Smartphones in Scouting: A curse or a cure?

Before you tell your Scouts and Venturers to power down their smartphones at the beginning of your next adventure, I have something you need to read.

The BSA’s Deputy Chief Scout Executive, Gary Butler, penned a guest blog post that offers his nuanced opinion on the place that iPhones, Androids and devices of their ilk have in our movement.

Does Gary think they add to or detract from the delivery of a great Scouting experience? Read on and find out.

Smartphones in Scouting: A curse or a cure?

By Gary Butler, BSA Deputy Chief Scout Executive and Chief Operating Officer

Gary ButlerI have heard lots of conversations recently on whether smartphones should be allowed during Scouting activities. One of our employees shared with me that when his son goes camping the leader takes all the phones away and returns them when the activity is over.

Does the use of a smartphone as part of Scouting’s activities disrupt the experience, or can it be a “cure” to make our current experiences more relevant to today’s youth? This comment really struck home and got me to thinking as to what is the right answer.

Sometimes to find the answer to these kind of debates on how to go forward, it takes a look backwards to find the answer. One of Baden-Powell’s most interesting quotes is, “A fisherman does not bait his hook with food he likes. He uses food the fish likes. So with boys.” Continue reading


Tuesday Talkback: When youth leaders aren’t allowed to make decisions

Tuesday-TalkbackFather (or Mother) knows best?

Maybe, but that’s not how a Scout troop, Varsity team or Venturing crew is supposed to work.

Scouting is a youth-led, youth-run organization. Your responsibility as an adult leader is to train the young men and women, provide direction, coach and empower. Then you step aside.

That means you’re observing from the back of the room, not barking out orders from the front of it. Scouts and Venturers are free to make mistakes; that’s where real learning happens.

For today’s Tuesday Talkback, tell me this: Do youth leaders make the critical decisions in your unit? If so, how do you prevent adults from taking too big a role? How do you resist the urge to step in? If adults are the leaders in your unit, how can you change that?

Leave a comment below with your thoughts, and let’s have a discussion about the best way to handle this important issue.  Continue reading


Tuesday Talkback: What do you do when a Scout has a patch sewn on wrong?

Tuesday-TalkbackYou’ll notice it right away, of course.

You’ll see Tristan across the room at your pack or troop meeting this week and instantly spot the unit numerals on the wrong sleeve, the rank patch on the wrong pocket or the World Crest way too low on his field uniform shirt.

What do you do? Call Tristan out in front of the group so other Scouts learn from his mistake? Hand him a needle and some thread and send him out of the room? Email his parents after the meeting? Something else?

Leave a comment below with your answer, and let’s have a discussion about the best way to handle this common concern. This is the first of a recurring series of posts I’m calling Tuesday TalkbackContinue reading


‘That’s Mr. West to you, mister’: Are your Scouts on a first-name basis with leaders?

names-jamesewestIf BSA founder James E. West were around today, how would your Scouts address him?

Mr. West? James? Mr. James? Jimmy E.?

The way Scouts and Venturers address leaders was on the mind of Scouter Terry (or is it Mr. Scouter Terry?) yesterday when he sent me this email:

My wife and I have always made our children address adults by title and last name, Mr. or Mrs.

I have explained to our young Scouts on several occasions that as an adult I felt it was appropriate that they address adults by title and last name, yet they continue to refer to the adults by first name.

It seems as though many adults are lax on this as well, never correcting the children.

My Wood Badge Troop Guide said that his rule was: Once a boy earns Eagle Scout, first names are acceptable. Until then, use Mr./Mrs. and the last name.

Are there suggestions on how this needs to be addressed? Am I off base with this one? What do others think/suggest?

Continue reading


Is it ever time to say, ‘Sorry, our troop’s full’?

Quality trumps quantity when it comes to Scouting. A well-run unit of 15 to 20 boys or girls beats a dysfunctional unit of 80 to 100 Scouts every time. (Many larger troops thrive, but only through careful planning and strong leadership.)

What happens when your unit reaches that magic number where adding any more Scouts means a drop in program quality — overcrowded meeting space, leaders stretched too thin or other growing pains?

Do you turn Scouts away, sending them to another nearby unit? Or do you squeeze them in?

That question was posted to a Scout message board earlier this week:  Continue reading


Judgment call: Who should get access to your unit contact list?

In your unit, is a Scout’s contact info freely available or guarded like nuclear launch codes?

Two forces are competing here: Effective, efficient communication between families — and privacy. How do you straddle the thin line dividing the two?

That’s what assistant Scoutmaster Leon wondered in an e-mail to me last week. Take a look at his note, and then weigh in below:  Continue reading


Should you compete against other units for Scouts? If so, how?

You’re walking through the church lobby after your Scout meeting one night when you spot something new on the bulletin board.


“But wait,” you say, “this church is where my pack, Pack 456, meets!”

It happened to Sandy, a Scouter who e-mailed me and asked that her full name and hometown not be used. And it could happen to you.

It’s a sticky situation. Yes, we’re all in the business of serving as many Scouts as possible, so we should be happy when any young person finds a pack, troop, team, ship, crew, or post to call home — even if that home belongs to a different unit.

On the other hand, each Scouter out there wants his or her unit to reach its full potential, and losing members restricts that.

How do you walk this line? And when, if ever, is it appropriate to compete against other units for members? I turned to our Facebook friends to find out:  Continue reading


Should an adult trade patches with a Scout?

Scouts trade with Scouts; adults trade with adults.

Along with “trade one for one,” “always shake hands,” and “don’t bring money into a deal,” it’s one of the central tenets of patch trading.

But does that age-old rule still make sense? Or should Scouts and adults be allowed to swap patches under certain circumstances?

I ask because I recently learned that adults will be able to trade with Scouts at the 2013 National Scout Jamboree — but only in designated, supervised areas.

Here are the facts:

Continue reading


Why are so many boys taking so much longer to reach Eagle Scout?

You can’t blame this one on inflation.

More than 60 years ago, the average age of a boy earning Eagle was 14.6. Today it’s 17.1.

As we celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Eagle Scout Award this month, it’s a good time to ask: Why the increase?

Are boys simply taking time to enjoy the journey toward Scouting’s top honor? Are they busier with school or extracurricular activities? Or is some other factor at work here?

I do know this: More boys earn Eagle today than ever before, a sign that the program is working. But at the same time, more boys wait until they’re 17 years and 11 months old to finish the journey — raising their parents’ blood pressures in the process.

What do you think?

Why are today’s new Eagle Scouts so much older than Eagle Scouts from a generation ago? Join the discussion below.

Graphic adapted from this official BSA infographic.


Make your point: What’s your unit’s knife policy?

In Scouting, knives are a double-edged sword.

Used safely, they’re part of a rite of passage for boys and a chance for leaders to impart important lessons to help Scouts become “Prepared. For Life.”

But inevitably, some Scout will do his best Crocodile Dundee impression and show up at summer camp with the 10-inch sheath knife his uncle bought him.

The BSA keeps its knife policy intentionally vague (see below), offering suggestions but leaving specific policies up to individual units.

Does your pack, troop, team, or crew have a policy?  Continue reading