Q&A: Older Scouts; cell phones at camp

questionmark_200Time for answers to a couple more questions from readers. This time, the questions deal with older Scouts and patrol organization, and what to do about cell phones at summer camp.

Engaging older Scouts

We have a number of older Scouts, mainly high school age, who form a patrol of their own, the Falcons. They don’t always show up for troop meetings or campouts, but when they do they stay to themselves and don’t usually pitch in to help the younger Scouts. We discussed this at a recent committee meeting and thought about reassigning them to the other patrols so they can mentor the younger Scouts. An alternative idea, to keep from breaking up the Falcons, was to have some of the younger Scouts join their patrol and pick up some of their experience. The Scoutmaster wants to discuss what we would like to see accomplished with the older Scouts and let them decide what to do about it. What’s your take on the situation?

The Boy Scout program encompasses a wide range of ages. It’s only about a seven-year span, but that seven years probably accounts for the greatest period of growth and development in a young man’s life. A ten-year-old is a much different boy than one who is on the verge of adulthood.

The patrol method very wisely gives us a means of dealing with this growth and disparity in ages. That’s why we have three patrol types:

  • New-Scout patrols for those just joining, as they learn the basics, become comfortable with camping and progress through the early ranks
  • Regular patrols who are now working together as a team, honing their Scout skills, are comfortable in the outdoors and enjoying the adventure that Scouting offers
  • Venture patrols allowing advanced opportunities to Scouts who’ve “been there, done that”, including leadership and giving back to the troop

The Falcons patrol in your troop is really a Venture patrol (not to be confused with the Venturing program, of course) in that they are older and could set their own agenda, chart their own adventures and have the skill set necessary to provide for themselves but also pass those skills along to Scouts coming up through the ranks.

There is a tendency among adults to step in and “fix” things that they see aren’t working to their satisfaction, when in fact there may not be a problem at all or the problem they see is a symptom of another issue. One of the most common cases of adult interference has to do with patrol membership. Boys join Scouting to have fun with their friends, and patrols are natural groupings of friends doing Scouting together. Patrols don’t exist for administrative convenience or to establish learning groups, but are the building blocks of a troop.

For this reason, patrol membership should be left up to the Scouts to determine, within the broad guidelines of how patrols function best. Baden-Powell told us that six to eight is a good size, and similar abilities or age is a strong consideration. Present these guidelines and let the Scouts figure it out for themselves.

This means you should not toy with the notion of breaking up your Falcons patrol and scatter them in with the “little kids”, as they might see it. Just about every boy put in that situation would rather walk away than be separated from his friends and made to be what he might regard as a babysitter for a bunch of seventh graders. Being a Falcon in your troop is like getting the brass ring – it’s something they look forward to being a part of someday, and taking that away from them would be a huge blow to their morale.

Embedding older Scouts within the new-Scout and regular patrols is a classic way to displace younger Scouts from learning, teaching and leading. It will also cause older Scouts to become disinterested because there’s nothing new and exciting for them to do but babysit the younger ones. Loss of membership and engagement almost always is the result.

Folding your younger Scouts up into the older ones would not only foster resentment (“Hey, kid, get out of my treehouse!”) but creates a bigger mob that circumvents the patrol system.

So what really is the problem to be solved here? Let’s consider:

  • You have older Scouts who aren’t as engaged as you’d like.
  • You have younger Scouts who need some mentoring.

The structure for engaging older Scouts is already in place with your Falcons patrol. Make sure they know they have the opportunity for greater adventures. Don’t tie them down to doing the same things that the regular patrols are doing. Look in chapter 13 of the Scoutmaster Handbook, which describes opportunities for older Scouts. Give them the resources and the freedom to do their own things.

Scouts working toward Star, Life and Eagle need a position of responsibility, of course, and two of these positions that would allow them to help younger Scouts are Troop Guide and Instructor. An assistant Scoutmaster could help train Scouts in these positions, who can go on to share their knowledge and experience. They’re still members of the Falcons patrol, but serving the younger Scouts could be one of their patrol activities.

Your Scoutmaster is very much on the right track in presenting the situation to your Falcons patrol and asking them what could be done to resolve it. Just be sure to tread lightly when it comes to meddling in the affairs that rightfully belong to the Scouts.

Keep in mind that our Scouts are all volunteers, just like us. They could walk away at any time if they aren’t getting what they enjoy and expect from Scouting.

Cellphones at summer camp

One of our parents asked whether their son could bring and use his cellphone at summer camp. Does the BSA have a policy on this? Our troop generally prohibits the Scouts from using their phones on campouts.

Traditional wisdom has held that phone calls to or from home can be a disruption and can actually worsen homesickness. Many troops have a policy similar to yours – but the times are changing.

Dig back through the archives of Scouting Magazine and you’ll find this article on the use of electronics at camp. As Bryan Wendell points out, today’s cellphones aren’t just for making phone calls (in fact, it seems they do that rather poorly nowadays), but perform many other functions including clock, map, compass, camera and an electronic version of the Boy Scout Handbook.

Former Chief Scout Executive Bob Mazzuca took some heat when the uniform was redesigned with a “device pocket” on the sleeve, but his approach was to meet the boys where they are. “Why can’t a Scout use an electronic device to identify a plant or poisonous snake in the wild?”, he asked a gathering of Eagle Scouts during a 2010 ceremony.

Indeed, my two sons use their smartphones as a virtual extension of their brains. Whenever they need to know something, they look it up online.

Other than the obvious considerations for youth protection, there are no hard and fast rules about the use of cellphones or electronics while participating in Scouting.

Rather than establishing a strict “turn in your cellphones” policy, you might consider informing families about:

  • the causes of homesickness and the concerns about cellphone usage – particularly about calling home or making a “pickup arrangement”
  • the distraction of communicating with family or friends not at camp
  • considerations of youth protection, harassment or bullying that can arise from misuse of smartphones
  • the benefits of using an electronic device as a tool to enhance his experience at camp

and letting the Scout and his parents decide.

Getting away from it all, spending time away from screens and keyboards, and enjoying the great outdoors is one of Scouting’s main benefits, but it doesn’t mean that you have to prohibit the use of a valuable tool.

Your comments on these questions are welcome! Let readers know how you have dealt with these issues in your troop, and feel free to contact me if you have questions you need answered.


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One Reply to “Q&A: Older Scouts; cell phones at camp”

  1. Give. It. Up.

    You’ve already lost. Work with it. The boys and their parents are not going to give up “NORMAL” life only while they are at Scouting events. Just like all other things in the world Scout leaders have to use wisdom to decide how to work with boys and achieve the goals of Scouting.

    One of the goals of Scouting MUST be to help Scout achieve their lifelong goals in their current world. Communication devices are part of that world. Seize the day. Take over the narrative. Don’t run from it. If we believe that the Scout Oath and Law apply to most all of life, then they apply to cell phones also. So apply them.

    Obvious:
    1. Leave other guys stuff alone.
    2. There are times when excessive noise is a problem. Loud ring tones, music, etc. are controlled just like any other thing/gadget/widget.
    3. Focus on the here and now. If a Scout can’t un-focus from his phone (book, comic book, magic cards, game thingy, pod thingy, pad thingy, etc) then there’s an issue that needs to be dealt with. You can’t chop wood with an ax in one hand and a cellphone in the other.
    4. Charging is an issue. Share.

    You guys can probably think of 20 more things to consider.

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