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How do you know if a campfire skit or song is “Scout-appropriate”?

Just when you thought the Friday night campfire was going smoothly, the Eagle patrol had to do that skit.

You know, the one with salty language, an inappropriate ethnic joke, or sexual innuendo?

Now you, the Scoutmaster, will spend all week fielding angry calls and e-mails from moms and dads in the troop.

If only this could’ve been avoided…

Before your next Scout campfire, let’s work together to answer two questions: (1) How do you screen a skit or song to make sure it’s appropriate? (2) What criteria do you use to determine whether it’s “in good taste”? 

Screening Skits and Songs

Successful, Scout-appropriate campfires start with a great leader. Because troops are boy-run, you’ll want a Scout or three to be in charge of the campfire’s plan. Give the Scouts this BSA-produced Campfire Program Planner worksheet (PDF) to guide their efforts.

Have the campfire leaders request from each patrol leader a skit and/or song. With smaller troops, each patrol will probably need to do both a skit and a song. Be sure the boy leaders don’t let patrols put down something like “TBD skit” — you’ll want the exact name.

Notice the line for “Camp Director’s Approval” on the worksheet. Once the plan is complete, the Scouts should approach you or another designated Scouter for approval.

Now it’s on you, and this is why having names for each skit or song is so important. If it’s one you recognize, fine. If not, take the time to find out more information about the lyrics for the song or plot for the skit. When in doubt, ask the patrol whether they think the skit or song upholds Scouting’s values. Chances are they’ll realize it’s not in good taste and come up with something else. A few minutes of investigation now could save you hours of awkward phone calls later.

OK, but there’s a difference between good, clean fun and skits that cross the line. Where is that gray area, and how is it determined? That brings us to…

Is This Skit or Song in “Good Taste”?

Each Scout unit is different, which is probably why the BSA keeps its recommendation on “good taste” for campfires pretty vague.

The BSA says, “Be sure that every feature of this campfire program upholds Scouting’s highest traditions.”

In other words, how you apply the Scout Oath and Scout Law here is left open for interpretation.

Of course, all skits or songs that use coarse language, disparage a certain demographic group, or involve inappropriate costumes should be banned outright.

That said, don’t overdo it with your red pen. Some of my best laughs at Scout campfires have been from skits that include good-natured ribbing of the Scoutmaster. If the laughs are at your expense, so be it!

Coming up with the perfect litmus test isn’t easy, but here’s one idea: Before the campfire planning, ask all Scouts to pretend the skit/song is being video recorded. Would they be OK with their parents (or grandparents) seeing it?

And in the YouTube generation, that’s not such a stretch at all.

What Do You Think?

What’s your approach to the concern of Scout-appropriateness at campfires? Is it a real problem, or is it overblown? Share your thoughts below.

Campfire Ideas

Find lots of great skits and songs here and here. Note: As some commenters have pointed out, a lot of the skits and songs at these links are not Scout-appropriate, so please proceed with caution.


Main photo by WVUMC West Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church

26 thoughts on “How do you know if a campfire skit or song is “Scout-appropriate”?

  1. I went to the link for skits. There are skits there that don’t pass the policies and guidelines that we have our council and district.

    • Good to know. You don’t have to call out specific skits necessarily, but can you share what parts of your council and district policies are being violated?

      I think that would be informative to all of us. Thanks!

      -Bryan

  2. Hey Bryan!!

    A few years back our Regional Director for Program up in the Northeast Region sent a note to local Council camp directors and Scout Executives about appropriateness of songs, skits and “run-ons”. Funny your topic is about camp skit appropriateness — we’ve been talking about it over on LinkedIn’s BSA Adult Volunteers forum for about a month now.

    If you like, I can cut and paste Doug Fullmann’s note over here…it gives some clear guidance — clearer than the Campfire worksheet does — as to descriptions of skits, songs and “run-ons” should NOT be allowed.

    My dad was in the Army, so a LOT of the skits and songs we sang as a kid didn’t bother him — nor his parental peers — very little. But that was a long time back…and this is now. I gave examples of three such skits or run-ons over on LinkedIn — entertaining as they were back then (and still is today), neither are appropriate for today’s Scouting enviornment.

