Give your advice to a parent whose son wants to drop out of Scouting

If your son told you tomorrow that he’s thinking of leaving Scouting, what would you say?

For “Dave,” a concerned parent from an East Coast troop, that’s no hypothetical question.

The parent, whose name I changed to conceal his identity, writes:

My son is 15 and has been in Scouting since he was a Tiger Cub Scout, and over the past year, has been increasingly vocal about wanting to quit. He’s not “passionate” about the majority of Scouting activities and is finding our large troop with many younger scouts (some with emotional issues) “a waste of time.”

I am an active committee member and have been strongly encouraging him to stick with it, but it’s getting to the point where I don’t know what to say or do to keep him in.

We’ve explained the benefits of attaining Eagle Scout and that if he drops out, we won’t continue spending money on his non-Scouting interests (sports camps, going to watch pro games, music concerts, etc). I don’t like this approach but feel strongly about him getting to Eagle.

I think we have a very good Scoutmaster and assistant Scoutmasters and a diverse variety of activities.

He’s a tremendous boy who does well in school, plays sports and music, and has many friends. Any advice to help me keep him in Scouting?

Based on Dave’s e-mail, it looks like there’s still time to keep his son in the program. But how?

What would you do?

How would you respond if your son said he’d like to quit? What should Dave tell his son to convince him to stay? Have you successfully “saved” a Scout who considered dropping out? Offer your advice by leaving a comment below.

Dave will be reading your comments — as will others in a similar predicament.

117 thoughts on “Give your advice to a parent whose son wants to drop out of Scouting

  1. Two words: Venturing crew. Negative incentives (withholding things) are a surefire way to make getting Eagle a negative experience.

  2. Does he have a youth position of leadership in the troop? If the troop is “a waste of time” to him, he holds the key to solving the problem himself. Even if he doesn’t, he can still talk to his SPL about his concerns and suggest ideas that would make the troop more interesting to him.

  3. I feel the biggest issue your son is probably facing is loneliness and frustration. He is a teenager and he wants to forge his one identity and be with his peers. What 15 year old wants to be with a bunch of little kids? May be instead of “fighting him” try and find some parents of teenage boys that are having the same problems. May be you could get a group together of older scouts and find what they may like. One of the best things about scouting is how diverse the activities can be. I think if he could find some boys his own age that he clicks with it might just keep him in scouts. Remember, give them flexible options. They are young adults and are really seeking freedom.

  4. First thing I would do is try to pin down the exact things he doesn’t like. Second, I would not curtail other activities just because he doesn’t like Scouting. He may have found other interests that he doesn’t have time to do because of his Scouting time. Also, he may need to move up into a Venturing Crew. It just might be he doesn’t want to be around the “little kids”.

  5. I went through a similar phase when I was a scout (now 22) and because of it I was unable to obtain the rank of Eagle. I really regret that I did not reach the rank. You said you son is in sports, maybe you can relate it to sports. Tell him that the troop is like a team and that he is one of the strongest players and it would hurt the team if he quit. Everyone has their role in the team just like they do in the troop.

  6. I have given this problem a lot of thought over the 15 years I have been a Scouter. Recently it came to me that with so many Scouts in business who know what it takes to be a Scout and stay with the program I would not want to tell a job interviewer “I quit”. At 15 a boy has no idea of the benefits of Scouting after 21. There is not a box to mark on a job application for baseball, band, in a band, soccer ect. There is for scouts and other youth organizations who do community service a personal development and leadership training. If you mark the Scout box on an application and then tell the interviewer ‘I quit, what does it tell the interviewer about your ability to follow through?

    If there is another troop or crew in the area he may want to investigate that route.

    When my son interviewed for his job he was one of 3 Eagle Scouts who applied. It was noted positively in his interview. An old Eagle Scout business man once told me that “Being and Eagle may not get you a job, bit it won’t loose you a job.”

  7. Son, Dont give up on Scouting. It gives you good strong values and goals. You may not see the light at the end now. But as adult Scouting on everything you fill out will have a meaning. The things you are doing and learning today a skills you will have for the rest of your life and to teach your kids. So please do not give up on scouting. Think about the things you get to do that others are not.

