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


  1. Oh my, I actually agree! Yes, memories and story telling we need to do, ahem, MORE OF THIS IN SCOUTING! The community and people who were not in Scouts as youth need to see the outcomes of our program, as a Scout Executive – this is tough to do even with my Twitter, Facebook and Video Blog people need pictures, photos and stories to show what we do for youth

  2. While I appreciate the analogy Mr. Butler is using, I find it difficult to see much more comparison between a knife and a smartphone other than they are both “useful.”

    I DO recognize the advantages to having a handheld-computer, internet-accessible, app-laden, on-board-gadget device akin to a Star Trek tri-corder for learning, preparing and training purposes. But Mr. Butler talks like these are self-disciplined adults here. And even us adults, at best, are ourselves distracted by our devices.

    I think we should take a cue from our education system instead of comparing it to a uni-tasker like a knife. My son’s school has embraced the smartphone and allows its use when it is appropriate. And that’s the key: allows. When not being used for a teaching or learning moment, it is not out. And if it is out, rings, tweets or is used for non-school learning, it is taken away and no longer allowed.

    Can this be done during the troop meeting? In the tent at night when no one is looking? Is it a distraction? Can it be controlled? I think this is main argument for either limiting its use or not allowing it at certain events.

  3. Our troops policy is that if they are using their smart phone for the advancement of scouting them it is fine to use it, if you are using it for games and music then it will be mine for the rest of the trip. I have yet to need to collect any.

      • or, you can trust the scout in that if you are doing instruction (that is not safety inclined such as firearm safety) and he is working on his smart phone, he is looking something up about the topic; especially if you are making it interesting.

        And, you are free to roam around and verify that he is looking something up relevant. It is a bad habit to assume that a smart phone is always a distraction, and as a Scout leader you should be able to trust the scouts as they trust you. My personal motto in this,

        Trust, but verify.

  4. In my day it was the radio. Same type of issues. Fortunately my Scoutmaster allowed radios as long as they were not “abused”. ie. played too loud, or it becoming a major distraction. As a result, there are many times where certain tunes trigger some great Scouting memories. (eg. Summer camp in the Cherokee campsite while the song “Cherokee Nation” was #1 on the charts.) The radio definitely added to the overall Scouting experience in a positive way for myself. I see lots of parallels with the smartphones of today.

  5. Everything in his comments are very valid. However, the games that all of the kids have on these things are detracting. They would rather sit in their bunks or tents than interact or participate. Smartphones are a great piece of equipment, when used correctly. Unfortunately, there are too many issues with them and they will end up being taken away from most of the boys.

  6. You can’t text or play Angry Birds or Minecraft on a pocketknife.

    The smartphone has many uses in the field, but kids tend to use it for many other uses that tends to distract them from the reason they’re out in the outdoors in the first place.

    • But you can play Mumblety peg with a knife, which is the misuse of a tool just like can be done with a Smart Phone. When I was a young teen, we would play “stretch” or “chicken” at school with our pocket knives. I actually got in trouble at Camp Quivira for playing stretch with our knives. I don’t know if Totin’ Chips were available then, but we never had any in my troop.

      Any tool can be used wrong. It is us to the older Scouts and adults to teach how and when the tool should be used . . . and this goes for Smart Phones as well.

    • I seem to remember my first summer out at summer camp I spent a good deal with the time killing flies with my pocket knife (at the cost of my Totin chip). If you let kids, they will find a way to make anything useful misused, usually out of boredom. The “ban it all” approach is just laziness, and avoids dealing with the real issue (how to properly deal with and use tech)

  7. Amen! I’ve had this debate many a time with fellow Scouters. I’ve been at campouts where Scouts were not allowed to bring their phones, while the adult leaders stood around using theirs. How can we not see the double-standard there? The Scouts sure do! My position has always been that a smartphone is a tool, and like any other tool it can be used properly or improperly. In Scouting, we’re in the business of teaching Scouts how to use tools properly. So we should be proactively teaching our Scouts how to use this valuable tool to their benefit, rather then just telling them to leave it at home. Whether we like it or not, this technology is here to stay. We can either embrace it or fight a losing battle in trying to surpress it. Maybe we should have a “smartphone chip” (no pun intended), just like our Totin’ Chip and Firem’n Chit!

    • A “Smartphone Chip” is a great idea that has already been rolled out by BSA.

      Check details on the “BSA Cyber Chip” as Scout Leaders can already incorporate a “Smartphone Chip” into their Scouting experience now. A recent addition to BSA awards for all ages (couple of years, I believe).

        • STILL – a GREAT IDEA you had!

          (I don’t think BSA will relegate you to the Apple-Samsung who-copied-who courtrooms for having that idea — speaking of Smartphones — Hah!)

    • i am reading all the comments because this is an issue in our troop. Glad you pointed out the adults. Our leadership has asked that we adults, also be mindful, and don’t “play” on ours. It does give the boys the impression of a double standard. I myself don’t have mine out except for pictures. Now at lights out, when I’m in my own tent, all zipped up, I will use my phone for non essentials, but no one can see me. We allow the boys to bring theirs for now, but if caught playing games, they are taken. I find the temptation is bad enough for adults, thus 10x worse for “boys”. The problem is what goes on in their tents. We have a large troop, Overall, my position is you get them back for the drive home to call your ride, but otherwise the leaders should hold them.

