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Tuesday Talkback: When parents see Cub Scouts as low-cost babysitting

Tuesday-Talkback“The pack meeting lasts 90 minutes, so that’s plenty of time to do some Christmas shopping, grab a bite and pick up my prescription for crazy pills.”

It’s crazy but true: A few parents out there see Cub Scouting (and Boy Scouting) as a low-cost babysitting option for their son. They’ll drop their son off for meetings or outings and go catch a movie or swing by Home Depot while their child experiences Scouting without them.

While it’s true that Scouting is a more enriching, engaging and affordable alternative to leaving a child at home to watch movies with the next-door neighbor, remember that BSA doesn’t stand for Baby Sitters of America.

Families get the most out of Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting when everyone is involved. But what’s a Cub Scouter to do when parents peels out of the parking lot before you can ask them to help out at the next blue and gold?

That’s today’s Tuesday Talkback question: How do you get parents more involved in Cub Scouting? How do you remind them that you and other dedicated Scouters aren’t babysitters? Is this a problem in your pack? Share your thoughts and experiences below.

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40 thoughts on “Tuesday Talkback: When parents see Cub Scouts as low-cost babysitting

  1. As we all have, I have seen this happen. Most of the time it appears to me that those boys are the ones that need scouting the most, and if you can keep them happy, active and interested, Scouting can change their life for the better. So while its always better to have the parents involved, please don’t exclude boys who have drop off parents.

    • We have to remember that it is for the boys that we are giving our 1 hour a week! Bravo for pointing it out that we are here for the boys!

  2. My husband is a den leader, and I volunteered to be a den leader for summer day camp last year. My son was the only cub scout (wolf) from our pack. and my older scout son was the den chief. I had another leader from another pack and we had 10 boys all together. I totally felt like a very low cost baby sitter. Basically, my son and I each volunteered 35 hours of our time for free (and we still had to pay for my cub to go to camp like everyone else.) A couple of the parents were very appreciative, However, from several of the others I really got the vibe they were just glad to get rid of their child from 9-4 every day. A couple of the kids did not behave very well at all and it was frustrating. I really hope my cub scout son does not want to go this year, because I really do not want to volunteer again. I know that sounds like a bad attitude, but I don’t like being treated like a nearly free babysitter for very ill-behaved children. In our own den, I do not feel like that at all. At least the parents are there and put a stop to any bad behavior.

  3. Fortunately we only experienced this with a limited few parents. I think one of the secrets to our success was we always engaged the parents at every meeting. We had a separate area specified for parents to gather and as Cubmaster I made it a point to go and speak with them weekly. I used this time to build a relationship and talk about upcoming events and draft the help the Pack would need. It also never hurt that at round-up I always made it a very big point that scouting is a family affair. I told them that the Pack would work with their sons on activities based on the monthly character value but rank advancement was accomplished 90% at home, with the family.

  4. On the Boy Scout level, it’s not an issue. There seems to be a mutual understanding that the Scout and parent need that time apart. :)

    As for Cubs, one way that we combat it is by having the parent there to present the awards. If they drop and dash, well, they get to answer to their Scout why mom or dad wasn’t there to give him his awards.

    On the same note, parents that can’t give us the courtesy to stick around for the meeting and maybe learn about upcoming events, will get not-timely responses in emails, and will be directed to view the unit website for any information.

    • And on the note of poor behavior, we have a one strike rule with our pack…if you’re not going to be around and your child misbehaves, he’s not allowed at anything else without a parent.

    • Wow, I have to say that this is probably the wrong attitude on many levels.”….a mutual understanding that the (boy)scout and parent need that time apart”? Are you kidding?! Boy Scouts is the time for the parents to REALLY stay involved with their son, to be a part of the journey and many adventures along the way! Our Troop makes a real effort to involve both parents (mom & dad) to be a part of our Troop. We even encourage female siblings to be a part of our Troop family (great leads for growing our Venturing Program). There’s a place and a role for everyone from being a part of the Troop Committee to merit badge counselors, Eagle Scout Candidate mentors to fundraising, etc, etc… Definitely a missed opportunity for all!

      • Dawn – Going by the smiley face, I think Shawn’s comment about Boy Scouts and parents needing time apart was a little tongue-in-cheek.

        Meanwhile, I’ve been feeling frustrated that one of my AoL kids and his single-mom seem to think Cub Scouts is just a Kid’s Club; that I pick him up, entertain him for an hour, and he’ll get a badge for it.