  8. Sometimes we want what is best for our kids than they do. While that is good in some areas it doesn’t always produce the results we desire. Right now he can’t see it and if you continue to press you might get what you want, an Eagle Scout, but will he have learned and grown with it? Maybe what he needs is a father son only camping trip, a way to recollect with you on a personal level and just let Scouts be for awhile. Also, while the troop might be an excellent one, it might be too big for him? Where he finds it hard to make a personal connection. This is not about you, Scouts or the troop, this is about your son making a matare decision on what he wants to do, and his he wants to do it.

  9. I would begin by engaging him on what his key gripes are. Then ask him what he would like to see changed in the program. For some reason the program is not holding his interest. Your challenge is to find ways it can regain his interest. That sounds easier than it is. SOMETHING is pulling his interest away. Maybe some flexibility can help him do both?

    When I was a youth in scouts, some 20 years ago, my interest was pulled away by the allure of winning a place on the varsity football team, and the inability to do both practice, AND scout meetings with overlapping schedules. Perhaps there is an interest he is passionate about that is not even part of the scouting program that could be. Or, maybe he is not feeling like his concerns are being addressed? In my case, I think my whole scout troop would have done far better had the meeting schedule been flexible around the school year, and athletic practices. We lost a lot of scouts to athletics, and competitive music programs at the high school, simply because the meeting times were incompatible. We scouts had to chose between scouting, or athletics, or music.

  10. I am glad that I have not been faced with a question like this. I understand your concern and as a parent and Eagle Scout, but I feel that it is imposible to make someone do something that they don’t wish to do anymore. I have always told my son in any situation like this that “we all make choices, some good some bad, but in the end you are the one who has to live with the choice that you make”.
    I can’t help and think that there is an underlying issue if your son is happy doing the activities that the Troop is doing, but doesn’t want to be a part of it. Have you asked someone besides yourself to find the real answer? I find that it is better to do it this way to get the real answer, not the answer that he is giving me.

  11. i would encourage him to run for a position of leadership and start making the changes he would like to see in the troop, if that does not work out, he can take a break from meeting and work on his eagle requirements (merit badges and application) from home for few weeks. i myself went through the same phase, i became busy with my social life and got sick of having to go to a meeting a sit and deal with 11 and 12 year olds running around,

  12. I agree Venturing progam, maybe the Explorer program – also check other troops. Sometimes they just need a change from the troop they’re in.

  13. My son just finished his Eagle project and will wrap up his last merit badge tonight. We just had a delightful discussion of “Are you mad? You’re done.” :-)

    For the father in the article, if the son is already First Class, look at the local Venture crews. He can wrap up merit badges on the side but be with older scouts with interests more closely matching his own.

    Is this a boy-run troop where the scouts are choosing and planning the activities? Has the scout suggested activities he would like to do? Is he involved in Order of the Arrow activities?

    There are many ways to be involved in scouting and work toward Eagle. But the son has to want to work toward Eagle. I wouldn’t threaten to not support him in other activities. We’ve had scouts come back after being away. Not many, but some.

  14. Venturing program in an are of interest. Sea Scouts is great, but there are others. Check your local council (and neighboring councils if you live a reasonable distance) for a program of interest. My youngest earned Eagle, then went on to earn Quartermaster, and is currently Skipper for the Ship. He has been Scouting since he was 5 mos. Quitting is NOT an option.

  15. It may be the size of the troop and the younger Scouts with emotional issues. Either find him a new troop, or perhaps emphasize how much he’s helping the younger kids. Emotional problems are such a challenge, and he may not know how to cope with them.

    My brother switched troops. He says today he would not have gotten his Eagle had he stayed with his original troop.

  16. I sympathize with you in this matter. I feel you should really find out the root cause of why he is no longer interested. Maybe a change of venue is in order? Maybe he needs more older boys that he can relate to better? Are there any Venturing Crews around? As disappointed as you may be, you probably should not force him into staying in Scouts. This for that is probably not a good choice either. As far as him getting to Eagle, that is a road HE must choose and achieve on his own. I agree, he may regret it later if he does not; however, It MUST be his choice! Remember, Scouting is a game with a purpose, make sure he is having FUN. After all that is the first rule of Scouting!