    Settummanque!

      • As promised here’s the information from NER on songs and skits.

        Here’s the Northeast Region’s policy, as sent to local Councils and Regional staff members in 1997…

        —————————————

        Scouting’s program is designed to develop boys in character, citizenship, and fitness including mental, moral, spiritual, and physical fitness. Activities, meetings, camp programs, and campfires all contribute to Scouting’s aims. Therefore, some items that may be acceptable in other segments of society are not part of the Scouting program.

        One of the important elements of Scouting is FUN. In our attempt to use humor and fun activities, we must continually remind ourselves that these amusing and entertaining programs are excellent opportunities to teach the values of Scouting, and must not detract from, nor contradict the philosophy expressed in the Scout Oath and Law.

        Although many leaders are able to determine the appropriateness of most program choices, there are certainly numerous songs, stories, skits, and stunts that force the leader to make decisions. To add to the complexity of the decision is that in many cases it is not so much what is done, but how it is done that makes the difference. The areas that fall between the inappropriate and the absolutely acceptable, we call the gray area.

        Just because a skit, song, or story falls in one of the gray area categories does not, in itself, establish that it may not be done. At the same time, if an item is in the gray area, then a leader must exercise his judgment concerning not only the subject matter, but also the performers and their sensitivity to the values and ideals of Scouting. The final decision must be the impact the item has on developing character, fitness, and citizenship or setting the wrong example of what Scouting is all about.

        The following “Gray Areas” should alert leaders to exercise their best judgment:

        1. Underwear
        Concerns: Nudity, natural modesty of Scouts, mental fitness, and cleanliness.
        Judgment Note: The J. C. Penney Skit can be done in Swimsuits as an example.

        2. Water
        Concerns: Victims (self-worth and self-esteem)
        Persons may be hurt physically and emotionally. Equipment/clothing damaged.
        Bodily Functions – Skits, etc., portraying urination, sexual acts, or defecation do not contribute to developing Scouting’s Ideals and Values.

        3. Toilet Paper
        Concerns: Bodily Functions (see above) and Toilet Humor.
        Judgment Note: “The Viper is Coming” can have a person with Paper Towels and Windex to clean someone else’s eyeglasses.

        4. Inside Jokes
        Concerns: Only the participants or those in the “KNOW” can appreciate the humor, etc. Don’t bore, or even worse, ignore the rest of us in the audience.
        Judgment Note: Staff Banquets, and Last Wills and Testaments, are great uses of inside jokes and most, if not all, of the participants are “in.”

        5. Alcohol/Drunkenness
        Concerns: BSA’s Unacceptables – Alcohol is the most abused drug especially within the age group Scouting is trying to serve.
        Drunkenness – Making fun of people. Courtesy. Self-esteem and self-worth.

        6. Cross Gender Impersonation
        Concerns: Bodily Functions and excessive, inappropriate exaggeration of body parts.
        Embarrassments.
        May become a form of sexual harassment.

        Judgment Note: Can be great fun. Area that most probably fits into the “not what is done, but how it’s done” category.

        This guide has been prepared with the sincere desire for wholesome fun, recreation, and enjoyment for all at Scouting activities, especially campfires. Hopefully, you the leader, A find these guidelines helpful as you thoughtfully approve these activities, guide boys in making the right decisions, and personally set the example for Scouting at its best.

        – Douglas C. Fullman, Director of Program, Northeast Region BSA

  3. Between Scouts being too smug to want to do a skit to begin with, and adults being too uptight to approve any skit, I’d rather BE the campfire than deal with trying to set one up.
    “JC Penney” is a skit I sat through at summer camp every year for 5 years, but when I mentioned it to a group of stumped scouts, I got an addled youth protection lecture spiced with “that was a long time ago.” There were moms there–imagine if they’d seen someone in a bathing suit; the horror!
    Friends, the year 2000 was not that long ago.

    We do not develop character or morality by encasing young men in bubblewrap, blindfolding them, and delivering them to the age 18 having never experienced any situation that requires them to think, decide, critique, create, etc. We create mental cases unable to make decisions, solve problems, or make their own determinations–value judgements about this very issue included.