  8. When used properly, the Smart Phones have some great apps that can be useful on an outdoors excursion. The one that allows the user to aim at the Stars to give them the constellation is a great one. Or the one that tells the cook how many charcoal briquettes go on the bottom & top of a Dutch Oven.

    The issue is usually that the Scout spends too much time checking their email instead of being actively involved with whatever is going on. In other words, the phone becomes a distraction as the Scout would rather be doing that there the current Scout activity.

    Another issue is that I read somewhere (I can’t find it now) that parents & others that try to document every activity that they do are too busy documenting the event that they do not have time to enjoy the event. Sometimes it might be better to just enjoy the event instead of trying to capture every memory on record to look at later.

    Lastly, the outdoors gives the Scouts a chance to get away from the world where everything is connected and on the move. My son enjoys being outdoors with the Scouts, but when he is home I have to force him to get away from the computer or TV. Being outside in nature allows one to recharge their batteries, think about the greatness of what their supreme being has created, and get away from the stress of modern life. Having that constant contact to the outside world prevents that from happening.

    We need to teach the Scouts that their Smart Phone on a campout is just like any other tool and it has a purpose. It is, however, not to be used as their primary entertainment device.

  9. Ultimately, if you are against smart phones and other items of that ilk, you are fighting a losing battle. Better to re-direct the boys usage of such items to the “fun with a purpose”. That way you are not creating conflict were none is necessary. Of course, I see nothing bad in restricting their use during campouts and other hands on training/learning activities, but moderation should be our mantra. The boys are just going to sneak them in anyway so turn a negative into a positive and make use of them.

    • I have heard that before, the boys are going to sneak them in anyway. So that makes it okay. What happened to a scout is Trustworthy. I guess it only matters when it is convienent.

  10. Today it is the smartphone, yesterday it was the “gameboy”, mp3’s, iPods, cassette players, tomagachis, etc. Tomorrow technology will surely bring another “new” and popular electronic device that, let’s admit it, we will all enjoy. Rather than set up an imaginary line of demarcation and daring any Scout to cross it I have taken a more proactive approach to the issue. I have, and always will, come down on the side that teaches the Scout to be Responsible for his actions and how it impacts others. I want Scouts to understand that any device, smartphone, GPS, etc., and the use of that device is a priviledge. Priviledges are earned but can also be suspended if abused. Furthermore, that it is the Scout’s responsibility for the care of the device. I believe that if I expect a Scout to be Trustworthy, that is what he will strive to be. We, as Leaders, certainly set the example for our Scouts but we must also be wise enough to know that technology is nothing to fear. It will take it’s place right next to my pocketkife.

  11. We require they use them as a tool not a toy. If they follow that rule they are fine, if not they lose it for the camp out.

  12. I think it all comes down to what scouting is suppose to be. It sounds like Gary Butler along with alot of others thinks scouting is a promotional tool to try and get every kids possible to be involved. Lets make getting Eagle Scout easier by having scouting college and giving the merit badges away. What happens to these scouts when they get into a survival situation and don’t have a cell phone to show them where the north star is or how to tie a clove hitch. Scouting should be about basic scouting skills and the ability to use them. The entire scouting movement is missing the boat, why do you think membership is declining. Baden Powell would not be happy.

  13. I think the best part of the analogy to a pocket knife was “I guess if we can control the proper use of a pocketknife, it should be possible to do the same with a smart phone.” To me this says to have a sensible use policy with a phone just like with a knife. If they have free time at some point, then let them play games on the phone. I wouldn’t think of stopping a boy from playing solitaire with a deck of cards so why not on a phone?

    Can anyone tell us your favorite scout appropriate apps? Google Sky Map is great along with various Knot guides and Scouting apps that list various requirements. H. David Pendleton mentioned a Dutch Oven App. What else is out there?

      • Yep, a tool like any other. Used properly it’s a positive, used improperly it’s a negative. One would think an organization that allows boys to shoot guns, start fires, go sailing and ride ATVs would be able to let boys use smartphones.

    • I use my phone at meetings to access our troop management software for attendance, calendar, etc. My other go-to Scouting app is BSA On-the-Go. While not a BSA app, it lists all rank requirements (Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Varsity Scout, Venturer) and merit badge requirements. Infinitely handy! There are also many geocaching apps available.

  14. This past weekend was our District Camporee, It was based on Principals of Leave No Trace. One of the Activities was a Scavenger Hunt. To record items the Scouts left what they found and took the Memories by using their Smart Phones Camera. Items included plants, people, erosion, activities, waxing crescent, 45 items in all, It was a success. During camp out the Scouts did 2 things they have always been told not to do. We set up a Rock Throwing Station and allowed use of the Phones.

  15. As we all know, kids are constantly trying to push the envelope to see what their boundaries are. However, do we need to provide them another opportunity to do that? I was just speaking with a mother this morning about the importance of kids developing social skills; due to modern gadgetry and the fact that many kids come from one-parent families, we agreed that kids need a gadget- and distraction-free environment where they can socialize with their peers as well as work on advancement and enjoy the outdoors. Besides, going gadget free for a weekend isn’t going to threaten the security of the free world. Doing so will annoy some kids, but if leaders can provide a fun, substantive program, they’ll forget about their toys in five minutes. American culture seems to be getting more and more wishy-washy and less willing to put its foot down and assert standards. I have a saying that I seem to be repeating more often these days: Americans want to do what they want to do when they want to do it.

