Writing workshops always say that you should write about topics you know. Well, one thing I know a little bit about is Scouting. Since I have all boys, I’ve mostly been involved with Boy Scouts, but I’m sure the Girl Scout program has similar benefits. (I actually was a Girl Scout, but I gave it up in about 2nd grade – after I threw up at a Scout meeting – and I had eaten a blueberry pop-tart, something I’ve never touched since. I remember all the girls gathering around exclaiming – it’s BLUE in tones of horrified delight. I never went back.)
Anyway, I’ve been involved in our current Scouting program for almost six years now. I started as “just” a parent, but then I started out helping with the fundraisers, and then I took over the camping program 3 years ago. Then I became a merit badge counselor and then I started attending the adult leadership meetings, and most recently, I’ve volunteered to take over the Eagle Court of Honor ceremonies for the Troop (yes, I am THAT crazy!). My husband even pitches in a little bit here and there and teaches his own merit badges – welding and automotive maintenance. My point is, it kind of grows on you. I heard a joke once that Scouting is like a roach motel. You check in, but you never check out!
The BSA has over 1 million adult volunteers, which makes it the most active youth program in the world. So I guess there must be something to it. I know it’s been a terrific experience for our family. I honestly can’t imagine what my son’s life would have been like without the experiences he has had with Scouting and the confidence he’s gained, the friends he’s made, the leaders who support him. It’s been a great experience for us too, but like anything else, you get out of it what you put into it.
So if you have a boy (or girl) in a Scouting program, how can you help them to have the best experience and get the most out of the program?
1. Shop around to find the right program. The MOST important thing is to find the right program for your child. Every Troop is as unique as a fingerprint and some are better than others. My older son was in a Troop when he was in Jr High and it just wasn’t a good fit. They had a great program and were very active, but they were all about backpacking and he hated that. Rather than shop around a bit for a Troop that was a better fit, we just drifted out of it.
When my younger son started in Cubs – we were in a neighborhood Cub Pack. It was an LDS Troop and we were Presbyterians at the time. They were perfectly nice and very welcoming to us, but it just never felt like a good fit – we always felt like guests rather than members. When I heard about our current Troop, I took a solid year to think about it because I worried about having bad feelings with my neighbors. But it was absolutely the right choice and within a few weeks, we felt right at home in our current Methodist Troop (we are now members of the Methodist church the Troop is affiliated with – but that was for different reasons).
If you have a Troop that isn’t very active, or doesn’t have really great leaders, there’s no shame in looking elsewhere. It’s just like anything else, there are good groups and ones that are not so good or maybe your kid just doesn’t like backpacking or whatever they are offering.
2. Make a commitment – Once you find the right Troop – really commit yourself to it. It’s OK if you want to be “just” a parent, but be a great parent. Be supportive. Make sure you get your child to every activity on time, properly dressed and in the mood to participate fully. Keep in communication with the leaders – our Troop has a blast Email that keeps our many activities coordinated, and I’m sure most Troops have something similar. Get them to give you a calendar or something so you will know exactly when and where activities or meetings are and try to show up for as many as you can. Follow through on paperwork, permission slips, membership fees, and the like. It’s important for the smooth running of the Troop.
3. Invest your time as a leader. A word to the wise – if you truly want your child to get the maximum benefit from the program, you might seriously consider stepping into a leadership role. One observation – out of all the 116 Eagle Scouts in our Troop, I will bet that about 50% to 75% of them are the sons of various leaders. This isn’t because they were given any kind of unfair advantage, but I think there are three factors at work here:
- I think the leaders naturally are more knowledgeable how the program works and who are the best merit badge counselors and programs to help their Scout along.
- When the parent puts a little skin in the game, that seems to make the kids a lot more serious about it. It seems to be the “drop off and run” parents who have kids who fade out of the program over time. The ones who see their Dads and/or Moms working hard on the behalf of the Troop seem to put just a little bit more effort than the rest.
- The leaders also tend to razz each other just a little bit if one of their kids is getting a little behind, but they are also quick to step up and offer encouragement or help to each other’s kids. It’s just something you do for the people you work closely with. It’s almost a carrot and stick vibe going on, but whatever it is, it works. Offhand, I can’t think of a single leader who has been active in our program for any amount of time who has not had their son end up with an Eagle rank. Some took a little longer than others, but they all seemed to get there in the end. But out of the non-leaders, it’s maybe a 50/50 chance, maybe even less.
Most people think that to be a leader, it takes a ton of time and training, but that’s not really true unless you are at the top of the food chain as the Scoutmaster or Assistant Scoutmaster. Those are tough jobs that require a lot of time and commitment and I have a lot of respect for people in those positions. But keep in mind that there are any number of leadership positions available in a Troop. You can be in charge of membership, fundraising, quartermaster, treasurer or many other spots. I’ve had a Committee Chair position in our Troop for nearly 3 years and the only formal training I’ve had is a 15 minute online course about protecting the kids from child abuse. Every registered adult has to take it and our Scoutmaster if very diligent that we follow those rules at all times. That’s one of the reasons, I have so much respect for him.
4. Help your child – but not TOO much! There is a big difference between helping a kid do something and doing it for him. Not only is fudging on requirements against BSA policy and unfair to the other Scouts, your child doesn’t get the benefit of the lessons he or she needs to learn. But nothing says you can’t help, encourage, and teach them as much as you can. You can set up a binder to help them keep track of their workbooks and other papers. You can set a time every week to talk about merit badges and maybe help them plan trips to museums or school board meetings, or any other place that might help them meet their requirements. You can help them memorize things they need to know. Whenever my son lied or did something dishonest, I would sit him down at the kitchen table and make him write the Scout Laws 50 times each. He did that an embarassing number of times, but hasn’t had to do it lately – maybe he has finally learned that particular lesson!
Bonus tip – Enjoy the ride! There’s nothing that says this has to be all hard work and drudgery and it shouldn’t be. Neither of you will want to stick with it if you take that attitude! Have fun – get to know the other Scouts and the leaders. Everyone has horror stories about teenagers, but I’ve found them to be a lot of fun (most of the time). I haven’t always gotten along with every other leader – like any group, we have our ups and downs, but that is part of the experience as well and it’s a good example to my son of how to find ways to get along with people and maintain good working relationships.
We let parents come along for campouts as long as they register with the Troop and do their training. Being the indoor girl that I am, I resisted for the first couple of years, but now I go on several campouts each year. (I still opt for a motorhome or a cabin rather than a tent) but I’ve found it to be a lot more fun than I would have expected. Enjoy the ride – this time will go faster than you think, and hopefully you will come out of it with at least some great experiences, even if your child doesn’t come home with the top award (but I hope they do!).
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