    This is not a call to a free-for-all system. Bryan’s system is the right system; leadership and approval process to make sure actually inappropriate things don’t make it through. What campfires don’t need are fretting nannies.

    Now, has anyone seen my pants?

  4. Mike;
    Thanks for the post. I had five of my Venturers on camp staff this year and was surprised to be told that a song/skit that had any reference to death was now banned. While I’d admit that songs encouraging killing animals or people would and should be banned, this was in reference to “The Unicorn” which is a song with hand gestures about Noah’s Ark.

    In this logic, songs like “Titanic,” “Sergeant Flynn,” “Oh! Susanna,” and even “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” which have basis in history would have to be banned locally because of this ruling. It seems to me that having a published resource or maybe an updated songbook or three from National would help maintain consistency and ensure we have many great songs to sing.

  5. First of all, is the troop adult leadership following BSA guidelines as an example? If not, fix the problem first before going to correct the boys.

    The boys – ask the boys to do the skit infront of you as a practice run. They you can pre-view what the skit is and evaluate its appropriateness. Then explain that there are certain BSA guidelines to follow. We had a patrol leader do this for the unit leaders. When it came to the campfire program, he did something else and it was inappropriate. A few weeks later he had a BOR and it was brought up. He did not advance because of it. “Trustworthy, Clean, Reverent, Helpfull, Courteous, Kind, and Obediant” boundries were crossed. The parents agreed with the troop.

    Common sense needs to be applied. I am not a PC person and I refuse to walk on eggs shells for people. Some people need to suck it up and grow a thicker skin. Alternatively, it is not good to be offensive to people.

  6. How about adding choking hazards? I stopped the “Chubby Bunnies” skit this past summer because it was a choking hazard and was completely inappropriate for a Scout Summer Camp. I would hate to see a local Council as well as the National Organization get sued because someone choked to death.

  7. why do you keep referring to ‘boy leader’…you see my troop is in ireland and of mixed gender..do the eagle scouts have all male troops?

    • Hi Cat!!

      In the Boy Scouts of America, we don’t have mixed units. All of our Boy Scout and Cub Scout units are led by youth males. Our Venturing units are mixed but most Venturing units don’t participate in campfire programs to the extent that our Cub and Boy Scouting units do. This is why you will see references to “boy leader” — and we really should start training ourselves to say “youth leader” because our Venturing program is getting into their prime and yes, we will start seeing Venturers and their adult mentors attending campfire programs (or putting on their own).

  8. This is an interesting question. I am one of the editors of http://www.scoutorama.com, which you listed in your blog post above. We have over 600 scout skits on the website that have been submitted by scouters and youth leaders from all over the world.

    Over the years, I have heard occasionally from different people who find a particular skit or another to be offensive. In some cases I find myself in agreement, and in others I do not find a skit offensive, but recognize that it may be to another person.

    A few years ago we added a feature to the scoutorama.com website that flags some skits as “May be mildly offensive to some audiences.” When a user reports a particular skit as offensive, we review it and update this flag as needed.

    Also interesting is that different cultures may find some subjects or elements to be offensive, where other cultures do not.

    You can see the skits and flags on http://www.scoutorama.com/skit/

    I appreciate the blog and comments above.

  9. For Cub Scouts, the Cub Scout Leader Handbook of 2010 page 18 has the following which I point leaders to when it comes to skit-choosing time:

    Guidelines for a Positive Place
    Fun is an important element of Scouting, but we must remember that everything we with our Scouts should be positive and meaningful. Activities should build self-esteem be age-appropriate, and not offend participants or the audience. Adult leaders have the responsibility to model the values of the BSA and set a high standard for appropriateness in all Scouting activities.

