Recently, a fellow Bobwhite tweeted a comment about something he heard at his troop meeting that evening. One of the Webelos Den Leaders visiting the meeting had been impressed by the fact that the elected youth leadership planned and ran the meeting, and plan and conduct the campouts and the annual program. I retweeted him with the observation that “in a well-run troop, it actually works that way.”
Indeed, in an ideal troop, the boys make all the decisions, the Scoutmaster makes sure they are trained to do so, and the committee supports them and provides the resources that the boys can’t. I doubt there is a troop in existence that hasn’t had at least some adult involvement in what should be the boys’ role. Some are understandable: handling of money, for instance, if the troop scribe isn’t always around (or adults just don’t trust them), or with equipment repairs where it’s just faster to do it ourselves. In other cases, well-meaning adults lurk on the sidelines at troop and patrol leaders’ council meetings and feel free to jump in whenever they feel like it.
Unfortunately, there are far too many troops where the adults still run things and call the shots, from running troop meetings to planning menus and doing annual program planning. A troop meeting is not a 90-minute talk show by the Scoutmaster!
Reflecting on our Twitter conversation, I boiled it down to two types of parents that seem to be the biggest offenders. One is Cub parents that haven’t been properly re-trained (or “brainwashed,” if you will). It’s not easy to take a new group of parents and tell them that the roles they’ve played for the last five years are completely wrong for Boy Scouts, but it must be done. To many, it’s a great relief that they don’t have to “do it all” any more. They also have to learn not to be a parent to just their own child, but watch out for the entire troop’s safety. By the time they become Boy Scouts, boys should be old enough to know they need to tie their shoes and zip up their coat, and they don’t need mom or dad following them around reminding them.
The second group that upsets the youth leadership system are those adults who feel they need to be in control and have difficulty relinquishing that control, especially to someone who’s only thirteen years old. Some are, as they say, “control freaks” who need to have total influence over the things they are involved in, while others are the obsessive-compulsive who get impatient when things don’t get done right away, done correctly, or done right the first time. Still others feel it’s easier just to do something themselves than to try to train a boy to do it, and they get frustrated when the boy doesn’t do it the way the adult would.
I’ve said it before: if the tent isn’t on fire or a scout isn’t about to dismember himself, let the boys try, fail, and try again. They are never going to learn the right way if they don’t experience the wrong way once in a while. When a tent falls down in the middle of the night, the scout will learn to tie a proper taut-line hitch. When a patrol’s breakfast consists of burned French toast, the scouts will be more driven to improve their cooking. And learn the proper chain of command: Adults should communicate with the boys through the Scoutmaster, who discusses it with the SPL.
It’s been said that Scouting would be a great program if it weren’t for the adults. It’s our job as adults to watch out for these disruptions in the youth leadership system and gently but firmly remind parents of our structure and our mission. Practice leadership by example. Two Baden-Powell quotes come to mind: “When you want a thing done, ‘Don’t do it yourself’ is a good motto for Scoutmasters,” and “Success in training the boy depends largely on the Scoutmaster’s own personal example.”