  16. Mr. Butler is welcome to his opinion.

    There’s no doubt that smartphones are useful for looking up information on the fly (unless you have AT&T in which case you have no internet access anywhere 5 miles outside a population center 😉 ). So are the Boy Scout Handbook, Field Guide, etc. Using Google Sky to look up the stars for 5 seconds and say “hm” doesn’t create knowledge, using YouTube to look up a knot in the field doesn’t create knowledge. Flickering minds that roam from one point of curiosity to another aren’t getting anything from their smartphone except their next fix, and I use the term quite literally.

    5 years before the advent of smartphones, a frantic mother couldn’t believe I directed the scouts to put their phones in their parents cars before we left for a trip. “It’s a safety issue!” she panted. Funny, we’d been taking boys camping for 40 years without cell phones with no problem (now make that 50).
    We have also been teaching Scout skills for 50 years without smartphones. It’s nice to have 1 or 2 adults with theirs for site-specific weather, etc. but there is no reason to have the boys carrying the very thing that we’ve gone into the woods to escape.

        • You’ll soon enough see that your comment below “the learning is the same [by smartphone]” is just not true.

        • I understand that multi-tasking does not work. If someone read a book on Kindle just as they read a book from the Library, it would be basically the same. Just as if one read a book for 2 minutes, got up and did something else, read 2 more minutes etc. it would be similar to what one does in the electronics age.

          It is not the tool that is making the learning different, but the technique of learning only small amount of information at a time. In other words, a very short attention span.

          I am sure that when writing was invented and put to paper, those poets that had the Iliad & the Odyssey memorized became upset about the new way of learning . . . reading.

          As I stated before, it is to get people to use the electronics as a tool and not for electronics to become their life.

  17. Gary, your timing is great. I couldn’t agree more. I have been closely following the development of a Smartphone tool that follows along these lines. Although the developer is not QUITE ready to hit the “national spotlight” it is coming along VERY nicely.

    Anyway, our Scouts (hopefully in their non-Scouting lives) spend immense amounts of time in their “virtual” world earning “virtual” achievements and “virtually” advancing through levels while gaining “virtual” awards to earn “virtual” crowns within their Smartphones. The BSA experience is the ULTIMATE REAL GAME OF LIFE. How about tracking their progress through REAL achievements, advancements, and awards while working toward the crowning achievement of EARNING EAGLE?

    To take Gary’s quote of Baden Powell a step further, IF USED CREATIVELY, Smartphones can not only be the bait for today’s youth but can also be a development tool that can mold your “Carp” into the “Sea Bass” of the BSA world (an Eagle Scout).

    (Everyone is entitled to their opinions, of course.)

  18. I have went back and forth over the decades about the “Taking along” of various tech tools during Scouting events. I support using them *as the tools they are* during Scouting events.

    I marvel at the tech that our kids have. Why yes, they spend time playing “Angry Birds” and chat — in real time most cases, using Skype while making faces and laughing at each other — with other kids.

    I have sat down and kept my trap shut while a Scout was talking with his mom during a break at the last National Jamboree. She was concerned about the Scout’s walking around, lack of food, lack of warm showers. The Scout showed her, turning his phone around and providing views of his point of view while explaining that “Mom, nobody’s complaining here. Maybe they’re all jealous. I am having a great time and I’ll probably cry when I have to leave all of this in a few days. Besides, all of this hiking will probably get me ready for the Troop’s high adventure next year.”

    No better commercial for the value of Scouting — real Scouting, not “stuff we say we do to get people to commit.”

    James Bond, MacGyver, and Steven Segall has taught kids and many of us adults that “anything we can hold and use as a tool can be also be used as a weapon.” Unfortunately, we hear about such instances even today. A kid, using a knife, has harmed upwards of 20 others at a school outside of Pittsburgh. Earlier, we read or find that others are being bullied simply through the text messages sent to large numbers of students from a single cellphone. Of course the BSA’s policies on the usage of cellphones had to be revised in view of the rash of “sexting” situations around the nation and world.

    I still own pocketknives — I can’t take them with me when I fly, however — the TSA must have my photo on a flyer somewhere, because every time I fly with a pocketknife — the TSA knows this and singles me out for “additional screening” and there it is…and there it goes… *smiling*. There is, however a positive value in having a multiple-blade, many purpose hand-held tool.

    Same goes with the Nokia Communicator I own presently. It’s not as “smart” as more modern phones go, but the tools it has within its electronics has done me extremely well over the decade or so I’ve managed to hold onto it without crushing it (not taking it, but instead a more durable model during the Jamboree helped *grinning*).

    As long as we remember to use them as TOOLS, and not as recreational devices, we’ll be just fine.

    Hope to see you in a few weeks at the National Meeting! Great comments!

  19. His comment “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.” Is spot on.

    We can’t live in the past. Things change; if we don’t change we risk becoming irrelevant. Our job should be to make sure smartphones are used to HELP not detract form Scouting.