  17. First thing is what rank is he and how close is he to finishing that rank? You need to show him how close he is to being done. Set time lines so he can see it in his head. Get the older boys that are close to him in rank and look to see what they can all work on together to get completed. Once they are a Life Scout get them working on the Eagle Project paperwork. Sometime a troop gets so involved in the new kids that the older kids don’t feel like they are getting anywhere. We have an Assistant Scoutmasters just to get the older boys over that hump.

  18. You cannot force someone to Eagle, that is not scouting. Some of the boys in our troop do not stay once they hit high school. It is a big world out there and he may want to try other things.
    We had a boy leave after webelos and come back when he was older. Does he have any friends in scouting? Are they in another troop? It could be the troop is focusing on more of the younger boys.
    There are lots of worthwhile activities available that will let him focus on his interests and let him gain the skills of scouting.

  19. There are two letters that Mike Rowe has written that directly address this Scout… And both the Scout and his Father should read them together.

    I would also add that many Scouts have these same feelings and a growing desire to just stop “being Scouts”… Which is very scarey for both the Parents as well as the Scout. Because, quitting is easy.

    Not looking for things in the Scouting Program that excite you, that you can become motivated by, have more fun participating in, is easy. Digging in and doing the things you like more deeply, discovering other aspects of the Scouting Experience (Order of the Arrow, for example) where you can make a difference, take more responsibility, and have more fun, is hard.

    But don’t take only my word on it… Read the two following letters from Mike Rowe…

    The First is Here…
    The Second is Here…

  20. Hmm, quite a bit of things to think about here. I know at 15 he isn’t quite ready to make a lot of decisions, especially ones that might carry into his adulthood. But, also at 15 there are things occupying our minds that turn our attentions elsewhere. Kids at school might be making him feel uncomfortable about his Scouting, a girl maybe?, peer pressure?, all these need to be taken under consideration and discussed with him.

    1st what are his actual reasons for wanting to quit Scouts? Is he really good at sports and finds himself more interested in that path. If one of the main reasons is the makeup of the troop, then why not explore other troops in your area. You don’t have to stay at that one. When I first began Scouts we went to our local troop and that wasn’t working for me. We ended up going to a troop in a different town and that was a great move and kept me interested in Scouting. Try that, you can be an active committee person in another troop if that will help your son.

    2nd who is more interested in Scouts you or your son. Let him sit out for a bit and see what fun you keep having by staying involved. Just because he would want to leave doesn’t mean you have to. He might need a break having been in it for so long, and that is understandable. Are you pushing him too much and he doesn’t enjoy it? I rebelled against my parents when I felt they were pushing it more than I wanted to at the time. I had almost completed my Eagle when we moved in the middle of my junior year in HS and rebelled by not wanting to complete my Eagle. I regret that decision now, but I also haven’t found that my life has suffered. Eagle is important, but it should be important to him more than anyone or anything else.

    3rd I wouldn’t punish him if he is not wanting to continue in Scouts. But, if sports is his thing why not check into Venturing Scouts? They are athletic minded and high adventure, might be something to keep his interest. But, if he truly wants to quit then you can’t force him to stay and punishing him might affect the other parts of his life as well.
    But, try a break for a bit and let him take a breather maybe and see what happens.

