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.”

This quotes speaks to me about the importance of our programs being able to connect with our youth.

When I was a Scout, I recall everyone had a utility knife in their pockets when going on a Scouting activity. Very useful tool a pocketknife. Over time they became quite sophisticated with improvements that added can-openers, special blades for cutting rope, a flashlight, tweezers and even a toothpick.

When I served as a Scoutmaster, I always felt it was my responsibility to be sure each one of our Scouts was properly trained in the use of his knife. After all, it can be dangerous. In some cases, if a Scout was not using it properly then he may have lost it for period of time.

So let’s look at the smartphone. Not used correctly it definitely could be a deterrent to a nice Scouting experience. Used properly, to its full potential, it could lead to a great Scouting experience.

It clearly beats the compass when it comes to learning about effective land or water navigation. The access to video can really make the art of teaching knots a lot easier. And the apps for stargazing using the internal GPS make the astronomy experience out of this world. Then there is the flashlight capability, the easy access to cooking recipes and all kinds of first aid information should that pocketknife cause an accident.

All of these capabilities are pretty cool, but nothing compares to the most important part of the smartphone when it comes to connecting with youth today. That, of course, is its ability to capture memories.

Unfortunately, I do not have too many memories of my days as a Cub or Boy Scout. Not every youth had access to a camera when I was in Scouting. Using the smartphone, a Scout can capture every single one of those “life-changing memories you can’t get anywhere else.” Memories that can be shared with family, friends and maybe one day their children.

I guess if we can control the proper use of a pocketknife, it should be possible to do the same with a smart phone.

I think it’s so easy for us to fall in the trap of trying to relive our experiences as a youth in Scouting through the eyes of the Scouts today. Scouts of today need different bait if we want to connect with them.

Our mission, values and desired outcomes of leadership and character development haven’t changed since that first campout on Brownsea Island — just the experiences that each generation of youth find most enjoyable.

– Gary