  20. I wake up, cook some breakfast for wife , son and I and turn on the TV news. Another murder, wrecks on the beltway, legislature passed the bill, protest in Ukraine, troops massed on the border, and the weather is … the same as it is outside my window. Atr night, I look at the myriad stars, go back in and pull out the star chart that I got 20 years ago. Same stars. Small flash light with red cellophane over the lens, hold up the chart, yep, there’s Pegasus, and Crabb…. My wife is more techy than I, when driving I can’t look at a 4″ screen for directions, I find “turn… left… now” distracting, so I study a map first, or depend on the passenger next to me. Scoutson learned how to read a map by my INSISTING that he read it and give his dad the directions. We get lost, maybe it’s his fault. Can he figure it out? What good is GPS if the Scout doesn’t understand the compass directions? As a sub teacher, I find it sad that 8th grade science classes don’t know which end of the compass the sun comes up on. I tell my Scouts to put the cells and ipods OFF, not merely in the pocket, and PAY ATTENTION to the leaf, the peliated woodpecker, the katydid, the moss on that rock, even to their little brother. It is all nature of which we ae a part.
    In Aldous Huxley’s last novel “Island”, the protagonist is reminded by a mynah bird “attention!” The question is: to what?
    To the commercial driven apps and wireless gizmos or to the world around us? to each other? A scout might like the “idea” of having an axe on his belt, but he (or she?) will not learn to use it , to create with it, with Wii.
    Don’t depend on the cells for the camp. Use them to record SOME moments, but not ALL. How did we decide to use film cameras? By taking 350 pictures? No, by deciding to take THAT picture, not THIS one. Same thing here. Be discerning in your use of electronics.
    Scouting should acknowledge the existance of such tools, but not to the elimination of our basics. Matches are good, but you won’t run out of flint and steel as quick.. Oo, Oo,,,,, a fire lighting app!

    • I agree with you for the most part. We learned by reading a book checked out of the library. Now, kids learn by reading a book on a Kindle or their computer. The learning is the same, but the tool is different.

      Get the Scouts out w/o their electronics so they can learn how to use a map & compass AND a GPS system. That way the Scout knows how if the battery on the GPS or their phone dies. I’ve seen a big decline in Mapreading skills in the Army over the last 20 years that coincides with the First Gulf War when units started receiving GPS. I still say that Soldiers need to know both methods just in case. The same goes for Scouting.

    • @jamesljr A few years ago my buddy and I took a road trip to Camp Roosevelt outside of Woodson, NJ. I memorized the map to get to camp as well as the campsite map. We got a little confused as we got close to the camp, but I noticed power lines in the distance and I knew that they we very close to the camp. I turned and my shotgun told me I was going the wrong direct. We drove by the camp and backed up.

      So what does this have to do with the thread? I used the internet to download the topo map and the camp map. Shotgun used the two maps to get us there, but I still had to memorize the map. (A marine sniper told me that it always best to memorize maps and such since you can not loose them and if captured by the enemy, they can’t access the information from you) Other campers showed up for the training, but used their cellphones or GPS for directions. The ended up 40 miles away at the Council Headquarters instead of the camp! Not being on time does not go well at Royal Ranger Training Events. Shotgun and I actually got permission from the council office to sleep at the camp a day before the event since I am an Eagle. So that was cool. (I love their campfire area).

      I was doing to virtual canoeing on the internet to refresh my mind of the C&O Canal. I did the C&O about 30 years ago when I joined the troop. I was amazed at how much these images brought back memories from long ago. Using my sons devise, I was able to track then entire trip route.

      So I guess I would allow it to be brought on the trip when we do it. But it is a tool and be used when needed and the appropriate time. A person does not walk around all day with an open knife do they? I learned something from my son and came up to speed with its application.

  21. I can’t relive my life as a scout, because I wasn’t one, so I don’t know that that argument is really what is at issue. The issue, for me, is that my son comes home and does all the minimum requirements in chores and homework in order to get onto some machine. He has begged me for his own phone, which I will not buy for him. I put him in scouts precisely so he can get outside and live in the real, tangible world. I see no problem in incorporating tracking apps and whatnot into a merit badge or activity, emphasizing appropriate phone use, but I don’t think it should be a major part of anything they do.

  22. Completely wrong. Before I banned them on outings the boys who brought them on the outing would be up most of the night playing games and texting their friends. Just like school they should not be there because they are a huge distraction. We have compasses and cameras on the outing to help with navigation and capture memories, as for emergencies the adults leaders all have phones with them and will make the call if needed. TURN OFF AND UNPLUG AND ENJOY THE OUTDOORS WITHOUT THE DISTRACTION OF THE OUTSIDE WORLD!!!!!

    • Tim, perhaps having the Scouts create their own smartphone policy would help your troop. Adults can help where needed, but if the boys are the ones who write the policy, they’re more likely to abide by it. My fear is that banning them outright will drive boys to a non-Scouting activity where they aren’t banned. Everything in moderation.

      • Our PLC wrote our electronics policy. That is what a boy-led troop does instead of rulings coming down from on high. If the Scouts write the rules themselves, they are more likely to obey them.

        • When I was a kid, the coach got upset at the right fielder picking flowers, chasing butterflies, or paying attention to the game on the next diamond . . . just what ever 8-year does.

      • Whatever happened to simply following the rules. If they leave because not being able to have their phone. There are larger issues there and the ohone was not the reason they left.
        and for the record i have had this policy for the last 8 years and havent lost a single scout because of his phone. You are looking for excuses to allow them to have their phones. Just follow the rules just like school church and movie theathers tgurn them off.

    • Difference being Scouts of old were prohibited from bringing dirty magazines on campouts. Now they are allowed them but told not to look at the pictures.

      • Richard wrote: “Difference being Scouts of old were prohibited from bringing dirty magazines on campouts. Now they are allowed them but told not to look at the pictures.”

