[N.B. This post, which is the last in the series on the "Older Scout Problem" in Scouting, is quite a lengthy one. However, I feel the importance of the subject matter justifies the length. Please read this when you have time to sit down and look at it thoroughly.]
Welcome back to “Scouting Rediscovered”! This is the last post in the series on the ‘older Scout problem’ in Scouting. The ‘older Scout problem’ is a rising problem in Scouting where older boys quit Scouting more often and join Scouting less often than before. This is a serious problem. Why? Well, in Part 1 of this series, I explained why older Scouts are vital to a properly run Scout Troop.
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 not think this is entirely so. 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. Instead, I maintain that a large part of the problem is the degradation of the fundamentals of the Scouting Program in modern times. In Part 2 of this series, I examined in more detail a few of the causes of this problem from my own experience.
Now, I’m on to Part 3. In this post, I want to expound upon practical solutions to this problem that you, whether Scout or Scouter, can put into practice right now in your Troop. I can’t claim to be an expert or to have all the answers; this is a complex and somewhat deep-rooted problem. On the other hand, I hope that I can share with you some of what I have learned through much reading and reflecting combined with practical experience.
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. All of these things can be more or less difficult to work around depending upon where the Scout is located. Unfortunately, some coaches, band leaders, teachers, etc. can be less than understanding when it comes to Scouting. Split families and other situations can make scheduling even more tricky.
So how can this be fixed? Well, first of all, make sure the Scouts who have difficult schedules don’t get left out of the planning process when it comes to planning for meeting times, activities, and camping trips. Secondly, it is sometimes necessary to remind the Scouts as they plan camping trips to keep good scheduling as a very important consideration.
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! Talk one-on-one with the Scouts in your Troop about their schedules and how to manage their time. As I mentioned before, teaching the skill of time-management is often neglected. It could be that no one but you has thought to give the Scout advice on this matter!
Responsibility! All of your pains in scheduling and teaching time-management will be in vain if the Scout himself doesn’t take responsibility for his schedule. For the most part, he has been relying on his parents to do all of his planning for him. As he gets older, not only does this become more and more impractical, it is also un-Scout-like! How can a Scout be Trustworthy if he is not keeping track of his own schedule?
In summary, when it comes to scheduling, work with your Scouts, communicate with your Scouts, and when necessary, teach your Scouts. Though it can be rough at times, there is very rarely a situation that good planning and communication cannot solve.
Concentrate on the Authentic Scouting Program
Imagine the outcry there would be, if when people bought a ticket to see a movie at the theater, only a ten minute preview was shown! No Scout wants to show up to Scout meetings and events where only a shadow of true Scouting is exercised. And when a Scout gets older, more independent, and more divided in his activities, ‘scouting’ will be the first bit of fat to trim from his schedule if he feels like he is wasting his time.
I can’t spend a ton of time talking about what makes a good Scouting program; it would take too long and there are far too many better resources to learn from than my blog. I will, however, say a few things on that note.
First of all, I cannot stress too strongly that Scouting should be nothing like classroom-type instruction. This was not the way Scouting was designed, this is not enjoyable to the Scouts, and this style of en-mass group instruction isn’t a good way to reach the aims of Scouting. Classroom/lecture instruction is a very efficient way of making Scouting superfluous in the the life of the Scout. Especially when high school comes and school gets tougher and more demanding, the last thing a Scout wants to do is sit through another two hours of classroom-like instruction each week. Scouting should be active, energetic, and adventurous.
Another thing about the Scouting Program that I feel is important to mention is that of making Scouting truly valuable to the Scouts. What do I mean by this? Well, first is to make sure the program isn’t cheapened by low expectations. If expectations are high and ranks and awards are challenging and thorough, then the value of these is raised. Awards which are handed out are hardly enough to bother for. Ranks which are a piece of cake to earn are about as valuable as a piece of cake. You might think that easier requirements would make it better for the busy Scout to stay involved, but the fact is that if Scouting takes little investment, it’s much easier for older Scouts to distance themselves from the program. It’s not so much a lack of time that kills involvement as a lack of motivation.
Thirdly, bolster both the Troop program and the Troop Culture. I talked about good Troop culture in earlier posts in this series and how important it is. The way this Troop culture is made is through many little things. 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
There are many different ways to go about the subject of ‘older Scout Patrols’. If you ask around, you will find a great variety of opinions on their advantages, disadvantages, and how to run them. Your specific approach will depend upon your unique situation. One thing is for sure, though, Scouting wasn’t designed where Scouts are doomed to simply repeat the activities they did from Tenderfoot to First Class. As the Scouts and their abilities grow, so should their undertakings. And, like all Scouting activities, these should be done via the Patrol.
For those that it would be impractical to remove all of their older Scouts to a separate Patrol, there is perhaps a compromise. The older Scouts could continue to serve in their current capacities in the Troop while simultaneously forming the older Scout Patrol. This may mean that they are members of two Patrols at the same time: the ‘regular’ Patrol and the ‘older’ Patrol, but that would be alright. The older Scout Patrol wouldn’t be on the same level as the regular Patrols. It wouldn’t have to meet as often or as long, yet it could still plan special, advanced activities.
For the best advantage to be gotten from an older Scout Patrol, it must be treated just as uniquely and as importantly as a regular Patrol. It must have it’s own traditions, it’s own expectations, and it’s own symbols. Even creating special privileges might serve to create an air of eliteness which will inspire the younger Scouts and give a sense of Patrol pride to the members.
In summary, Scouting absolutely does not lose relevance as the Scout gets older. There is so much richness and depth to the program that it has much to offer to the older boy. As a matter of fact, Scouting for the older Scout is the pinnacle of what Scouting means. The lessons to be learned and the excitement of Scouting adventures grows as the Scout does.
In this post, I hoped to give some practical solutions to keeping older Scouts involved in Scouting. This is just a brief exposition, and I cannot begin to give advice for every single situation. That is up to you! You know the principles of Scouting, you know the importance of Older Scouts to the health of a Troop. It is up to you, whether Scout or Scouter, to apply these and other solutions to your particular Troop. I hope this post series gave some food for thought and helped in contributing to the understanding of this issue.
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