John Whitford is an Eagle Scout, retired district director with the BSA, and an active volunteer.
Parents ask: ‘What are the benefits of enrolling my child in Scouts?’
In today’s world, there are so many distractions and attractions available, why pick Scouting? The answer is summed up in the mission statement of the Scouts themselves: “The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law, and to obey the Scout Law; To help other people at all times; …to be mentally awake, and morally straight.”
Numerous studies have shown that kids in Scouts generally do better in life. They do better in school, avoid anti-social behaviors, are better employees, do better socially, have stronger ties with friends and spouses, make better decisions, and are emotionally better prepared throughout their lives.
Admittedly, no child joins Scouts to have their character developed. They join for fun, friendship, adventure, and to learn useful and interesting things. Character development just ‘happens’ while they are doing all of that. Even as Cub Scouts (Grades K-5), members learn leadership skills and life skills. Parents often find it difficult to be a participant in their children’s lives, but in Scouts, they have a definite role in support of their children, which helps keep the lines of parent/child communication open. This is a family values program that creates an additional bond between parents, siblings and friends.
Parents also ask, ‘How safe is Scouting?’ A few years ago, a review of youth programs concluded that Scouting was the Gold Standard as far as youth protection went. All leaders must take youth protection training, an online course that is given at no cost. It must be updated every two years. There is also a ‘Guide to Safe Scouting,’ and a list of appropriate activities by program. Everything from aquatics, field sports, camping, high adventure activities, travel and much more is covered. Scouting leaders and volunteers are among the best-trained and informed anywhere. Additionally, as part of the advancement program, parents review youth protection guides with their Scouts.
If you know anyone that has attained the Eagle Scout rank, they will tell you how valuable being a Scout can be. I once had a Vietnam veteran tell me that many of them survived more from their Scout training than from what the military taught them. I once had to use my Scout first aid training to actually save my own life. You never know when, where or how those things may be needed.
Scouts BSA is now open to both boys and girls at all ages and program levels. Over the years, I have had many parents tell me about how Scouting impacted their children and families. I would encourage you to look at the program, talk to your local volunteer leaders and consider enrolling your child and becoming an active and supportive parent/volunteer. Scouting is a program that grows with your child.
Cub Scouts – Children can join the Lion program in kindergarten. That is followed by Tigers (grade 1), Wolf (grade 2), Bear (grade 3), and Webelos Scouts and Arrow of Light (grades 4 and 5). A child joining at any grade does that grade’s program – a fourth grader skips the lower programs and goes right into Webelos, for example. Even at these young ages, Cub Scouts are given roles to play in the program, and hold leadership positions. Parents participate as den and pack leaders, or in support roles. Once a Cub has completed the Arrow of Light or graduated from grade 5, they may enter Scouts BSA.
Scouts BSA – This is the program that most folks think of when the topic of Scouting comes up. The program is open to young people ages 11-18. There have literally been millions of members over the past 111 years. Of course, until recently this was a male-only program, but girls are now on an equal footing with boys, holding the same offices, earning the same badges, and participating in the same programs. A troop is broken into patrols and the members of the patrol elect their patrol leader. A Senior Patrol Leader runs the troop meetings and other youth members hold other offices. There are over 135 merit badges that members can earn along with numerous other recognitions. The Eagle Scout trail starts at Scout, followed by Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life and Eagle, with additional recognitions available for merit badges earned over the required 21.
As the pandemic winds down, get your kids into a program that gets them into the outdoors and away from the electronic environment that tends to stifle personal and social growth. Help them gain a new perspective and appreciation of the outdoors, of giving back and doing service to others, of gaining useful life skills, confidence and leadership. Most packs and troops have fundraisers to defray some of the costs. The local council can assist low income families. Scouting can be the best investment you ever make for your child.
Outdoor activities and camping opportunities are available at most program levels. The STEM NOVA (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics with Nature and Space) brings Scouting up to date, along with the traditional emphasis on camping, pioneering, first aid, preparedness and fitness.
Other program opportunities include Venturing and Sea Scouting. These programs generally serve older youth and information is available online. The Longhouse Council serves the CNY area, and maintains Camp Woodland in Constantia and Camp Sabattis in the Adirondacks. You may enjoy a visit to the Scout Museum at Woodland, open most Saturdays from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. The staff there would be happy to answer any of your questions.
Things are a little disjointed at the moment due to the pandemic, but don’t let that deter you from checking Scouting out. It is worth your time.
For more information, visit Beascout.org or call the Longhouse Council at (315) 463-0201.