An AP news item which ran in our local newspaper last week told of an Easter egg hunt in a Colorado town being canceled for behavioral reasons.
No, not the kids misbehaving – the parents.
Aggressive parents were to blame for the sponsors of the annual event deciding to call it quits. Too many parents were jumping over the rope to make sure that their child got her fair share and wasn’t disappointed.
The article quotes former Wall Street Journal columnist Ron Alsop, author of The Trophy Kids Grow Up, discussing the behavior of so-called “helicopter parents” who hover over their children and are overly involved in what should be their children’s activities:
“That’s the perfect metaphor for millennial children. They (parents) can’t stay out of their children’s lives. They don’t give their children enough chances to learn from hard knocks, mistakes.”
The beauty of the Scouting program is that it gives control over the success of the patrol and the troop directly to the boys. The Scouts elect their own leadership, they teach each other, and they plan and carry out their own activities – but only if the adults stay out of the way.
Our boys must know that they have not only the freedom, but the responsibility, to try, make mistakes, and learn. It’s not in keeping with the adult vision of an orderly world, but it’s essential for our sons to develop leadership, a sense of belonging, and self-esteem.
We’ve said it before: It’s far too tempting for adults to jump in and rescue a process gone bad. And it’s the nature of boys to defer to adults in these situations. Indeed, even the mere presence of adults changes the dynamic of youth leadership.
As adults, we need to stay on our side of the rope and let the boys run the show. Visualize a successful Easter egg hunt, with the kids on the field inside the rope and the parents on the outside, watching the kids enjoy success and discovery on their own. Translate that vision to a troop meeting or campout, where the boys are inside the rope and the adults are outside – 300 feet outside – and you’ll have the model of Scouting as it is meant to be. Of course, the adults help to train the boys so they can run their troop, just as a parent coaches her child beforehand to go pick up a few Easter eggs and put them in his basket.
We also need to be on guard to make sure that all of our adults understand this and don’t cross the rope themselves, because others may see them getting in the middle of the boys’ business and think it’s OK for them to do it too. The sponsor of the canceled egg hunt offered a similar observation:
“If one parent gets in there, other parents say, ‘If one can get in we all can get in,’ and everybody goes.”
Another parent added:
“It seems everything is more and more and more competitive, fast paced, and I think parents are going to see they need to do more to help their kids get an edge.”
Scouting isn’t a race and it’s not about finishing first. The bottom line is the ideals and mission, which includes character development, and that’s never going to happen if we adults jump in and try to live their lives for them. It’s especially important, as your new parents are coming into the troop, that they understand the adult role in Scouting, where the dynamic is very different from just about every other youth activity, and how leaving the boys alone to run things establishes the culture of boy leadership and will help develop their own son’s abilities down the road.