        • Dawn: If the boys are with their parents/siblings all the time, that is Family Camping. Boy Scouts is about getting the boys out on their own camping, out in the woods and learning to be on their own in the enviroment. You cannot be there for them all the time. Scouts gives them the skills, tools and character development that they cannot or not able to get while with the whole family. It’s also learning to talk to other adults other than teachers and family members. That is what Shawn is talking about.

          Having family involvement at the Troop Committee (and yes SM/ASM) level is good. It’s behind the scenes work that helps the Troop go.

      • I’d make a distinction between weekly troop meetings and other scouting activities. As a Scoutmaster I truly appreciate the adults who volunteer to help with activities and outings, but I also like to let the boys run their own troop meetings without too much “help” from the parents (myself included).

      • Hi Dawn,
        I am a scoutmaster, and the hardest thing for a troop to do is make the patrol the central group for the boys to participate in. This is the Patrol Method. For this to work, the boys have to be left alone to do the things scouts do, and do it as a peer group (patrol) together. At the boy scout age, boys are starting to separate from the parents little by little, and this is a safe place for them to do it. I have had parents who broke in to the group to fix this or that, do the cooking, do the son’s chores, and would not leave the scouts to their own adventure. I think this is a carry over from the cub scout days when adults have to lead everything. Parents are welcome to watch, but must do so at a distance for the Patrol Method to work. Otherwise you just have a version of Webelos III. Even parents who join as committee members need to have a hands off approach while the boys are at scout meetings, and especially on camp outs. It is just the nature of the program.

      • No, I am not kidding, for the reasons that my fellow leaders stated below. The original post was about Cub Scouting, and by parents seeing Cub Scouts as a babysitting service.

        To the point that you feel that my comments were off base, whether intentional or not, adults in troop meetings, and yes, even the SM, has a negative effect on the troop meeting, and working the patrol method. I have trained and trust my youth leaders to do what they need to do to have a successful troop meeting, and it’s not for me to gauge how that meeting went. I or any one of the other adults can think that it’s mass chaos or a complete failure. That’s not what matters…

        What matters is not the flag ceremony was awful, it matters that the Scouts did it.

        What matters is not the food was burnt, but the Scouts cooked it.

        What matters is not that the Scout learned a new skill, but that another Scout taught him that skill.

        What I can also glean from my fellow leaders that posted subsequently on this topic, is that too many parents involved, in things that they shouldn’t be, devolves the unit into Webelos III or just another family get together.

      • No, this is not the wrong attitude on any level, Mom. Boy Scouts is _NOT_ a family activity. It is the opposite. You are thinking of Cub Scouts. Boy Scouts is based on the patrol method. The patrol is a gang of boys who are self-led without adult supervision within the troop. The Scoutmaster provides the youth leaders guidance and mentoring, but they do the heavy lifting.

        Parents in the meeting really ruins it. My troop has the parents go to a separate room if they want to hang out with the troop committee. Everyone who goes in there is volunteered for the committee and not allowed in the troop meetings. The boys meeting in the main hall together with only SM and ASM’s in attendance. We only allow two ASM’s.

      • spit my coffee all over the table when I read your response dawn…..talk about having no understanding of the boy scout program.

  5. I so wish this was only a issue at the cub level (no offense intended to any cub leaders here – been there, done that – you have my utmost respect) but we have the same issue at the troop level. Seems parents in my troop want to do the same thing, they think their only responsbility is to drop off and pick up once a week and write a check once a month for a campout.

    I’ve got about 42 active boys and somehow that = only about 12 active adults. After numerous requests in general and targeted to specific adults to help still nothing changes, it probably the worst unit for parental involvemnet I’ve seen in 18 years.

    I’ll be watching this post closely and I’m sure some cub leaders have ideas we can incorporate at troop level.

  6. As a former Cub Master, now Scout Master. On recruitment night, I told the parents on day one. This is not a baby sitting service. I have also had to remind some parents about that during the year, who just wanted to go to the store down the street to get something and not show up until long after the meeting was over. I may have lost a scout or two doing that but had no issues with being alone with a child.

  7. When I was a Den Leader, I laid out the themes from the old “program helps” booklet on the table at signup night. I asked each family to pick a theme the could help with. I let them know I would run the meeting but I needed help with the theme. It worked very well because families picked out different themes and really helped to diversify the program that year and bring more perspective than we den leaders could provide. We had a mom that was a chemist and did the science theme, a dad who played guitar took the music theme, etc. it was all about identifying that comfort zone for each family. I assured all that they were not responsible for “running” the meeting, but rather, bringing their talent to share with the scouts. It helped with engagement for sure!

