What’s wrong with this transaction?
Here’s a clue. A Scout, most likely a new recruit, setting up his tent with his bunk partner, asks an adult where the tent stakes are. Because a Scout is helpful, the adult answers that they are in a bucket on board the troop trailer and sends the Scout on his way.
If you’ve been following along for a while, you already know the answer, but if you’re new to Boy Scouts, it may seem like a harmless, even helpful, bit of assistance.
Of all the youth programs out there, Scouting is unique in that the boys actually run things. There is an elected leadership structure and the Scouts themselves handle everything that they are able or are capable of. And while adult association is one of the methods of Scouting, it doesn’t mean taking over for what the boys can do for themselves.
By sending the Scout to the troop trailer for tent stakes, the adult has undermined youth leadership in at least two ways: The proper person for the Scout to have asked was his patrol leader, and his patrol leader should have directed the Scout to either the troop quartermaster, or to his patrol quartermaster to go and ask for stakes from the troop quartermaster. Youth leadership is our unique selling proposition – something that no other youth group incorporates to the extent that Scouting does, but it doesn’t work if the adults take it away.
Now is a great time to think about this, as our troops head off for a week or more at summer camp. Do your adults run things? Do they remind boys that it’s time to head off for flags, meals, merit badges and other activities, and then lead them there? Do they follow behind boys with camp chores, directing them in their duties and sweeping up that last bit of dirt so the camp commissioner doesn’t take off a point? Summer camp is an ideal time for the boys to develop patrol spirit and experience a true sense of self-leadership. Yes, sometimes it’s at the expense of being late for morning assembly, or a missed point on the campsite checklist, but it isn’t the end of the world. Far more is gained by not taking away leadership responsibilities from the boys than is lost by the occasional miscues that almost inevitably take place.
If you haven’t already, resolve this year to better prepare your Scout leadership for their roles at summer camp. Make sure that they understand the structure of the troop and that they, not the adults, are responsible for seeing that everything happens as it should. If you are the Scoutmaster, prepare your senior patrol leader for what he will encounter and remind him that he leads the troop through the patrol leaders. Scouts camp by patrols, and the patrol leader is responsible for ensuring that his patrol is up in the morning, quiet at night and present at assemblies, meals and lineups. Not the SPL; not the Scoutmaster or adults – the patrol leader. Make sure he knows you are there to consult with him when he needs it and to work with the other adults to provide support in the things they cannot do on their own because they are youth.
Speak to your adults who are attending summer camp and reinforce what’s expected of them. They need to understand that their role is one of support, not leadership. If an adult sees something that needs doing, like dirty dishes on a table or a fallen clothesline, help them see they need to avoid the urge to “do it yourself,” and not just tell the boys to do it either. Rather, they mention it to the Scoutmaster, and if it’s important enough, he’ll bring it up with the senior patrol leader, who will decide how to handle it. (A coach wouldn’t run on to the field to catch a fly ball, would he?) If your site permits it, adults should camp away from the boys, not around or among them. It also should go without saying that boys don’t tent with their parents, and that parents should give their sons space. In other words, you’re not there to be a parent – you’re there to help the troop.
In general, every adult involved with the troop needs to understand these principles and to be careful to always redirect youth inquiries to the youth leadership. By reinforcing and repeating to the boys that they need to work within their structure, they will eventually get the message and come to rely on each other more and on the adults less.
Oh, and the right thing for the adult to reply to the Scout? “Go ask your patrol leader!”