Is an older Scout who wears his uniform in public committing ‘social suicide?’ Weigh in on one Scoutmaster’s policy

Here’s a new one: An East Coast troop’s uniform policy involves telling older Scouts not to wear their uniforms in public.

Yep, it happened in Scouter B.C.’s troop. Here’s how B.C., who asked me not to use their full name, explained it in an email to me last week:

I have recently become the assistant Scoutmaster for my son’s troop. The Scoutmaster has a policy that disturbs me a little. The older Scouts in our troop don’t wear their uniform in public. The Scoutmaster calls it “social suicide!” I believe they should be proud of the uniform. Am I wrong? Does the Scoutmaster have that right?

The BSA has a uniform policy that discusses the “sense of identification and commitment” members get when wearing uniforms. But there’s no specific mention of exactly when uniforms should be worn, other than saying they’re for “suitable occasions.” Deciding what constitutes a “suitable occasion” is left to units.

In other words, the Scoutmaster may have that right, but whether it’s a good idea is open for discussion.

So I posted the question on our Facebook page last week, and it quickly became the most-commented post in the Scouting magazine page’s history. At the time of this writing, more than 250 comments have been posted.

Here are some highlights from the conversation:

Right and Wrong
“Depending on the individual boys’ situations, the Scoutmaster may be correct. That said, he shouldn’t be contributing to the problem. Maybe he shouldn’t require uniforms for certain activities in the public eye, but he should never say anything that might be taken to mean that a Scout (or Scouter) should not be proud of the uniform. He’s only making the situation worse.”
— Iain A.

Get Some Outside Help
“Our SM has always believed in [uniforms]; however, our boys had that same mentality [as the Scoutmaster in B.C.’s troop]. We brought in a few Marines a month or two ago, to talk to them about the uniform. We’ve had 100 percent uniform on all the youth, since then. Sometimes it takes a motivator that isn’t in Scouting to talk about unity with the uniform, to make the change.”
— Daniel G.

No Shame Here
“Well, I think all units are different and that is part of what makes Scouting so successful because you can participate in a unit that demonstrates your specific views/ideals. That said, social suicide because of wearing your uniform? If you’re ashamed that you’re in Scouting, you should not be in Scouting. You shouldn’t have to hide it and not wear in public. I wore my uniform to high school in 2002 and was just fine. I was still liked. I think the Scoutmaster is showing that not portraying your true self and hiding part of you is a socially acceptable practice, which is even more detrimental to the development of that Scout and the entire unit. ”
— Mark T.

Visual Reminder
“I was dumfounded one day, as I stopped by a local drug store to pick up some water on the way to a meeting, and the cashier asked me if the uniform I was wearing was a Boy Scout uniform. I told her that it was. She responded with “I didn’t think they existed anymore!” That tells me that the uniform needs to be in the public eye more.”
— Dan B.

Perception Isn’t Always Reality
“My son’s troop doesn’t march in the local parades for the same reason, that the older Scouts think they’ll be made fun of for being in their uniforms; that the uniform is ‘uncool.’ But a large number of them are also in the marching band with way goofier uniforms (and hats) than Scouts! It’s a perception thing and I think Daniel up above has a great idea that sometimes it needs brought to the forefront that uniforms are a part of life and a part of recognition of who and what you are and that those who are police, fire fighters, nurses, and military may be the way to bring that message home rather than a Scoutmaster or by holding uniform inspections.”
— Scott W.

Leave it to the Scouts
“Perhaps older Scouts might not want to be seen in uniform by school friends. Seems we should respect their preference and not take a stand on this issue.”
— Tom M.

