The adult involvement paradox

seven_scoutmasters_c150While helping a couple Cub Scout packs in my district with their rechartering this fall, we were trying to figure out how to juggle the few adult volunteers so that all the positions are filled. The Cubmaster doubles as the den leader for his son’s den (definitely not a recommended practice). They still needed an official den leader to satisfy the requirement to have at least one, so one of the den’s parents was “drafted” to be a DINO – Denleader In Name Only. The chartered organization representative doubled up as a committee member so there would be the minimum of three.

The other side of the coin seems to be Boy Scout troops that have an excessive number of adults on their charter. At least one troop in our district requires a parent from every family to register as an assistant Scoutmaster unless they’re on the committee (what they do with seventy-seven ASMs is a mystery to me), and another has parents of Scouts who have long since graduated college who are still registered as assistant Scoutmasters or members of the committee. These are not unique or isolated situations either.

I realize there’s nothing wrong with having enough adult help, but having way too many adults without specific responsibilities puts the youth-led nature of a Boy Scout troop in jeopardy. Even if they’re “trained”, well-meaning adults can lose perspective and meddle with the process, feeling that they need to get in there and do stuff, pushing boys out of the way in doing so. And a Cub pack whose parents don’t care enough about their sons to take on a simple task is one whose program is probably substandard and may be destined for failure.

So this begs the question: Why is it that Cub Scout packs, which are highly dependent on parental involvement, are so frequently starved for volunteers, while it seems like Boy Scout troops are overflowing with what, in many cases, are adult Boy Scouts who never grew up?

And it raises another question: How do we entice, encourage and enlist parents of Cub Scouts to help with even the simplest things that a pack needs to do? Where’s our Scouting “pixie dust”?

As a Commissioner, I’ve essentially gone back to the beginning after a decade-plus of troop involvement and am working closely with Cub Scout packs. Perhaps some of those excess adults that are milling around troops could likewise put their energy and Scouting knowledge to better use helping out a pack instead of tripping over Boy Scouts who are trying to learn how to run the troop themselves.

And for troops with lots of parents who want to be “Boy Scouts”, there’s the Unit Scouter Reserve registration for adults without a specific leadership assignment. They can even camp – but please, keep it at least a hundred yards away from any youth.


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One Reply to “The adult involvement paradox”

  1. I’ve wrestled with this question, too. Here’s some of what I’ve come up.

    “Cub Scouts is a weeding ground for the Boy Scouts.”
    Most families come into Scouting not knowing much about it if they weren’t a Cub Scout before. So you get the full cross-section of parental involvement: gung-ho dads and moms and drop-off-the-kid parents. By the time they’ve been in the program for 5 years (if they’ve made it that far), they know the program and how much time it takes when their sons join Boy Scouts. By this time, parents have a feel for the program and have either gotten in or gotten out with support for the BSA. Cub Scouts weeds out the unproductive families and parents which leaves the more involved ones for the Troop.

    “Council’s emphasize Boy Scouts more than Cub Scouts.”
    Even though 2/3rds of Scouting is composed of Cub Scouts and the Cubs probably raise more than 50% of popcorn sales and Friends of Scouting donations, Boy Scouts is still advertised much more than Cubs. Summer camps are geared more toward the teens (maybe because they can do more, dunno.) Plus our culture emphasizes Boy Scouts more than cubs, mostly because of Norman Rockwell and the Eagle Scout rank, I’m guessing.

    How do we entice more Cub parents to be involved?
    I see the answer as two fold…

    (a) Be up front with the parents when they join a pack. Don’t be coy with them. Emphasize that this is not Babysitters of America, but rather a family involvement where the parents are expected to lend a hand (registered or not) in some capacity all year long.

    (b) Have fun and make it fun for the adults. A gung-ho committee, SM and Den Leaders who appear to be having fun will entice parents to want to be a part of a great team. Everyone is working for everyone’s boys. Involve them in the planning instead of telling them what the pack is going to do.

    On this last note, the pack I was a part of in Atlanta had a great system for the major Cub Events of the year. Each RANK had a responsibility and fully ran that event. They knew it was coming because each year they saw the previous rank do it.

    Here was out list.

    Tigers: End of year, last pack meeting, Cross-Over picnic in May.
    Wolves: Pinewood Derby (January)
    Bears: Blue and Gold (Feb-March)
    Web 1: Cross Over Banquet for the Webelos 2 (Feb-Mar)
    Web 2: Major Webelos trip. (Fall)

    The advantages to this system are hopefully obvious:

    -No trying to get a Blue and Gold committee together or a PWD team. You just knew this year the “Wolves” were and always will be in charge of the PWD.

    -Tigers had a full year (Sep to May) to get their feet wet in the pack and see how things are done.

    -The event was a failure or success based on the work of that rank (a very “Scouting” thing IMHO.) So if the Blue and Gold was boring, well, maybe the current Wolves would take note and do better next year when it was their turn to host.

    -An event would involve a liaison from the lower rank to learn the process for next year, ex: a Tiger dad would be in on the meetings with the Wolves for the PWD next year, a Wolf mom should be with the Blue & Gold planners for next year, etc.

    -There were always previous year’s leaders who had done those events who could advise, ex: Bears could ask the Web 1s and 2s for advice on how to run the Blue and Gold. Tiger parents had all previous leaders to ask for advice.

    -A den is only responsible for one event a year, so they relax at all the others. ex: Since the Bears are in charge of the Blue and Gold, they can just show up and not have any responsibilities at the Pinewood Derby and Picnic.

    A note on the Webelos: the Webelos would go on a much longer or further trip than the whole pack … like to sleep on a air craft carrier or Space Camp in Huntsville. The Tiger-Bears would take shorter, more local 1 night trips, like sleeping in a cave, overnight at the zoo, etc.

    We also had a special Webelos-to-Scout cross over banquet which the Web 1’s would plan and host, but then as Web 2’s would just show up for the ceremony. Since Webelos are older, they can sit through the program better than Tiger’s and Wolves. The Web 1s would get to “see” the event and be excited to be the one’s receiving the cross-over next year. (This also left the Blue and Gold to be pure fun, food and festivities without a “boring” ceremony. 🙂

    Mike Menninger, Foothills District, Atlanta Area Council

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