The Missing Older Scout: The Importance of Older Scouts
I have heard many Scouters from across the country comment on how difficult it is to retain older Scouts in their Troops. By “older Scouts” I mean roughly the ages between 15-18. In addition to hearing this quite a bit, I also have first-hand experience of this in my own Troop.
Some Scouters might come to the conclusion that Scouting as a program is mostly appealing to only younger boys. I don’t think this is correct at all. I am a Scout who has remained very active with my Troop from 13 to 18, and I have always found Scouting, as I have come to understand it, very appealing to me.
Why are older Scouts are vital to a properly run Troop?
First, it is important to understand why having older Scouts is vital to running a real Scout Troop.
Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, intimated that the design of Scouting is such that older, more experienced Scouts pass on their knowledge and experience to younger Scouts. This is also in keeping with the notion of a Scout-led Troop. Without older Scouts, the source of constant instruction must come from the Scoutmasters only. This means the teaching and guiding part of leadership isn’t handled by the Scouts themselves.
There is another aspect to this as well. Each Troop develops a certain ‘culture’ as time goes on. What I mean is that each individual Troop has a certain group personality. A thousand little subtleties in the way the individuals conduct themselves depends upon this group attitude or spirit. This phenomenon has been recognized wherever groups of individuals have been studied. Whether you call it ‘Esprit de corps‘ or ‘group culture’, it means the same thing. In Boy Scout Troops, this culture is passed on to the younger Scouts by the older Scouts as the younger Scouts imitate how the older Scouts act.
Helping to develop and maintain a good and mature group culture should be the goal of every boy and adult leader of a Scout Troop. However, when older Scouts quit upon reaching a certain age, the group culture never really has a chance to mature. Each new Scout that enters a Troop like this is entering an environment that is still not completely formed. There is no heritage that is passed along. There is no standard enforced by tradition. This makes the job of the Scoutmaster much harder as he is in the continual state of creating a team which can never reach maturity.
Why the Absence of Older Scouts?
I like to start by examining what causes boys who are already Scouts to become inactive upon reaching a certain age. I certainly cannot claim to give an exhaustive list, but I can speak with some authority from my own experiences in Scouting.
Rank Advancement Problem
To begin with, I think there is a certain over-emphasis on rank advancement in Scouting. Don’t misunderstand me! I think that the system of ranks and badges in Scouting is a very important part of the program. However, I think it is emphasized at the expense of other aspects. Let me explain. As I have come to understand more and more about Scouting and read old books, magazines, and pamphlets on Scouting, I have come to the conclusion that there is so much more to Scouting than many people realize today.
As these aspects (which by nature are not very systematized) have been slowly forgotten, the rank advancement system has been used to fill up the void. To a certain extent, rank advancement has become the end (not the means) of Scouting. When this happens, Scouting not only has a clear path, but a clear end as well. Once Eagle has been attained, the Scout is “done”, “arrived”, etc. Too many times have I seen Scouts attain the rank of Eagle, and then become inactive. This is the opposite of what should be the case! This is an indicator of an improper prioritizing: Rank Advancement is given the chief priority.
There is also another problem that can arise from this emphasis. This happens when the only value Scouts see in Scouting is that of passing requirements and attaining ranks. While parents, leaders, etc. may for some time convince them that attaining these ranks and passing off these requirements is very valuable, as other things come into the growing Scouts life, these requirements grow smaller and more insignificant. What is learning first aid compared to getting a driver’s license? What is earning merit badges compared to High School sports?
When the richness, depth, and importance of the Scouting program is replaced with a simple goal of completing requirements, it is easy to see why older Scouts leave. Look at many of the old Boys’s Life magazines and read what Scouts did. During the Second World War, Scout Troops raised tons of scrap materials for the war effort, they planted victory gardens, and they assisted the military recruiting effort. In the 1930’s, Scout Troops assisted local police in Search and Rescue missions, they were trusted beyond the average citizen to help with important tasks. They were even allowed to help in some ways that adults were not.
In summary, there is so much to Scouting that is forgotten and simply replaced with the goal of rank advancement. This is both a clear exit path for the new Eagle who has nothing left to do, and a discouragement to the advancing Scout seeking for something more exciting and important.
It seems that the general public’s perception of the Boy Scout has changed over time. Although Scouts have always been subject to negative peer pressure, there was a time when the general respect for Scouts helped serve to counteract this.
The original appeal of Scouting to the very first Scouts was a chance to emulate the great Scouts and pioneers that were respected and idolized. As much of the culture today sees Scouting in a “cute”, though dull and unexciting light.
Another reason which I have observed to be a cause of older Scout disinterest is a lack of responsibilities. In order to make room for younger Scouts to have the positions of leadership in the Troop, many older Scouts are denied positions of leadership and responsibility. They are sometimes restricted to only a certain term. Well, in a properly run Troop, even individual Scouts in Patrols have responsibilities and get a chance to exercise leadership.
No Advanced Activities
You might wonder if this problem is fixable. After all, perhaps the modern teenage boy that our culture produces simply isn’t interested in what Scouting has to offer.
I do think that what the current culture values does have a negative impact in this issue, but I also believe that deep down, boy nature (like human nature) is a constant that doesn’t change over time. And Scouting is just as appealing on that level as it ever was.
The Joys of Scheduling
As a boy gets older and joins High School, he is made more and more aware of how difficult the art of time management and scheduling is. Many different activities are competing for his attention, and even if he loves Scouting, it can sometimes be really difficult to fit it into his schedule. There is the requirement that the older Scout juggle such time-consuming activities such as sports, school band, etc. with Scouting.
As challenging as this can sometimes be for one experienced in managing his schedule, it is especially difficult for a boy who is just starting to become aware of the value of good time-management skills. Unfortunately, time-management isn’t taught in classrooms. Another thing that is extremely important is keeping up good communication. Many Scouts don’t speak up about their difficulty in juggling their schedule. With so many adults still struggling with good communication, it is no wonder that communication isn’t a general strong-point in boys!
Concentrate on the Authentic Scouting Program
Scouting should be active, energetic, and adventurous. Bolster both the Troop program and the Troop culture. Like John Thurman said, it’s the little things in Scouting that count! All the little traditions of the Troop and the Patrols, all of the camping trip experiences, all of the Troop meeting routines; the words the Scoutmaster says during the Scoutmaster conference, the way a new Scout is welcomed into the Patrol, the way each Patrol has its special pride: all of these things work together to add depth to the Scouting program and make time invested in the Troop well-spent.
Older Patrols, Advanced Activities