When my kids were younger, we spent a lot of time in the woods. With the Appalachian Trail an easy drive from our home, day trips as well as camping trips were fun, frequent and an easy way to spend time together building memories. I feel very lucky to have had so much time with them in their early childhood, when time seemed somehow slower.
As my children grew up they needed increased independence and new ways to explore their environment. Along with puberty there seemed to be an inner need to have a bigger world, stretch their wings, have physical challenges-proving themselves (to themselves and others).
For my family, Boy Scouts has offered incredible support to my sons. We intentionally skipped Cub Scouts and waited until they were eleven years old to join a Boy Scout Troop. This is because my husband (himself an Eagle) felt that starting too young could potentially burn the kids out before they got to do the cool things-like actually going camping. (Boy Scouts go camping a lot. Cub Scouts have limited camping.) The purpose of Boy Scouts, incorporated in 1910, "is to provide an educational program for boys and young adults to build character, to train in the responsibilities of participating citizenship, and to develop personal fitness."
I'm convinced that for a positive Scouting experience you must find the right Troop for your family. This is where you must "shop around" and "do your homework." We visited many Troops that would not have worked because there is such a range of implementation and interpretation of programs and policy. Although we have many geographically closer Troops, we find it worthwhile to commute a half-hour to our Troop. Think of it as a long-term investment. If you find a good match, you will be working with the same adults and teens for at least seven years-up to ten years if they have a Venturing Crew.
There is so much to look for. Start with the Internet. Going to www.bsa.scouting.org is an easy way to find a listing of the units in your area. Ask around for Troops that have strong reputations. Find out when the weekly meetings are scheduled as well as when the Committee meetings are held. Pay attention to what you see and hear as you figure out how the system works. Let your kids interact with the other Scouts. Do they get positive and welcoming vibes? Is there a good combination of older and younger Scouts? Are the Scouts advancing in their ranks? What is required in terms of the uniform with this particular Troop? Are you comfortable with the adult leadership? Do you feel included in the Troop? Does this Troop mostly backpack or car camp? (What do you/your sons prefer?) How much of a military twist does this Troop have and are you comfortable with it? How much money is in the treasury? Are adventures subsidized by the Troop? At Committee meetings how do the adults problem solve? Is there an organized program? Ask to see a few back issues of the Troop newsletter and see what's been happening. How many adult leaders were once Scouts in this same Troop? How many adult leaders are active and how do they work together? I wouldn't get in a hurry finding a Troop and after joining I would not hesitate to switch Troops if it didn't feel like it was a good match.
Visit a Scout Shop and get a copy of the Scout Handbook (under $10) and familiarize yourself with the abuse section the parent must read with their child as a requirement for joining. Take a look at some of the merit badge books. You can quickly see how Scouting can offer a great curriculum for homeschoolers-particularly the Eagle required badges. Check out the requirements for Lifesaving, Citizenship in the Community, Personal Fitness, Family Life, Environmental Science, and Personal Management (to name just a few in all there are over 130 different merit badges to choose from). The more you look into the requirements of Scouting, the more impressive it can become. The leadership training in a good Troop is worth its weight in gold for your son. The Scouts learn so much-to be prepared, comfort in public speaking, the importance of community service and doing their best, respect for nature, and how to accomplish goals individually as well as with a group. Orienteering, first aid and knot tying are also emphasized and mastered.
Just as we do not live in a perfect world, Scouting is not perfect. Scouting has a patriotic and values oriented program with a spiritual component. Different Troops implement this in widely different ways. Also, you might find that decisions at the National level are decisions you disagree with. Or, you may not want your child soliciting neighbors and friends to buy expensive popcorn covered with tons of sugar. It is acceptable to say, "We have a family policy of no soliciting to neighbors and friends we will help with a booth at the big store where folks come to us wanting to buy the product." Selling Christmas trees is a lot of fun for the boys at my house; they sign up as often as they can. Again, this is a situation where the customer comes to us.
The solution to the imperfections of Scouting is to make it a priority to be an involved parent. A successful Troop has active parents. This isn't one where you drop your kid and pick him up later. Ideally, two parents are busy with various responsibilities. Adult leadership is "two-deep" for a very good reason and this means moms and dads are volunteering as Scoutmasters, Assistant Scoutmasters, Committee members, merit badge counselors, drivers, fundraisers, etc. It is rewarding work but it is indeed work. And, as always, "many hands make light work."
Opportunities for our sons abound in Scouting. There is an affordable ($150) Scout Camp every summer that is a week-long adventure in the woods earning cool badges or participating in high adventures like mountain biking, high ropes, spelunking, rock climbing, and white water rafting. There is Sea Base where they are the crew sailing a 84-foot schooner off of the Florida Keys and snorkeling with sharks. "It was the kind that doesn't bite, Mom." There is Philmont, which is backpacking in New Mexico. My boys leave soon for a backpacking trip to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The possibilities are endless when you have good leadership.
Boy Scouts is not for everyone. Some have objected to the Scout oath and law. "On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight." If you object to this pledge, Scouting may not be for you but I bet you can still get a lot from the merit badge booklets and handbook which are available to anyone-member of Scouting or not.
With all the physical and emotional changes during adolescence, raising our sons can be a challenge. Having an organization like Boy Scouts and finding the right Troop can be an excellent support and helps these young men learn character and skills that will last a lifetime.
Copyright ©2002-Mary Wilson-All Rights Reserved
Go back to Happy Trails Home Page