  8. When I served as Cubmaster for our Pack, I saw this happening more and more. I even saw it happening with our troop. The parents have to understand that they are part of the Scouting experience as well. More at Cub Scout level, but parental involvement is also needed at the Boy Scout level. Even if it is as a committee member, leader, etc.. We definitely do not exclude scouts. The parents have to understand though that the small group of leaders that are there probably have the same errands to run, the same need for a moment of peace, but they have made the choice to be there with their son. If it happens too much, the leaders get burned out, which then leads to an unhealthy troop environment. I saw a troop fold because the folks who were the leaders had been doing it for years. They hit a wall.

  9. We try to set the expectations at Join Scouts Night and round up events… it takes the whole Pack to make the program live up to its potential. While there are often times when a parent needs to do something at that scheduled time, if they are perceiving it as childcare they are really missing the best part – contributing and watching their son(s) grow and improve.

  10. I don’t know about the pack level, but in my unit, we have an information packet that every new family receives. One item it includes is a description of all of the adult roles for the unit and the commitment each one requires. At the back is an adult survey that asks about their skills, experience, etc. Lastly, there is a form which we collect that asks them what role they will take with the unit.

    Note, not all roles are official unit positions. For example, one role we have is campout driver. For that, one parent commits to driving (and attending) at least 2 campouts a year. It helps ensure we have the vehicle space for every boy who wants to attend. It also offers a way to be involved for those families who cannot commit to a committee or SM/ASM type position.

  11. The key is education. A new parent orientation, without the Scouts, is an essential part of every year’s program. This is an opportunity to explain to parents their vital role in their son’s Scouting experience. The boy’s name may be on the application, but the whole family has joined the pack. Our council has a family involvement program, called Mission: Family, which includes an online training for the parents. We encourage every family to view that training.

  12. As a den leader I follow BSA guidelines, parents with tigers, and after that, unless we are working with tools or on a go see it, I am fine with me and the assistant den leader. If a parent fails to be prompt in picking up a child, I will not give them a pass. First offense, Cubmaster is involved, and the parent is told s/he must be on time, and second offense the parent must accompany the boy to the meeting. I can’t allow a parent to punish my child by forcing us to stay afterwards and wait. Our parents are required to attend the pack meetings and are not allowed to drop off to either pack meetings or den meetings (the boys must be escorted in), we really don’t have any problems with feeling taken advantage of, but by making the parents aware of their expectation of involvement, we get virtually no boys leaving the pack, but we get lots of parental involvement since they are there to see what it takes to run a pack.

    I think this topic had the potential to finally push the 12 year old Eagle thread to the side!

  13. Setting the expectation is key. When my son first joined Scouts, I’d had no previous experience and honestly didn’t know that parents were expected to hang out. The troop at the time also did not communicate well with parents who weren’t in leadership roles so it was 2 years before we were invited to a committee meeting or asked to help with a campout. So if you’re having trouble, my first piece of advice is to specifically ask people to help with specific jobs. Standing up and asking a group is one thing but specifically asking a person to do a specific item usually won’t get rejected.

    We do the same as Jack on an annual basis during recharter time and ask each adult to fill out a survey. We use this form: http://www.scouting.org/filestore/pdf/34437.pdf
    I believe there’s a Pack-specific form as well.

    We encourage every parent to attend the committee meetings (which is why we hold them during a regular Troop meeting). And otherwise we encourage them to hang out and socialize.

    The biggest issue I’ve run into in the past couple of years is actually parents who want to fulfill roles that simply don’t suit them. How do you politely say that you think someone else would be better suited to fulfill the role (even worse when you don’t have a suitable replacement)?

  14. Parents are often at a loss as to how they can help. In Cub Scouts I would break the requirements down into 10-15 minute hands-on lessons. Parents would receive a script and teaching materials when they arrived and take a corner of the meeting room. The Den was then broken down into small groups and the Cub Scouts would rotate around the room from station to station. This kept the Cub Scouts interested and the parents involved. Lots of homework and prep time for me but at the meeting I could mostly sit back and supervise.

  15. We make it very, very clear during Recruitment that we are not Baby Sitters of America, but that scouting is truly a FAMILY ADVENTURE! We point out that their boys actually WANT them to be there with them. I draw the comparison with sports, for example. I tell them that scouting isn’t run by hired “professional leaders”, like let’s say the Karate instructor, but by US, parents, that have decided to step up. I remind them that our Pack can only be as good as WE all decide to invest in it.