        This only shows that you know very little about *today’s* teen boys, Richard (I know, you’re making a funny…). In the “old days”, we would “prohibit” Scouts from bringing “dirty magazines” to Scouting events. They didn’t observe that “prohibition” in a lot of cases. The only thing we could do back then was to take the magazines away, maybe burn them if we’re a bit extreme, and if the Scout asked for payment for that magazine’s demise, we’d give them the money.

        Today, a Scout can have any number of magazines, “dirty” or not, on their phone or accessible through their phone — and share the contents with as little as a tap from their phone to another. With (cable) television — and their websites — showing partial or full nudity, sexual content/talk and in some cases (Games of Thrones, Madmen, etc. etc.), sexual *activity*– looking at a magazine today is well, like, “old school”. And then, there’s YouTube.

        The challenge, then as now, is to provide enough activity and positive things for them to do so they would be tired at the end of the day, thereby those “magazines” would stay where they belong – private, personal, and not sharable. Do we as Scouters do a good job with this? Eh, I would say “nope”. Should we take away phones because of a fear that a Scout will view some nakked gal or some simulated sexual activity on their screen? *shaking head from side to side* Nope. That’s something that Scout will have to work out with their parents. I can, however, suggest that spend that time sleeping because the following day comes up really quickly…and we Scouts have plenty to do.

  23. Yes, all about moderation. Our troop’s policy is that if it’s being used for scouting, it’s great. That could be setting an alarm to get up, looking up knots, finding an astronomy app, etc. And, of course, taking pictures or video.

    If they want to listen to music on the road, that’s fine. We just ask that they be able to hear the driver for any instructions. And go “ears out” when asked.

    If there is any abuse, the battery stays with the adult in charge, the boy keeps the device so he can watch over it. Our youth have had no issues so far.

  24. “It clearly beats the compass when it comes to learning about effective land or water navigation. ” Spoken like a Scouter in a suit. That has to be the most boneheaded comment I have heard from scout executive in a long time.

    • I don’t think the point was that the Scout should just use a GPS to tell them exactly where they are. There are ALL KINDS of Apps available. Might want to check out a few before taking the approach of calling people multiple names (either “bonehead” OR “Scouter in a Suit” are equally illogical names for an Eagle Scout who has been IN or has LEAD Scouting every day since he joined Cub Scouts as far as I recall Gary’s Bio).

      Electromagnetic Digital Compasses, Location using elevation tools combined with directional and star location tools, etc. The list of intriguing TOOLS on Smartphones is endless. If the Scouts are taught SMART (like — this is what the new tools are like, look at how this compares to older tools at various periods in history, etc.) then this will intrigue them and they will learn. If they are simply taught by a Leader that says get out your phone and ask SIRI what our location is then I cannot believe that this Scout Leader would have ever taught proper use of a compass, a map, a sextant, etc. in the first place???

  25. I think that it is atool that needs to be used in the right context. When we do land navigation with map and compass the boys have to leave them behind so they can learn the basics, instead of relying on GPS. They need to learn to work with dead batterys or bad sattelite coverage.

  26. OK, I can get over most of the pros and cons and I tend to like the use of tech. My issue is Scouts calling home if they have issues instead of working with the Troop leadership. I even had a mom show up at camp once to take her “sick” (aka: homesick) Scout home on a Saturday afternoon of a weekend long event. I’ve had Scouts come to weekend camps and week-long summer camp with instructions from home to call mom every night. Word gets out that little bobby has his cell and soon Jimmy is using it to call home too. One summer when a Scout’s MB classes were full, he insisted that he had to call home for directions from mom on what to take instead. He had his cell and there was no talking him out of the call.

    Please tell me how to get past these barriers to Scout personal growth and SM/ASM ability to be responsible for mentoring and safety when they’re calling home? If you can do so, I’ll consider supporting Scouts with cells.

    • Had the same problem. Dad came on a trip, saw the thunderstorm coming on his smartphone, decided to get out of Dodge with his son, and another dad-son duo. A buddy called home and got permission to leave as well. Come to find out, he was the cook for one [angry] patrol!

      This issue of constant contact has been given increasing attention, and the results are in: It creates young people who are unable to cope with difficult situations on their own, who are unable to make decisions, and who have poor planning skills. It’s a detriment and one more reason to leave the phone at home.

      • Our Troop Policy is that electronics are allowed in the vehicle (its 2 hours to our regular summer camp location & travel that far to camp other times during the year), but once at the campsite the electronics stays in the vehicle or given to the designated ASM until the ride home. This is what the PLC came up with and all Scouts seem to abide by it.

        For Troop Meetings, Scouts can keep their phone but are only to use it for Scout related stuff. If it becomes an issue, the SM/ASM confiscates it until the end of the meeting. I’ve even seen an Eagle Scout & SPL lose theirs for the evening.

    • Dave wrote, gave us some examples of what a reasonable Scouter would say is “not a good usage of an electronic instrument (cellphone)” and asked us: “Please tell me how to get past these barriers to Scout personal growth and SM/ASM ability to be responsible for mentoring and safety when they’re calling home? If you can do so, I’ll consider supporting Scouts with cells.”

      It starts at the first meeting of the year for the Troop. The “audiences” (the youth of the Troop and then those adults who support the Troop and/or are parents of youth in the Troop) hear and interact with me — and I make notes in my small notebook which Scouts’ parents did NOT attend the parental meeting so I can later meet with them BEFORE anything major occurs and definitely AFTER anything major occurs.

