I am a Scout. I was just at Scout camp last week. I have been one since first grade, and I will be until I die. Literally. When I turned 21, I paid for my lifetime membership in Girl Scouts. Naturally, we only have sons. So, my personal experience as a youth is in Girl Scouts, but my kids are Boy Scouts. I have been an adult leader in both, but mostly (and most recently) in Boy Scouts. I believe strongly in Scouting.
In fact, I believe that Scouting – both Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and Girls Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) – is one of the best activities kids can be involved in. Why? It’s simple: Scouting encourages kids to develop a wide variety of interests and skills. They provide opportunities to meet and interact with youth several years older and younger than them who can help them grow and develop into responsible adults.
My #1 Reason
Kids need to learn and explore as much as they possibly can. When they find something they enjoy, they should branch out and find related topics to explore. When they want to explore a new topic or go into greater depth on something, they eventually need adult mentors to help them. When they are bored, they should try something new and outside their comfort zone. They need to be pushed into trying things they think look boring or icky. Scouting provides a network of adults with all kinds of experiences to help, and they provide at least some vetting services for registered leaders.
Kids need variety and Scouting helps provide it.
As a parent, Scouting gives me a framework to help them try new things. When it’s the middle of school break or a long snow break, I can look up the merit badges and belt loops (in Cub Scouts) they haven’t earned yet and work on one with them. BSA and GSUSA have spent a lot of time and resources to create easy-to-follow frameworks for kids from kindergarten to young adult to learn new skills.
I know a little about how to play chess, but the Cub Scout belt loop helped me get my boys to try chess. I honestly didn’t think they would enjoy it, but I was tired of them doing nothing. Guess what? Yep! They loved it, something we would never have known without Scouting. They also tried ice skating when the troop had an outing. They didn’t love that but they still had fun because they were with friends. Again, they wouldn’t have tried it without Scouts.
Scouting pushes them to try new and sometimes boring things in other ways, primarily advancement. In order to earn awards and ranks, they need to learn and try new things. Not all of them will be things they truly enjoy or want to do, but that’s a good thing. We all have to do things we don’t want to do, like budgeting and housework. Not coincidentally, Scouting encourages kids to learn those skills by making them mandatory in the course of earning rank (like Eagle) and awards (like the Gold Award).
New Experiences Abound
At summer camp this year, my youngest learned how to use an axe, a hatchet, and a saw safely. He was taught basic life-saving techniques for the water and started learning orienteering. He was introduced to CPR and first aid topics including hypothermia and heat stroke. He had the chance to shoot a rifle and a bow and arrow. He’s eleven.
Our eldest went canoeing on a good sized river, white water and all. He did cliff diving and shot a black powder gun. He did more advanced orienteering. He earned his Wilderness First Aid certification because of Scouting. He learned how to sail a boat and kayak, and tried his hand at flying a little two person plane, and he isn’t old enough for his driver’s license yet.
Of course, there is camping, fire building, whittling, knot-tying, and all the outdoor activities that pop to mind with the word “Scouting” – many of which are rarely, if ever, done outside of Scouts. BSA or GSUSA, cooking and menu planning are skills Scouts develop because you can’t order pizza in the woods.
Scouts has high adventure programs for older kids, especially in the co-ed Venturing program. This is a chance to try white-water rafting, zip-lining, boating, kayaking, backcountry adventures, and just about anything else that gives teenagers a bit of a thrill. Boy Scouts has four main high adventure locations. Philmont Scout Ranch (AZ) focuses on multi-day backpacking adventures in remote areas. Seabase (FL and US Virgin Islands) is for sailing, snorkeling, and scuba. Northern Tier (MN and Candian boundary waters) is for multi-day canoe trips and cold-weather camping. The Summit Bechtel Reserve (WV) provides the opportunity for more modern activities like BMX, skateboarding, rappelling, paddle boarding, and mountain climbing.
See the World!
BSA and GSUSA are both part of larger, international Scouting organizations. Scouts have the chance to travel internationally for large events like Jamborees, troop events like summer trips, and even individual opportunities like being a camp counselor. Scouting isn’t perfect (no organization is), but I worry less knowing my kids are traveling with Scouts and staying at Scout camps than I would if they were simply in a group.
It’s no secret that Scouts promotes kids being leaders as much as possible. One way is by having older kids and younger ones in the same troop or together at outings like Camporees. Boy Scouts are grouped from 5/6 years old up to 10/11 years old (Cub Scouts), then from 10/11 to 18 (Boy Scouts), and from 14 to 21 (Venturing, which is co-ed). Girl Scouts groups them more tightly: kindergarten (Daisies), 1st-3rd (Brownies), 4th-6th (Juniors), 7th-9th (Cadettes), and 10th-12th (Seniors).
In my opinion, the BSA model, in particular, provides youth with role models who are close to their own age when they are younger, and the ability to be role models to other kids when they are older. BSA and GSUSA both have larger events (Camporees) where more ages (such as Cadettes and Seniors or Brownies and Juniors) are together, which is another way older kids can be role models for younger ones.
Finally, the most obvious example is the Eagle and the Gold Award. As a Gold Award recipient, that is something I still put on my resume when I apply for a job, just like Eagles do. There is a saying, “Once an Eagle, always an Eagle.” Kids who earn either of those awards have something to be proud of until the day they die. My dad earned his and his obituary will proudly say so. When they are applying for college and jobs, it will help them. In some parts of the government, I have even heard that it even gives them an automatic bump in pay.
I love Scouts. I think that’s pretty clear. You probably won’t love it as much as I do but I hope you will give it a try with your kids. You don’t have to be a unit leader, but volunteering in Scouts is a great way to be involved with your kids and there are a lot of different ways to be involved. When you are there sharing your skills and knowledge, they can be sitting there, proud that it’s their parent who knows all this cool stuff. And isn’t that priceless?