  21. If its possible read this to the kid.
    Dear (Dave)’s Son,
    ” I’m sure you’re thinking of quitting scouting because you see no point in it, you may think camping, backwoodsman activities, teamwork are just a waste of time.
    But hold on a second, have you ever, as a 15 ear old, looked back at some point of your younger life and thought “Oh what I would give to go back and do that again” or “I miss those days like hell”? Well I’m certain you have.
    So let me make it brief, this is exactly how, after a couple of years, you will feel about scouting. You will be wondering what on earth could have possibly given me the experience and enthusiasm which scouting gave me. And the answer would be none other than scouting alone. Its not just about building your tent and cooking your food. Its all about making yourself more flexible and energetic than you normally are. Its all about attitude brother. End of the day you may forget the law, the promise, the knots, the instruments but mark my words, you will never, ever, ever forget all those golden memories which your scouting life gave you. I myself wish, with all my heart, that I’d be your age, and experience all the invaluable memories of scouting have all over again. OH! God if it were only possible……….! To close my eyes and feel the breez at the ighest point of the only rain forest in my country (my first outdoor camp back when I was 14), to re sing all those amazingly twisted songs we sang together as little kids, to build the gadgets we so reluctantly did every year at our annual district camp, to be at n international jamboree, to be a patrol leader, to boss around younger scouts, to bathe from the river in the middle of a forest at the outdoor camps, to stay awake with your friends until past mid night at those camps, the fun-filled campfires and so on……….. Neither any person, nor anything could ever replace or give the memories scouting can give you!!!”

  22. IMO, it depends why he wants to leave – I agree with previous comments that most boys his age do not want to be the Troop babysitter so another Troop or a Venturing crew (with or without staying in a Troop) can keep him connected to the value of Scouting. Or there could be other problems within the Troop the adults are ignoring or unaware of. When the Troop committee refused to address some serious problems, my three boys left a Troop rife with bullying and favoritism and went to a new one – problem solved.

    However, while an Eagle Rank is VERY important (VERY proud of my Eagle!), I think it is worse for the boys who wear the rank when their parents FORCED them (yes, I did my share of pushing, but he made every phone call – it was more painful on me to WATCH! LOL) or even did a good portion FOR them to make sure they could put it on a resume. I think it is better for him to go without the Eagle and count it up to a hard lesson learned than to be ashamed later knowing he didn’t earn it. I can spot a man who is an Eagle Scout at a distance, and you don’t want your son to be the one people see and say, “REALLY? He’s an Eagle Scout?!” because he didn’t learn the lessons WITH the ranks. And realistically, if it isn’t his goal, it won’t mean much.

    That having been said, I had a friend whose child wanted to quit Scouts and her response was, “Sure! When you find another activity that offers the values and character-building that Scouts does!” That got the kiddo through that stage and he ended up LOVING it and being one of the best Scouts I know!

  23. As a Commissioner I see this a lot, especially around this age. This young man isn’t saying ‘I don’t want to be in Scouts’. He is saying ‘this unit isn’t right for me’.

    Are you willing to work with him to look at other Troops in your area that might have a more appealing program for him, or even Crews? If he has earned First Class rank and joins a Crew he can still earn Eagle (see pg 26 of Guide to Advancement 2011, sec for details.) Changing units does mean his current Troop would miss him. (But, in a Crew, many of the awards you earn require sharing the skills. If he is enjoying himself, he might be willing to go share skills with his ‘old Troop’.) As an adult, your involvement with the current Troop might change. But in the end this is about him staying in Scouting and it being a positive experience for him, as well as your family. If you “force” him to stay in the current troop where he isn’t enjoying Scouting – he is far less likely to care about Eagle. If you support him in finding a way for Scouting to be fun again, even if it means going into a different Troop, or being involved through Venturing, you are much more likely to have an Eagle on your hands in the future.

    Just my two cents. Wishing you all the best outcome!

  24. In my years of Scouting (mine and my two sons) I have seen this scenario all too often. There’s just no way to address all the issues raised by this topic in this short space, but my simple and blunt advice is that parents should be parents and not just be buddies with their children. That doesn’t mean loving your children any less, but they need parenting much more than they need friendship.

    You already know the benefits of Scouting. You probably know from your own experience that staying in the program is no guarantee to earn Eagle, but the experience is worth every minute and cent it cost. You cave into your son’s wish to leave Scouting and who knows what his next whim will be. High School? Sports? College? While you may not be able to guarantee his “success” doesn’t mean that he won’t benefit from the experience.

    My experience with this goes back to when I wanted to quit Scouting because I was having the fits learning the Morse Code for First Class. When I told my Dad that I wanted to quit, he just said no and for me to suck it up. At 63 I only wish my Dad was still around to properly thank him for being my Dad and not just a pal who wanted me to do “my thing”.