      I inform them that I nor my two Assistant Scoutmasters can “make tech go away” nor are we the “tech police.” That is a role for the Scout involved and his parents. They are allowed to bring tech to Scouting activities as long as they are USED AS TOOLS, just like the pocketknife, the bow saw, the hand axe, or a box of matches. The youth of the Troop — with some coaching from me and my Assistants — are responsible for enforcing and showing from personal example the limits of using electronics as anything other than tools to help them Scout.

      I then inform them of the Troop’s written and supportable policy dealing with electronics: misuse, as determined by YOUTH with oversight from adults, results in that item being withheld from that Scout and returned to the PARENT of that Scout at the conclusion of that activity, meeting or event. We don’t return things to the Scout — we give it back to the parent, who may or may not choose to give it back to their son. In most cases, those items were purchased for specific reasons by the parent and given to their child — the PARENT gets to choose how they will handle any kind of misuse. We also inform parents that some misusage may result in law enforcement being involved, so we will always give things we ask for to an ADULT.

      (I think when I talk about “law enforcement” being involved, that wakes a lot of otherwise slumbering adults awake. In one case, a Walkman which was taken during a day hike turned out to be “found” by a Scout during that hike and was reported to law enforcement.)

      Then, we leave it to the Scouts to enforce the Troop’s electronics policy. As far as calling Mom or Dad to “come get me”, fine. As long as Mom or Dad talks with ME (the Scoutmaster) or the responsible adult in charge of that activity — to confirm that yeah, they are the parents of that Scout; and yes, they are returning home — I have no problem with them calling their parents to come get them. They don’t get credit for participating in the event after that point, however. And sometimes parents arrive to pick up their child; but they leave empty-handed after talking with me and their son. It could be that all the Scout needed was some reassurance that their parents are “still on their side” especially when a campout seems to be “going against him”.

      Hope this helps a bit…

  27. Another thought… Nobody here has mentioned the fact that it makes it amazingly easy for the inappropriate picture to be taken and then off to facebook, twitter, snap-chat, instragram and more. Boys who are Scout age are quick to do this type of thing without thinking about consequences. This is even eluded to in YPT training when a Scout runs out of a restroom after you hear the clicking sound of a camera shutter.

    • I remember that one. Can’t stop boys from doing stupid things, but we sure can slow the damage down a little bit. Maybe give them a chance to think.

  28. Oh, and there’s the fun stuff at the Jamboree. The Charging stations (hang out and compare charging rates), bath house charging sites (verboten, but still…) (
    Any more???Oh the anxiety of NOT having your sphone up !), apps that didn’t, notifications that went from his Sphone verbally to the Troop/staff because their Sphones weren’t (smart), Scouts seen hiking along with texters in hand “oops, sorry”, dead spots, but then there was the Civil E that used his Vibration App to gauge the Consol bridge harmonics (whoa, that was something to see! Backk … and… forth… and …), tweets posted on the Jamboree Stage screen ( but no live broadcast),

  29. As a Scoutmaster, I take up, personal electronics, camera’s & cell phones when we arrive @ camp. If the needs arises to use them to take pictures, I will give them their phones & cameras to take pictures or video. I talk about responsibility & what is appropriate to film or record is also given. After that, they are returned to me until the ride home or another need to record. With the ease of posting pictures to the internet, it could become a YPT issue. What to youth might seem like a harmless prank of not thinking & taking a bathroom shot of his fellow scout could have some serious results. A YPT violation, the end of his scouting career and ending up on a Sex Offender Data base for life. And if someone else used the phone to take the picture , the owner of the phone is still responsible. It is just like being in a car when someone gets out & robs a gas station. You did not know it was going to happen, but now you are guilty by being in the car and of armed robbery. We had scouts at summer camp float the river on July 4th as part of a high adventure program, On the float trip they noticed young ladies floating the river nude. If they had a smart phone and posted what they saw while at camp, would this be something we would want to promote? I could already anticipate phone calls from concerned moms and not have a clue it happened. To some youth it would be a great recruiting tool. but is this living the Scout Oath & Law?

    Technology is great, but we also need to teach the outdoor skills without it. Batteries die, map websites have been wrong. I have been on may way to Philmont when the military on exercises put a 5 mile shift on GPS locations. I was in the middle of nowhere and the GPS showed streets. Then later it was right on. How awesome is it when the scouts do not have technology and they figure it out how to solve a problem by the skill they have within a patrol or remember the skills they were taught?

    I have taken up a phones for summer camp and still got a call from a mom that talked to her son, I had her sons phone, the scout found his tent buddy’s phone. After taking that phone I was able to deal with a home sick scout at camp. I have taken up smuggled phones Sat. morning after a scout stayed up all night talking to his girl friend and kept his fellow scouts from sleeping. His fellow scouts came to me to get the phone.

    As with the reason we all wear the same uniforms, it put scout richer or poorer on the same playing field. I have a dumb phone. Some of my scouts have smart phones and some do not have a phone because their parents can not afford one. I had scouts share their game system on the ride home with scout that did have one.

      • Couldn’t the moment such as the picture of the deer or elk be gone before the cell phones could be issued to take the picture. I agree that a better policy could be found.

