The Missing Older Scout: Part II – The Absence of Older Scouts

The Missing Older Scout



In Part I of this series, I began the process of looking into the “older Scout problem”. This is where Scout Troops have trouble retaining and recruiting boys from the ages of 15-18. In the last post, I began the discussion by examining just why this is a very important issue and why older Scouts are vital to a well-run Troop. In this post, I would like to continue that discussion by trying to determine just why this problem exists. What are the reasons that Scout Troops have trouble attracting older boys?

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 as 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? As a purpose or end in themselves, these rank requirements are quite unappealing!

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. Most of the entire collection of Boys’ Life magazines are available online for free. Look at many of the old 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.

A Reputation of Trifles

Unfortunately, another reason that older Scouts tend to become inactive is to purposely disassociate themselves from the organization. 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. Now, although Scouting may still be well liked by the general community, I have seen much less respect.

Have you ever seen Pixar’s movie “Up”? One of the main characters is a “wilderness Scout” named Russell. This portrayal is very much the stereotypical view of the modern Scout. Though a likeable character, Russell is much more likely to be seen as “cute” by moms and grandparents rather than be admired by teen and pre-teen boys.

Why does the word “Scout” evoke in peoples’ minds an image closer to a pop-corn selling Cub Scout than a young backwoodsman or astronaut? 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, it is no wonder that older boys don’t want to associate themselves with this.

No Responsibilities

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. It is very irksome to me to hear about Scouts “taking turns” in leadership positions, these ‘turns’ usually being dictated by adult leadership.

Some Scout leaders may feel that older Scouts will monopolize the positions of leadership and prevent younger Scouts from learning leadership. Well, in a properly run Troop, even individual Scouts in Patrols have responsibilities and get a chance to exercise leadership, but that is another discussion. For now, let me suffice to say that older Scouts will find very little motivation to hang around if they have no responsibilities in the Troop.

No Advanced Activities

One final reason I would like to point out is that of Older Scouts not being permitted to move on to more advanced Scouting activities. I hinted at this earlier when describing the lack of depth in Scouting. Too often older Scouts are stuck doing the exact same activities that the younger Scouts do. No only does this make the older Scout feel that he is going nowhere, it also gives the impression to the younger Scout that there is nothing to look forward to.

Doesn’t it make sense that as Scouts grow and become more advanced in their skills that they should move on to increasingly challenging activities? Without this, a huge incentive to stay active is lost upon the older Scout.

[I will be continuing this series soon with Part III on how to increase older Scout retention/enlistment. I hope you will stay tuned in! If you like what this site is about, please subscribe via email or your favorite social media and share this post with other Scouts and Scouters that you know. Thank you for reading!

Scout On!]

[Edit: Here are links to Part 1 and Part 3 of this series]

Boys' Life January 1914

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2 Comments on "The Missing Older Scout: Part II – The Absence of Older Scouts"

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Larry Green
As Teddy Roosevelt would say, “Bully!” You hit several nails right on the head! Advancement-oriented…when the central motif, isn’t that sad? Making Eagle (if making it at all) just before turning 18, when coupled with a rich program of shared leadership, team building, high adventure, all the while gaining a host of useful skills can be seen as a whole lot BETTER! And of course, younger Eagles can actively and prosperously stay on board. Why not, when what’s being offered is so much fun? (In the OA, you’re still considered a youth member until 21.) Having older Patrol Leaders, Troop… Read more »
Larry Green

Pertaining to previous comment: And of course, program, program, program. What are the Scouts DOING—indoors and out that sustains their interests, keeps things fun, and keeps them coming back for more? (Personally, I love Pioneering, but that’s only ONE thing.)