The role of “other” adults, part 1

adultcampfire_200Nearly all of us grew up with our sons in Scouting, starting first with Cub Scouts. We remember the pleas for help from the Cub parents. You were always in need of a parent to head up the next outing or field trip or make a run to the Scout shop or work at the popcorn sale table at the supermarket this weekend. Cub Scouts doesn’t run without heavy parent involvement, so we get somewhat accustomed to feeling the need for lots of parental help and missing it when it isn’t there.

So naturally, when our sons cross over to a troop, those of us who are committed to the program step forward and volunteer for an adult role. Usually there are plenty of ways for adults to help, whether it’s as a direct leader (assistant Scoutmaster), a member of the troop committee or a merit badge counselor. Parents can help in other ways, too, such as hauling gear or Scouts to and from campouts and making sure the boys can get to the grocery store the night before a campout.

In general, when it comes to adults not directly involved in a leadership role in a troop, three key elements apply:

  • Adult participation on campouts should be limited to registered, trained leaders.
  • The Scoutmaster needs to lead all other adults in the application of the methods of Scouting.
  • Parents of Scouts can better support their sons through a better understanding of the methods of Scouting, including the outdoor program.

In this article and the next, we’ll examine these elements and ways to apply them.

There are two occasions in Boy Scouting where undirected “other” parents are not needed and are specifically detrimental: at troop meetings and on campouts. As we’ve discussed before, adults getting in the middle of youth activities affects the dynamic of youth leadership and threatens to take away their initiative and sense of accomplishment.

Boy Scout leader training is, for the most part, silent on the role of non-registered adults. After all, the training is for registered leaders, and it’s hard enough to cram the essentials into an eight-hour day for Scoutmasters, or three hours for the committee, and go past the edges to discuss what to do with well-meaning adults who also want to help or just want to hang around. The training emphasizes that the role of the Scoutmaster is to train the boys to run their troop with the help of assistant Scoutmasters, and the troop committee supports the Scoutmaster and the troop with administrative functions.

The training doesn’t specifically say that it’s not a good idea to have lots of random parents hovering around, but neither does it suggest that there should be. Certainly, having adequate supervision and discipline are the foundations of the Sweet Sixteen of safe Scouting, but the encompassing element is trained leadership (and I emphasize Trained). This supports the stated minimums of two registered adult leaders, or one registered leader and one other adult, at any Scouting activity. This is augmented by the “safety rule of four” – in case of an emergency requiring a Scout to be removed from the rest of the group (to seek medical attention, say), two adults should go with the Scout and two remain with the rest of the youth. In addition, the Scoutmaster Handbook recommends that additional adult supervision on campouts and outings is a good idea, at the rate of roughly one adult per patrol. This is probably the minimum needed to accomplish a campout anyway, if for no other reason than the Scouts have to get there and back somehow.

In a perfect world, all these adults would be registered and Trained assistant Scoutmasters. A generally-accepted rule of thumb is to strive for one assistant Scoutmaster per patrol – not to directly supervise the patrols (that’s the patrol leader’s job, after all) but to be there to provide general support for the things that ASMs do: help train and mentor youth leaders, support troop meeting and campout programs and encourage service opportunities.

Even if a troop is fully staffed with assistant Scoutmasters in this manner, though, not all of them can always attend every event. As a result, there’s often a need for additional adult support, particularly on troop campouts. In the next article I’ll delve into good ways to use those “other” parents to fill in the blanks and achieve the program’s aims.

Photo: Northern Star Council

This post first appeared on Bobwhite Blather.
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