        • Not really, our troop historian can have his camera during the day after the conversation of what is appropriate and when not to take picture when privacy should be respected. The most adults in camp have phones and some bring cameras. I sometimes have my camera. I will take picture and have no problem with request for photos. When a well run boy lead troop is working as it should, I have lots of time to take pictures if another adult is not already talking lots of photos. Just like BSA smoking policy, we try to only use our phones out of sight, only when there is a true need and not to take away from the outdoor experience. My scouts understand why we take up phones & electronics and are supportive. Sometimes technology is the easy way to solve a problem without thinking but does not always teach the skills. Most times they figure it out as a patrol or they ask for suggestions. As Scoutmaster, I am responsibly for everyone’s safety. I use technology when needed to make an educated judgment. I have used a weather radio, a phone call to have someone look at what the weather is doing on radar etc… . I am also trained as a NWS spotter, if I see severe weather, it is good to get more info to share so we can respond appropriately. NWS uses spotters to issue warnings based on what folks on the ground are seeing. With all that technology they still need info from the field.

  30. There are times in scouting when using a smartphone can be appropriate. My son as Senior Patrol Leader will use his phone to remember upcoming events for the troop which were in an email. I can see using the smartphone for learning different skills. I don’t think that it is a good idea to teach them to use it for navigation instead of a map and compass. The scouts need to learn the basics, before they get lazy and use the technology. My compass will not run out of power because I don’t have access to a charger, nor will my map suddenly disappear because the power ran out on my phone. I think later on in the program we should teach the scouts to use those functions, but they need to learn the basics first.

  31. Bring your phone…I bring mine. The Scoutmaster brings his. We are not the electronics police.

    Here is the simple rule in our Troop since we backpack most trips 10-20-30 miles in a weekend: Bring it. You are responsible for it, responsible for the content on it, and responsible if you loose it, it gets stolen, or it gets broken. If your battery dies…oh well, you figure out how to keep it charged on 50 miler. Work as a team and figure out how to manage that resource if it is valuable to you just like the resources of food, water, shelter.

    When you really and I mean really have an expeditionary style troop like we have the phones are in the packs for the majority of the day. They tend to come out when a picture is needed here and there on the trail or to listen to a tune say mile 8-9 when you are a little warn out and have 2-3 more to go uphill. It always picks up the moral and the pace. I think that is great. I love to see the perspective of the Scout posted on our Troop Facebook page or Tweeted out as he takes pictures of his journey. I never stop laughing at the selfies they come up with cause a Scout can find the funny in every situation.

    As adults with them we update our locations in real time if on an expedition in the backcountry. It helps us bread crumb trails, look at hiking pace, and feed back future data to the PLC when they are planning the next 50 miler.

    The parents enjoy seeing the pictures and they are part of the journey as it is happening in real time. For the worry parents this has done wonders. Their smartphone at home goes ding… we are on the trail 08:30… later that day… ding we are at the waterfall getting ready to cool off… ding… check out my selfie! Ding… all in bed, fed, and a great day of Scouting has happened! You don’t know how many parents have calmed way down because of this. Especially on multi-state or multi-national trips.

    Later after you have hiked 10 or 15 miles in a day and it’s raining outside or you are resting your feet, it is nice to sit in your hammock and listen to your favorite tune or watch a movie. Most of the time I fall asleep listening to music. Each of them now also have an alarm clock. Each of them now have a communications system if you are spread out on a trail across multiple miles in multiple patrols. We can hit one button and say shelter in place. SPL/PLs mark your locations, check the weather, hey…where is Timmy? The SPL who is on the other side of the field can get a quick message from the SM saying assemble the Troop…for we challenge you to a game of ultimate.

    For the leadership who is trying to control a problem that really doesn’t exist, think about this for a minute: Is it really your decision to make? Are you really in a boy-led troop if you are calling the cell phone shots? Our PLC is in charge of the decision making in the Troop with the concurrence of the SM and oversight by the Committee. If they vote to allow them, then allow them. Instruct them in the proper use, proper behavior, and any YP or safety issues. This is no different then anything else we do in Scouting.

    Maybe as a leader you have bigger issues to deal with than weather or not Little Timmy is playing angry birds in his tent. If he wants to do that, celebrate, he is in camp with you and not out getting in trouble. If that is the Scouting experience he chooses than so be it.

    But if you offer a really, and I mean really good program, they tend to come out of the tent and join in.

    • If you do a lot of big hikes and think you need a way to keep it charged, they have some portable ways to charge your phone, and some hiking solar panels at you can also get their products at amazon. The things they have for sale really come in handy at the BSA 2014 National Jamboree.

    • Great comment – but how are you communicating via text or email (with parents), or even getting your smartphone to work in the “backcountry”? From my limited experience – no one can ever get coverage in the true backcountry (cell phone companies don’t put towers up there). Curious to hear/understand more. Thanks.

      • DoubleDibbs,

        It is getting harder and harder to find a location without a bar or two, even in the backcountry, especailly on the East Coast. Ironically I get 2 bars on my Iphone at home located between 2 Walmarts in urban SC. When I took them to very rural areas of Honduras last year… 5 bars.

        Way… off in the places where no body goes… you have options of sat comms. There are two or three that come to mind outside of an actual sat phone. Cerberus, SPOT Connect and Delorme InReach SE are devices that allow you to push info from your SmartPhone via bluetooth back home. Now these are not inexpensive options and each model has plus and minus points. Some you can rent, some you have to buy, all have subscriptions, etc.