    To prove our point that we see this as a family adventure, we ALWAYS invite siblings along to den and Pack meetings (which many moms have been very grateful for) and include those siblings in the activities. So far, people have taken us up on our invitation, and we’ve even had grandparents, uncles, and cousins join our family camp-outs!

    I make sure during my communications throughout the year to address them as our “scouting family”, “pack family”, etc…to continue this feeling of belonging.

    I agree that it does help to approach specific people for specific jobs as you get to know your families better. I have found that hardly anyone will turn you down if you just ask directly!

  16. I don’t know about the Boy Scout level, but as a den leader I tell all my parents (multiple times) that their son will never earn their rank badge if they don’t help and participate. Being a traditional until we “make” the cubs do the Duty to God portions at home. That combined with “do X with your family” means that if things aren’t getting done at home theres no badge. There’s nothing worse then seeing the disappointment in your son’s face as he watches the other boys in the den (and Pack) earn their Wolf, Bear, etc while he gets a bead…..maybe. It seems a bit cruel, but it’s a motivator.

    Once they’re used to that, it’s easier to get them helping around the den/pack. “Hey, would you mind doing X for me? It’ll only take a few minutes and it would be a huge help for me.”

    Plus our Pack has the policy that if your son is too much an issue, too many times you’ll be asked to leave the pack. Thankfully it’s never come up, but it’s not fair at all to everyone else to have to deal with that kind of disruption all the time.

  17. 1) If you (as a parent) don’t have the connection with your boy by the time he’s 12, you won’t have that connection when he’s 18. Make that connection NOW, with scissors and construction paper and flags.
    2) If you leave your boy with me, I will do my best to raise him and train him as if he were my boy. I hope my example is the same as yours. Maybe better?
    3) This is not soccer. You do not have the privilege of dropping off and coming back. 4) Whether you realize it or not, your boy is following your example. Disruptive? Not attentive? Not cooperative? If it’s not “nature” (ADHD, etc.) then it is “nurture”.
    5) Is your “job” , your “career” an end? Or the means to an end? If you cannot find the desire to help your family (your boy/girl) and take the time from your job to do so, check your priorities. Does your boss understand WHY you work for him/her? Maybe there needs to be an adjustment there.

    I was doing “nature” pavilion at CSDC. I sent the boys out to pick up “whatever God didn’t put there” (trash and detritus collection). For the next ten minutes, one lady talked on her cell about how she didn’t know HOW she would make up the missed work on monday, couldn’t understand why SHE had to be the Den Walker, weren’t there people without jobs (?)who could do this, etc. etc. It was sad to hear.

    I make sure that the adults that DO come out and spend that time , with theirs and others ‘ boys get a thank you from me.

  18. The is a church nearby that runs a cub scout program along side a girls scout program. Either the BSA or GSA tags the parents to help out in both programs. I don’t think the parents get the choice of just dropping off the kids. I believe they are told right off from the beginning that they are expected to be a supporting parent and if they are not on board with the programs, to not do them to begin with. They see other parents helping out, so they join in.

  19. You come right out and say as much: “We’re not offering baby sitting services here, we’re a Scouting unit. If you need a baby sitter, I can certainly recommend a few but at this short time, I am doubtful you will reach them. Cub Scouting is a family program.”

    A letter to all of the families twice a year is also helpful, reminding them that Cub Scouting is not “Child Sitting” but a real program for both parent and child.

    Unfortunately, once the die has been cast, you’ll still end up with a few “child sitting” members.

  20. When I was a Pack Committee Chair, I put it like this: “Your son will grow up, with you or without you. This may be your ONE chance to be with your son instead of just watching, when he’s doing something he loves. Are you going to miss that? How do you want both of you to remember his childhood?”

    Now that I’m a Scoutmaster, I’m glad I’ve always had a chance to be involved in my kids’ lives.

  21. At Back to School recruiting nights, I have a sign up sheet of every Pack or Troop position with an Assistant to every job. Every parent is required to sign up for SOMETHING . I start my recruitment night with the statement, ” BSA does not stand for “Baby Sitters of America” and if you want your son to get the most out of Scouting, you have to be a dedicated and active partner in this program. I also mention that my own son made Eagle in 1993 and I am still here to give the same Scouting experience to your son. Seems to work. I have had parents tell me at their son’s Eagle Court, that they remember what I said the night they signed up for Cub Scouts. So it does work.

