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The Real Reasons For Joining Scouting

As a Scoutmaster for almost five years I have been front and center on everything associated with my scouts – the good and the bad.

During a discipline issue at summer camp one of my ASMs made a statement that he suspects half of these scouts are here against their will, i.e. their parents pushed them to be here. That got me thinking, why do boys, and now girls, join Scouting? I gave that a lot of thought and came up with the following reasons why kids join Scouting. Scouts may have some overlap in the categories, but here they are:

They really enjoys it – While I would hope that all Scouts fall into this category, I know that some of them do not. Scouts may like the camping and related outdoor activities, or the rank advancements and Merit Badges, or the weekly Troop meetings and social interaction, or all three.

Parent is looking for a father figure – My Troop has some single mothers who I strongly suspect got their kids into Cub Scouts for this reason and then naturally bridged into Boy Scouts. Some of them, but not all, do fit into the first category as well as they do enjoy Scouting.

Kid has challenges, and the parent wants help or a distraction – This is the most difficult category, where the kid has a challenge and the parent believes that Scouting would help. Over the years I have seen mental issues and troubles with the law. What makes this very difficult on the Troop is that the parent(s) never disclose the issue up front. When it becomes obvious after some incident, the Scout stops coming to Troop meetings and the parent(s) do not return calls or email. They just disappear.

Parent or kid wants the Eagle Scout rank distinction – I have seen some Scouts put up with Scouting for many years to earn the Eagle Scout rank. Some of them seem to be self-motivated while others have their parent pushing for it, expressing the benefits on a college application that come from that Eagle rank distinction.

That’s just my observations, and I would love your feedback.

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I hope kids fall into the first group, I think it’s a combination of love/bored/sports. My kids have loved the program overall but there are periods were interest wanes or sports have taking over. You forget the biggest group, the Baby Sitters of America! As to the father figure, the moms I have had are very up front about it.

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I think that a lot of kids start of in scouting because their parents talk them into it, it inside they sign up for something. Those that stay long term are usually because they like it, but there are exception. If you go to the BSA subreddit, you’ll periodically see posts from scouts lamenting the parental mandate to stay in, or posts about overbearing parents forcing their oath through scouting, rather than letting it be the child’s journey.

The LDS were a huge exception to the this, as they used the BSA as a defacto church youth organization, and forced their boys into it, almost universally, whether they liked it out not. I heard a lot of horror stories about LDS troops with leaders “called” to lead by the church, with no interest, that just disregarded all the BSA rules; and boys where all displeased to be forced to be there. That’s why, for the most part, I’m not really sad to so then go. It was a cash core for national, but not good for the organization overall.

You could be talking about our troop, we had that one scout who got sent home from camp and we have not seen or heard from her sence. I know some of our parents who have there kids in our troops because they want the kids to grew. One is our special needs scout who I know from the parents if it was his choice he would not be in scouts ( I think it’s more why does he have to go to meetings not just the fun stuff LEGO camp campouts etc) but the parents see the difference from him in 5 years not being able to Tye is shoes or button his shirt to being within 5 merit badges for his eagle. What other the reasons and to me I think the main draw is the camping. I would be willing to work with any one

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Discipline issues, especially when they are severe and involve forces way beyond unit leaders’ control, can be demoralizing.

But the bottom line as to why scouts stick with the program is that it gives them an opportunity to become truly epic.

I use the example of my own scouting journey along with that of my son. I was an inner city kid from Newark, NJ that moved to Edison long after the riots and my classmates ask me to attend a troop meeting. The journey started there for me to convince my mother that we will be camping in bear mountain state park in a snow storm. Fast forward to my son…the shy tiger cub who did not want to go to pack meetings because it was too much. He is now a life scout, SPL, working on his eagle project and just organized a crew. The value of scouting goes beyond rank, advancement or the other methods of scouting. They all work in concert in a well run unit. Sure there are the bulldozer parents, the scouts that never advance but I would be willing to bet none of this has changed save for the youth who have gained much to change much.

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The parent side of things has indeed changed, radically, from the 70s and 80s. Most of us monitor our kids far more than our parents did. That’s not necessarily bad. Kids should have as much access to their parents as we can stand to give them. But, when come between coaches and youth … as opposed to working along side them, we undermine the power of adult association.
On the youth side, I would argue that it is normative to not advance much beyond first class. Our challenge is to make such scouts feel welcome and to esteem them for their contributions to the troop so that we deliver the promise of scouting well. A high school sports team has a few varsity athletes, but should have a deep junior varsity squad. Ideally those varsity players are the direct cheerleaders and trainers for the JV players. Scouting is no different. We want to bring up a few Star, Life, and Eagle scouts so that they can “cheer on” their First-Class peers. That’s what real leadership looks like.

