Are the Boy Scouts Still Relevant and Worthwhile Today?

Scouting has had a hard time in recent years. Should youth still participate?

Posted Nov 01, 2019

used with permission from the author
zach Plante, Eagle Scout, Troop 222, Menlo Park, CA
Source: used with permission from the author

Just about a decade ago, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) celebrated their 100th anniversary and I offered my positive reflections about scouting in a Psychology Today post at that time.

In a nutshell, although I was never involved with scouts myself as a youth, my son was very involved with scouting and became an Eagle Scout during the 100th BSA celebratory anniversary year.

 I concluded, at the time, that the outstanding training in ethics, service to the community, and life skills made scouting an important and positive activity for today's youth.

During the past decade, much has happened in scouting. They now accept girls as well as boys, they allow gay participants and leaders, sexual abuse scandals in scouting have made headline news, and some large groups (e.g., Mormons) have pulled out of scouting involvement altogether. Parents may wonder if scouting is still relevant and a worthwhile activity for youth. For me, 10 years after my previous post, the simple answer is: Yes indeed!

Scouting might appear to be an old-fashioned and perhaps retro activity but I contend that it is  more important and worthwhile than ever before. Unfortunately, young people have too few opportunities to learn about ethics, values, service to others and their communities, and the opportunity to learn many basic life skills (including outdoor and survival skills) that are highlighted in scouting. This is especially captured in their highly structured and organized merit badge program and path to the Eagle Scout rank. 

Additionally, it is one of the very few youth activities that don't demand very much money from parents and that don't involve computer/smartphone screens or competition with winners and loser determined. Everyone wins in scouting. Also, the strong emphasis on outdoor activities and skills including hiking, camping, and survival training are rarely taught elsewhere.

Certainly, scouting has had a tumultuous time with sexual abuse scandals as well as other important challenges. These issues have been addressed with policies and procedures that are evidence based best practices in child protection, thoughtful volunteer screening, and so forth. While vigilance is always needed in youth protection, scouting has made efforts and have been leaders in developing strategies to ensure youth safety and protection throughout their organization. 

used with permission form the author
Zach on a glacier in Canada
Source: used with permission form the author

My son, now 23-years-old, is well aware and appreciative of the influence of scouting in his life. His love of the outdoors and his efforts to have a career in earth sciences is directly related to his scouting experience. 

His senior honors thesis in earth sciences at Dartmouth College was about high Sierra glacial recession and after two years working in an earth science professor's laboratory at Stanford University as well doing field research for the U.S. Geological Survey he is currently applying to doctoral programs that focus on geomorphology (or earth movement such as landslide, erosion, glacier recession, and earthquake) all stimulated and nurtured by his scouting experiences. He is always the first to volunteer to help others and is confident in leadership roles and in outdoor, as well as first aid, skills. He even performed a life-saving Heimlich maneuver on a classmate while he was in high school who was choking and just recently applied emergency first aid to another friend who suffered from a terrible bicycle accident.  

used with permission from the author
Zach on top of Mount Whitney, the highest point in the continetal United States, for the second time with the scouts.
Source: used with permission from the author

I've had a ritual with my son for a number of years now. It started when he went off to college, 3,000 miles away from home. Whenever he was going to parties or out with friends or on a date, I would simply text him an eagle emoji to remind him that he is an Eagle Scout and that he should always behave like one. He’d always reply with the response, “Always!” The character education and life skills taught in scouting are invaluable and perhaps needed now more than ever in our very challenged society.

As long as the leadership of scouting is well screened and is of high quality with good mentors and scouting policies are followed for child protection and so forth, youth should be encouraged to participate in scouting if they are inclined to do so.  There are too few opportunities for youth to develop the unique skills that scouting offers and so interested families should take advantage of this true gem for young people.

So, what do you think?

Copyright 2019, Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., ABPP