Is it because of something they didn’t get out of Scouting? That’s probably not the case, because they stuck with Cub Scouts all the way through.
Do they lose interest? That may be part of it, because either they or their parents can’t see doing another six or seven years of field trips to the fire station or overnight sleepovers at the science center.
It occurred to me that many Cub Scout families just don’t understand what Boy Scouts is all about, and can’t yet see that Scouting is a continuum intended to flow from one program into another. They don’t realize that Boy Scouts can instill values and give boys experiences that will help them immensely as they grow, go on to college and start a career.
Maybe it doesn’t work that way in their packs and troops. Sports is, after all, much more relatable to most parents, and there’s always that far-fetched dream of a soccer or hockey scholarship, which doesn’t materialize far more often than it does come to pass.
The question of whether the benefits and features of the Boy Scouting program is visible to Cub parents extends to whether we are likewise visible in the community. If people haven’t heard about the latest legal controversy in the news, or a boy who disregarded the buddy system, got lost and had to be rescued, their reaction is usually “Boy Scouts? They still have those?” Even popcorn sales, which is supposed to get us out in the community, doesn’t come close to hitting all households.
When parents without a Scouting background and who have young children do see and hear about Boy Scouts, it’s usually an Eagle Scout being awarded his crowning achievement, or Scouts doing service work, hiking Philmont or other ambitious, adventuresome activities that they could never imagine their young son taking part in. Unfortunately, far too many parents don’t ever break away from thinking of their sons as “a darling little boy” who is too young and fragile to do these things. Boys who are overprotected by their parents often end up with what’s known as Peter Pan Syndrome, and their parents continue to look at them as tender little things, which does nothing to help them break out of it.
Could this be one reason we lose so many boys right at crossover?
While parental burnout is one of the top reasons, I think most parents simply don’t know the breadth and depth of the Boy Scout program, much less its advantages for both themselves and their sons. It’s as though we are keeping our excellent program in the shadows, not getting out into the community and shouting from the proverbial mountaintops.
If you live in a small or medium-sized town or suburb with a community newspaper, take a look at this week’s edition and count up the youth groups that are mentioned in articles. You’ll probably find news of youth sports like Little League, Pop Warner football, recreational soccer, swimming, and tennis clubs. There’s probably a story about a robotics team, maybe 4-H, school clubs, martial arts and self-defense classes, and church youth groups. How many stories about Scouting do you see? And when you do see one, it’s probably about Cub Scouting, because parents take the initiative and submit stories.
Boy Scouting lacks visibility, in part, because troops aren’t always actively out in the community. When was the last time your troop conducted a publicly-visible service project and then wrote about it? There’s no reason your troop shouldn’t do some kind of community service each month – we do promise to help other people, don’t we? – and then write about it so the world, or at least the small world of your community, will know about it. (A wise man once said “All Scouting is local!”)
Your troop does cool stuff too – why not write about that? A story about teenage boys exploring caves, having a blast navigating a Class 3 rapids or zooming down a luge track makes for both compelling reading and improved visibility for your troop and for Scouting.
The troop scribe, or another Scout working with him, can be responsible for writing the story, with editorial review by one of the adults. He or another Scout can take pictures to submit with the articles (and if you think a newspaper wouldn’t run pictures that a boy took, check out the work of Eagle Scout and college freshman Kevin Montano, whose work has been published all through high school and whose Scouting credentials are as impressive as his photography).
There are many other ways to make Scouting more visible in the community. Talk about it with your fellow Scouters at your next meeting or at Roundtable. Challenge your Scouts to come up with ways to improve Scouting’s presence. The boys have backchannels of communication that many adults don’t realize exist and can provide meaningful input on how best to utilize them.
Once we recognize that we have a lot to offer to boys who are not yet Scouts, we can restore the visibility and presence of Scouting in our communities. We can show that Scouting is ordinary boys doing extraordinary things. In so doing, we can improve not only retention at crossover but recruiting from the large pool of potential members that aren’t being served. And we can work toward making Scouting more visible in a positive sense.