I would say it fluctuates and changes with the scout. My cub scouts hate the meetings, but love the activities - I have to drag them to the meeting, then drag them away at the end. My boy scout has gone from an almost daily work on MBs and advancement, to a year without a single MB or activity and then back to working periodically on scouting requirements. He has just completed Life, but he sat for almost 2 years at Star with most of the MBs at 70% or higher - just lost interest/focus. We let him do a high adventure camp with no MBs or rank requirements and that sparked his interest in returning to his rank requirements again. So as a parent, I can coach, I can offer incentive/rewards and I can pull rank to get my boys to Scouts - but it ultimately comes down to the boys’ interest and drive. Cub Scouts is so different from Boy Scouts that I don’t really care if my younger ones advance or stay with it; but I do want to make sure they at least join a troop and earn Scout before they quit so they understand it is different and see what the opportunities are. I can also say we are lucky to live in an area with a lot of Troops in easy drive distance; there is one that is more STEM focused and another that is very much a hiking group. Then there is the heavy camping unit and another that is cranking out Eagles like clockwork. So matching the troop to the boy is just as important as bulldozing them to attend/participate. I have seen all the scenarios in the OP, and generally the father figure hope doesn’t work if the Mom drops off and doesn’t participate/learn scouting herself (or uses it as a way to get some time to themselves, instead of a way to bond/grow with their scout). The challenged kid is also hard to handle when it pops up without notice; but again, I have seen where the right Troop match makes this work - scouts in similar situations/challenges, leaders who have experience with the same issues, etc. The trick is to find the scouts’ interest and provide the support/training to the scout, family and leaders to turn the reason they stay into because they like it. Easier said than done.

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Without a doubt there are some youth who are in Scouts against their will. But… that doesn’t mean they can’t be reached. I would start by encouraging them to make the best of it. I had one scout who openly stated his intention of being kicked out. I told him it wouldn’t happen as I refused to reward his bad behavior. I further told him if he made the best of it I would help him try and exit. With time he came to enjoy the troop.

Great observations. In ANY organaization you will find the spectrum of enthusiasm and motivation you describe. Sports, school, church. At any time during a Scouts time they may be disinterested, self motivated, pushed or turned off. Sorting through this is a journey, one that hopefully results in growth and maturity

Parents are ‘supposed’ to try to point their kids in the right direction, sometimes with multiple reinforcements needed. Cub scouts could be an example of that (like brushing your teeth, eating right, etc.). But at a certain point, if the child does not buy into it, they will get nothing out of it and in many cases can cause problems for the youth who do want to be there by being a disruption. That’s where the bridge to the Scouts BSA Troop comes in. At that point, it should become readily apparent to Scoutmasters who wants to be there and who doesn’t and why after a couple SM Conferences. The youth then should be able to chart their own path hopefully, but we should always try to find ways to keep them engaged ( or re-engage their interest).

There are So Many motivations and a wide spectrum to join Scouting. Each of them gets something out of Scouts in their own way. A well-run troop will meet the Scout where he ‘is’ in life and set up a path to success through surmountable obstacles.

Bottom line… all Scouts come into units because someone sees the value in Scouting. Our job is to make sure that we live the Scouting values and provide Value to every Scout!

The reasons I commonly see for a youth and family joining Scouting…
LDS Scouts - this was (as of tomorrow) a part of their leadership development curriculum.

Military families - The structure and progressive responsibility practiced in Scouting is in alignment with their personal beliefs and view of how young Scouts develop their life and leadership skills. These are often strong supporters of the unit long after the Scout has aged out.

Scouting families - Similar to above, but add that dad probably had an awesome Scouting experience with camping, hiking, swimming, summer camp, OA. Maybe they earned their Eagle and continue to be proud of that. Maybe dad was the SPL and understands how challenging and rewarding it is to run a troop.

Cub parents - didn’t do Scouting as youth but like the promise of what they see from the Denners who attend den/pack meetings in uniform and who are competent, respectful and promising young men.

The 'recruits - these might be pulled into Scouting by a young Scout fulfilling a rank requirement. Or, the Scouts are so excited by what they do in Scouting that they invite friends, even in high school, to join up and have fun. As long as a Scout has a friend in the unit, he’s really just hanging out with his friends and learning something along the way, or as BP said, “Scouts is a game with a Purpose”.
Recruits might also be pulled in by parents that I’ve swayed into getting them to let their Scout try.

Just keep your eye on providing value through the Scouting values, and you’re likely to have success!

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