    Name-calling, put-downs, or hazing
    References to undergarments, nudity, or bodily functions
    Cross-gender impersonation that is in any way derogatory, rude, insulting, or lewd (This is not to suggest that boys cannot dress for and play female roles when needed in a skit or play, as long as good taste prevails.)
    Derogatory references to or stereotyping of ethnic or cultural backgrounds, economic situations, or disabilities
    Sensitive social issues such as alcohol, drugs, gangs, guns, suicide, etc.
    Wasteful, ill-mannered, or improper use of food or water
    “Inside jokes” that exclude some of those present
    Cultural exclusion—emphasis on the culture or faith of part of the group while ignoring that of the rest of the group
    Changing lyrics to patriotic songs or to hymns and other spiritual songs

    • Then following these rule: it is ok to change the words of “The Star Spangled Banner”, since it is really “To Anacreon in Heaven” , a British Club song, with the words changed. Or “Battle Hymn of the Republic” as it is “John Brown’s Body” with words changed? Or “Yankee Doodle” which is original tune of “Lucy Locket”

      On the other hand that means the Order of the Arrow will have to find a new song since the current one is the Tsarist Russian National Anthem ( think the “Russian Hymn” section of the Overture of 1812 for the tune).

      “America” get really confusing! Can we sing it as a US patriotic song or is it banned as a lyric change from “God Save the Queen”, a British patriotic song

      How ridiculous do we carry this to?

  10. If these rules are BSA rules of skits why aren’t they on the On-line quick training for starting scout leaders or when a scouter goes on the web site they could search and find the info instead of being so vague about it.

    • Hi John!!

      The simple reason why there’s not a “master list” of songs, skits and run-ons which are “not allowed” is because there’s so many of them, that all you have to do is change the name and it’s no longer on the “list”. This is why Bryan’s advice to use some “common Scouter sense” when screening and performing those campfire programs is sound advice; and why we are even discussing this topic here!

      Someone wrote me a while back when I posted the Northeast Region’s campfire “guidance” and said “if this is a rule, then they should have published it whereby everyone can see and understand it!” I agreed to a point, but then told the person that this is why we have local Councils, and Districts and Commissioners — they are all resources to help YOU and YOUR UNIT conduct safe, heathly and yes, entertaining Scouting programs. When it’s no longer fun, you can count that people will leave and bad-mouth it on their exit out the door.

      Is there a way that such information can be shared, especially amoung the new Scouters with us? Sure. The best way is to get them to attend in person training sessions, whereby topics like this can be discussed and the local “operative solutions” can be understood and adheared to.

      I love the song “Pink Pajamas”. It was my Troop’s song for well over ten years. But it had to be retired when some folk really took issue with the name, the content of the song, and the refrain (which just about every second grader knew by the end of the school year…and substituted their “favorite” type of handgun or other weapon for “…a loaded…” whatever). It’s just not appropriate in today’s enviorns, simple as that.

  11. How do you know if a campfire skit or song is “Scout-appropriate”? The only answer I have is TRUST!!!!

    I have only two rules as Scoutmaster…Live by the Scout Oath and Obey the Scout Law. My Scouts know and understand that. The SPL has a Spiritmaster/APLS who puts together the Campfire Program and gets skits and songs from all the Patrols. I TRUST my SPL and his Spiritmaster/ASPL to make sure the campfire is appropriate and fun for all! I trust them to make that call, it’s their job as the leaders of the Troop.

    Train them to lead and then let them GO, you will be surprised at what they will accomplish!

  12. I looked at the Scout Skits link posted above and was dismayed at how many skits that I would consider inappropriate were not marked as “mildly offensive”. For example: Dog Incident Skit, Diaper Skit, Chief Walla Walla, Foreign Exchange Student, How Indians Tell Time (really?….we just call it How Scouts Tell Tiime), Is He Dead?, Magic Toilet, Raisins from Jamaica. Most of these either hint at potty humor, eating feces, or stereotyping ethnic groups. On the other hand I LOVE: Suitcase, Weird Tracks, and Got Any Staples, Gravity Check, and Lost Quarter

    • You’re absolutely right, Ann. I added a little disclaimer. Trouble is, few of the skit and song books/websites I’ve found are 100 percent clean. So proceed with caution.

  13. As someone who has run many programs and many campfires over the years, I have found that the best way to make sure everything goes smooth is to have the skit performed prior to the campfire. I always go around to the different patrols and make them show me their skit. One so there are no duplicates and two to make sure they are appropriate.

  14. Finally, try leading songs at campfires. A good campfire has an equal number of songs and skits so they alternate. 50 years ago that was the norm for BSA campfire planning. By adding songs, you reduce the number of skits needed, and can thus be more selective about the ones used.

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