  22. Yeah we see this at the Boy Scout level too. Many drop and run and have no clue what’s going on in the troop meetings. But then, many of the parents come to the first few troop meetings and say how burned out they are from Cub Scouts and how nice it is they don’t have to do anything for a change. We tell them we have plenty of opportunities for them to participate in running the behind the scenes stuff… that’s when they usually say: “Oh no, I’m going to take a year off, maybe later I will do something.” And then… they come to meetings and sit around and gab loudly for the whole time with the other adults who are doing nothing to help out, or bury their head in a book or magazine. One hour a week (90 minutes actually)… could be better spent.

  23. We have one boy that doesn’t want his father at any Scouting function. Drop me off and disappear. Fortunately, Dad doesn’t listen. We (the adults) catch up on Troop business, work, sympathy cards for relatives who have passed (two in the last two weeks; Scout’s grandmothers). We don’t sit and complain about what we could be doing instead.

    Sometimes, the issue is a split family.

    Last night we had a guest, an Eagle from the past, visit. I bumped into him at a local shopping mall. He was in transit from one military posting to another and just happened to be home on the meeting night. He held the Scouts’ attention for a good 40 minutes. It was good to catch up with him. His family is a member of the Chartered Org.

  24. Way back in the weird old 1960′s we had a traveling trophy. Each pack meeting the dens, through their dinner that month, announced to everyone in the room a ratio, how many cubs to how many adults. Or maybe it was how many adults there were out of how many there should be. I was 8, what tayra want from me? I remember being told the numbers by the den leader, so I never had to come up with the right numbers myself.

    End of the night the den with the highest parent to den member ratio got the trophy. The one that got it the most for the year got some recognition that was probably worth pennies, but the kids would fight to get mom or dad to come and stay so that when the den leader counted they’d have them there so the den would get the award.

    But then again, we sat by dens with our den flags with our parents in rows behind us instead of wandering around on their cell phones. But an effective cubmaster could do that’s, still. True, someone smarter than me would have to get it organized and set the rules– we count parents, not and parents or big brothers, erc., etc. but it’s an easy fix to make the kids make the parents come without pleading to them. Too many units plead for things instead of just finding creative ways to get it done,

  25. Wow, I didn’t think this was a universal problem! I don’t have a solution but the parents really are missing out and so are their sons.

    In our troop, the drop-off kids don’t seem to advance as fast as those that have an involved parent. Usually the boy is not the child in the family getting his parents attention. There is usually an older sister or younger siblings that are getting his parents energy. It is sad because we try to help the scout but it’s a two-way street that we can’t do ( and shouldn’t do) to advance the scout.

    We even have parents that drop their son off at Courts of Honor and have no clue their son is receiving an award. I have stood up on stage as a stand-in parent numerous occasions just so the boy isn’t by himself while other scouts have his parent(s) standing up with him.
    I started emailing the parents personally to ask that they specifically show up for their son.

    I look forward to reading the solutions everyone has found successful.

  26. The solution is simple but the execution is hard. Give parents a reason to stay, and they will. I have den leaders who like to do everything themselves. We have no active parent volunteers from those dens. The den leaders that involve the parents have given us parent volunteers on the pack level. Not every parent responds, but IME those that don’t usually have extenuating life circumstances.

  27. I know of a den leader who asked for help from parents because I guess she was overwhelmed with stuff. A single mom stepped up to help by planning a couple of outings that would meet requirements for webelos pins. In the back and forth emails between this mom and the leader, it was noted by the mom that a couple of kids who were not in the den were attending, and the final list, did NOT include the den leader (although her 2 sons WERE going- one younger). The mom who was ‘in charge’ confronted the leader about her absence from the outing even though her boys were attending. The leader actually said to her face that she was looking forward to a night without the kids! What to do about this?
    This “leader” is probably in desperate need of training and the mom in question is considering other packs so her son can get his arrow of light.

  28. We were on the verge of closing our Cub scout doors when we decided to give it one more effort. Part of what we decided to do was put in place a policy that does not allow patents to drop off, they are required to stay for the entire meeting, den and pack meetings. We are now one of the largest packs in town with close to a 100 cub scouts. We are very honest and upfront with the parents about what it takes to run a pack and how we need their help to get it done. It’s made fora much stronger pack and a very strong program.

  29. My son’s den (and pack as far as I can tell) doesn’t have much of a problem with parents dropping the kid off and leaving, probably because the meetings are too short (about 1 hr.) to go very far.
    A problem with volunteering is the perception (and, often, the reality) that people in the positions are not willing to give them up until their son ages out (or, want them to go to their friends).

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