    You didn’t mention if your son was in the OA. If yes, then start getting him involved in the best leadership organization I have ever witnessed. Get in there with him and both of you can share another Scouting experience that makes the program second to none.

  25. The decision to stay in Scouting must ultimately be up to the Scout himself. The Scouts are the ultimate volunteers. You can’t force him to stay, nor should you attempt to coerce him by threatening to “pull the funding” from his other interests. (He’ll never forget it if you do.) It sounds like his troop’s program isn’t meeting his needs/interests. If he’s fifteen then he crossed over from Webelos at least four years ago, and presumably by now he’s a Star or Life Scout. If the troop’s membership is mostly younger Scouts and the program is geared more toward them (i.e. Tenderfoot to First Class), it’s no surprise if he’s getting bored after four years of the same old thing. How well does his troop provide leadership opportunities for the older Scouts? Is it truly a boy-run program? Does he have a leadership position and does he actively practice the role of leading the younger Scouts? Are the Scoutmaster and Assistant Scoutmasters guiding him to success in his leadership role? Maybe he needs to hook up with (or even transfer to) a troop that has a more active high-adventure program for older Scouts. Or better yet he can join a Venturing Crew. The BSA’s program works wonders to keep the interests of Scouts of all ages and abilities, but only when it’s executed properly!

  26. In my experience as a Scoutmaster, if he does not want to stay he won’t. Have you involved the Scoutmaster in the conversation? He may have some insight from his experience with other boys and he may be able to sell the parts of the program that your son enjoys. As someone else suggested a Venturing Crew might be the way to go. Sometimes involvement in the OA can reignite interest in Scouting. I hate to loose kids but there have been occasions that they just did nott want to do what we did. I had a young fella who was not coming to things and when I asked him why he said we did too much stuff outdoors. When I asked him what he liked to do he said sing, dance and drama. Well I made him the Songmaster and we sang some more than we used to but in the end he left us to spend his time in a Drama Club where he took center stage. Today he studies Theater Arts in College and has been in so many local Theater productions I have lost track. Yes we lost him but I’m not sure we ever had him to begin with. Scouting may work for most kids but not all.

  27. You might want to have a talk with your son, and ask him what he really wants, and wants out of life. Maybe what he thinks he wants is different than scouting. I find that what your son wants is probably valid but needs direction on how to achieve his goals.

  28. Many boys go through short phases in scouting where their interest wanes or an issue has come up that perhaps they haven’t dealt with well, and they choose to make noises about quitting. Try to get to the heart of the issue.

    I would also add that maybe this troop no longer fits his scout. Joining a scout troop is not a blood bond as much as we might like it to be one. Sometimes a scout joins a troop because a group of his friends do, or because his den did, or because the parent chose it, or becuase a “cool” group of boys was already there.
    But as time passes, those friends leave, or the boy changes, or perhaps the troop is not meeting his needs. rather than lose the boy to scouting…perhaps he should look around at other troops. Ask, are you staying at a troop for his needs or yours?

    In my own case, we were driving some distance to go to a troop my oldest chose and where I was also an ASM and enjoying the role… At 11 he had made friends with the 14-15 year olds. Now 3+ years later, they’ve aged out and are heading off to college soon and stopped showing at meetings and outings a year ago. He also was getting the push to ‘slow down’ and that “its not his turn to run for SPL or be an ASPL, the older boys ‘need it’” which was very frustrating to him. Which led to his desire to change troops when an opportunity to begin a new troop came up, he jumped on it. And so we did. Turns out that others were likewise frustrated, and several came with us as well as a crop of first years.

  29. My experience has been that Scouts become re-energized when they expand their Scouting universe. By this I mean experiences that show him Scouting beyond the unit level. When they meet and interact with other Scouts and begin to see how far the Scouting universe extends, they get the excitement back. Early on it’s things like Summer Camp and camporees, but I suspect you’re past that. Local participation and involvement with things like OA, NYLT, Camp Staff and such are the next step. Regional and National events like Section Conclaves, NLS, High Adventure trips, NOAC or Jamborees take it to another level. If his frustration is centered around the younger Scouts, these things address that as well. And don’t forget to look up a Venturing Crew in your area!

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