Neckerchiefs Nixed?
“We had a similar situation that just got fixed. My three sons went to their first meeting at our new troop after moving 400 miles away. What was their greeting from the Scouts? ‘We don’t wear neckerchiefs. If you want to belong to this troop, you will take those OFF.’ That was a young First Class Scout talking to my brand new Eagle Scout son, who was proud to wear his new Eagle neckerchief to his new troop! The Scoutmaster said, ‘we haven’t wanted neckerchiefs because they’re too expensive and no one wants them.’ I replied that since the troop just grew from five to 20 boys in one year, we have enough new Scouts that we should let them vote. Surprise, the boys wanted coordinating neckerchiefs, and boy, did they look nice at a recent public appearance. The Scoutmaster let the boys vote and decide, instead of just laying down the law. The boys are happy, and the Scoutmaster was too, because he allowed that uniform policy to be “boy-led.”
— Elizabeth J.

The Tuck Rule
“I love wearing mine in public, and most importantly…IT MUST BE TUCKED IN! Scouts that can’t tuck it in find out very quickly from me that is not allowed. Now the ‘social suicide’  — I think that is just one person’s poor opinion. Been in the program since I was a Tiger Cub, and I just turned 30! Best program around.”
— Justin K.

No Quit in Them
“Just as a high school football star might want to keep his straight A’s and perfect attendance a “secret” so as to better fit in with his teammates, so might a Scout in certain parts of the country where a Boy Scout is ridiculed as the ultimate image of dorkiness want to keep his membership “on the down low.” It doesn’t mean the football player isn’t proud of his grades or that the Scout isn’t proud of what he does. Although I hope the Scoutmaster does not call it “social suicide” in front of the boys and that the boys are encouraged to wear and be proud of their uniforms whenever possible, I can understand uniforms not being required in public if it means the boys will feel so ostracized they would likely quit Scouting rather than wear it. Should this be a policy for all Scout groups? No. But in some situations I can see it as being a plausible solution to a very real problem for teenagers who need desperately to have social acceptance.”
— Melody S.

By Any Other Name
“Let the current SM create another youth program and call it by another name. If he uses the program of the BSA he needs to follow our rules… We struggle to uniform our Scouts to show their pride in the program.”
— Kay T.

Battling the Bully Climate
“I could not agree more with all the previous comments, it was my task to make a presentation on proper uniforming at our last roundtable. However, there may be an existing social climate in the letter writer’s area that you might not understand. It is all well and good to expect these scouts to be uniformed in the required situations like meetings and travel, yes, but there are towns and schools where bullying is status quo. Sad but true. Asking kids to subject themselves to additional torment if you unfortunately live in such an area might be too much. Sure there are some that are strong enough to stand up against the crowd but for the average 12 yr old they want to have friends and not be ridiculed. Expect them to be martyrs for a tan shirt and you may lose a whole troop. The greater challenge is changing the bully climate that exists and that is our responsibility.”
— Chris D.

Trouble at the Top?
“You wear the uniform. Does not matter the age, you are Scout and the older Scouts set the example. The adults need to set the example. Are you as a Scoutmaster ashame of the uniform? If you are time to step down.”
— David J.

What Are You Doing?
“Perhaps they should look into why this SM thinks it would be “social suicide” to wear the uniform. Is their troop active? Do they do wicked cool stuff like camping, hiking, rock climbing, canoeing, etc? Do they go on worthwhile trips? Are they active and productive in the community? Or are they a “meeting” troop, where all they do is meet and nothing else? Perhaps that’s where the “social suicide” comes in… if a young man doesn’t see the uniform as representing something of value, he’s not going to be proud to wear it, and he’s not going to be ready to stand up to those who might ridicule. He won’t have any ammunition against those who hate. But if someone says, “gee, Scouts. You’re a big nerd!” and he can come back with, “Yeah, this ‘nerd’ scaled a 100-foot rock wall this weekend, what’d you do?” he’s not going to care about the haters. ”
— Laura H.

Read more thoughts

This is only a small sampling of the excellent discussion from Facebook. Read many more responses here.

Related post

What’s your unit’s uniform policy? Read the Bryan on Scouting discussion from last year.

What do you think?

What would you say to the Scoutmaster mentioned in the question above? How does your troop handle this tricky situation? Leave a comment below.