, it’s not necessary to drive the point home three times.
By the time boys are scout-age, they know right from wrong. When they are caught, they don’t need reminded time and time again that they were wrong. This simply destroys their morale and self-esteem.
I have found that it is best to reflect on what they did wrong, decide upon an appropriate punishment, and then ensure the punishment is carried out. Nothing more needs said about the incident, it is now water under the bridge.
In any boy scout troop, the key to leading young men and molding them is to men of character is to always show that you’re there for them. One of the most important ways that young men learn is to fail.
“And why do we fall, Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” — Thomas Wayne, Batman Begins, 2005
The pinnacle of the scouting movement is that the boys should be allowed to lead with adult guidance and supervision. Never should an adult micromanage the boy scout troop.
There is a fine line between micromanaging and guiding. When you guide boys along, you explain your opinion and why you think something will or will not work. You then leave it up to the senior patrol leader to make the final decision and then handle any kind of rewards or consequences.
Micromanaging a boy scout troop is when you give the illusion of an option when you already have planned what is going to happen. I watched this time and time again when a scoutmaster would provide the senior patrol leader a task and then when the senior patrol leader made his decision, the scoutmaster would overrule him and change directions.
This does not teach a young man how to lead a boy scout troop, simply how to listen to a manager. Boy scouting is designed to make men out of the boys that enter its ranks by providing them with the kind of mentoring relationship that Sir Robert Baden-Powell saw that boys needed.
In addition to letting the youth leadership learn how to lead a troop and become a good leader, the scoutmaster also has to make sure they communicate effectively with their adult leadership.
Each adult that is involved with a boy scout troop should have a specific responsibility (or responsibilities). This ensures that the adults are active in the troop and also makes sure that the scoutmaster does not end up trying to juggle more than he can handle.
It’s also good for the scoutmaster to touch base with all the active adults and get their opinion on his leadership, the state of the troop, any issues with scouts or parents and the future of the troop. This creates an open atmosphere where the adults work together to provide the best possible program to the scouts involved.
It is important when working with youth to remain patient.
Oftentimes with teenagers, they like to have their own schedule. They like being able to choose when and where and what they do. This is one of the ways that young people learn to become adults and learn time management.
As a scoutmaster or youth worker, we have to understand this fact and give scouts the freedom to handle tasks in their own time.
Again, these are my own views on some of the many things I saw go wrong with my former troop. I hope that by posting this other scouters and youth workers might recognize some similarities and make the appropriate changes before things are too late.
The latest update I’ve heard regarding my former troop is that a handful of adult leaders are hoping to approach the scoutmaster and confront him regarding some concerns they have with how the troop is run. I don’t know anything more specific than that, but I can imagine they are similar to what I have listed here.
UPDATE 5/30/2012: Out of the 25 boys that I had the troop up to, only about 10 remain. These 10 show up to weekly meetings and between 6-7 attend monthly camping trips. The scoutmaster is still in charge, still being pulled along by the manipulative woman, and the troop is struggling to stay afloat.