  32. I believe Mr. Butler has is about right, when it comes to mobile devices for today and the future. The biggest obstacle I see to properly incorporating mobile devices into the scouting program is this: “I guess if we can control the proper use of a pocketknife, it should be possible to do the same with a smart phone.” But that is all he says. No mention of BSA’s “Cyber Chip” nor the section in YPT about improper use of mobile devices/cameras/cyber bullying/etc. Is this article perhaps a subtle “nudge” to have Cyber Chip required for youth to “carry” and use a mobile device during any scouting event? After all, other “chips” teach safety and proper use and are REQUIRED for a youth to carry/use the tool at a scouting activity. Whittling Chip is required for pocketknife use. Totin’ Chip for ax and hand tools. While I find cyber “safety” is being emphasized more and more, proper use/cyber “etiquette” is not yet emphasized enough. Our cyber world and the devices that go with it have developed so quickly and are so popular in all areas of our society especially the youth, that we grown-ups often don’t realize the problems that can arise from the misuse of these devices, whether intended or innocent. Perhaps BSA would consider including Cyber Chip in future JTE score requirements for units &/or districts? (similarly: ScoutStrong was added to JTE to encourage regular health/fitness activities in units). I’ve taught/mentored Cyber Chip to CS and Scouts and find that MANY ADULTS don’t realize the possible dangers/problems that can arise from simple/innocent misuse of or ignorance about their “smart” device.

  33. I think there are two different discussions here….

    a) Is a smartphone useful with it’s apps on a hike, trip, merit badge, jamboree, training, ICOE (in case of emergency), etc.

    Yes. Of course. Why wouldn’t it be? Let them have it and use it. It IS a pocketknife in that regard.

    b) Should scouts be allowed to browse, play games, tweet, talk to a girlfriend (or boyfriend now), mom or dad, facebook, make videos, or otherwise kill time and be distracted when they are at summer camp, troop meetings, PLC meeting, when they should be leading their troop, when they should be listening to the leader or a presentation, concentrating on a trail or enjoying nature?

    I think the debate is in b) and depends on the troop, the parents and the leaders….and more importantly the age, maturity and history of each scout.

    I know of a troop who doesn’t allow scouts to hammock-camp until they’ve
    a) slept in a tent on the ground for a certain number of times (so they know) and
    b) taken hammock training (to not damage the tree or injure themselves.)

    So why not with Smartphones? No phones until
    a) you’ve reached Life Scout and
    b) either earned the cyberchip, gone through troop training or otherwise shown themselves to be responsible with the device.

  34. I’m all for the way I learned Scouting/outdoors skills 65 years ago! That’s the way you learn self sufficiency, and how to survive outdoors. This modern technology is super too! (As long as you keep it charged in case you need to call for emergency help)
    If you are going to be texting or talking on the phone most of the time, you’ll be missing out on the “here and now” outdoor experience in person with your friends!
    That’s my advice for really enjoying the trip by living in the present…so you can tell people about it when you return!

  35. Smartphones can be great tools. But one of the many goals of scouting is to connect with our youth on a personal level in order to pass along life’s lessons and learnings. An electronic compass is great, provided the battery holds up, is waterproof and can adjust for declination – otherwise its excess baggage.

    Not capturing life changing moments on a camera phone is not nearly as profound as actually living the moment. Life should not be lived through a camera lense, it should be experienced first hand. Scouting is not about observing life, or fun – its about taking an active part and living it. I would argue that the millions of scouts who came before us didn’t have a leaser experience because they didn’t have a smartphone. They also didn’t need the adulation and approval of a virtual network of friends because they had real ones.

    If your scouting program is not robust or interesting enough to keep our youth engaged without resorting to electronic gadgetry, game consoles and virtual experiences, then maybe we are fishing for the wrong types of fish.

  36. I had the pleasure of serving as Scoutmaster for a troop at the 2013 National Jamboree. My regular unit-level job is Assistant Scoutmaster of a 30+ member troop.

    The first of my two cents will deal with the National Jamboree: Mobile phones were promoted at the national level for the jamboree, so we had no choice in the matter. What we found at the jamboree was that 1.) the Scouts used them so much for games, etc. that the batteries quickly died and Scouts spent more time trying to charge phones than they did doing program. Most of my “behavioral” issues dealing with my scouts were with commissioners and staff running the Scouts away from unapproved charging areas, and 2.) the advertised wireless network did not actually work as advertised, and traditional cell phone coverage was spotty. This brought frustration to Scouts, who couldn’t do what they thought they could and frustration to parents, who couldn’t reach little Johnny like they thought they would be able to. We even had the hassle and expense (on the parent) of FedEx-ing a new SIM card to little Johnny when they discovered his current card did not work outside the area. A LOT of time, resources and emotional capital was expended on phones.

    The second of my two cents will deal with what I believe is the most important issue, and one that has yet to be mentioned: In a time with nearly every child has a smart phone with data capabilities, we CANNOT control was they are receiving or sending. What a 12 year old Scout cues up to watch late at night when they are in their tent, or what they choose to photograph or video at inappropriate times or situations. At the troop level, we have already had to deal with video of inappropriate activities leaking to a broader audience. YES, the behavior would have happened with or without the video, and YES, we dealt with the behavior. The unintended, and collateral consequence is in the number who are affected outside the limited circle that would have otherwise been effected. It’s a Pandora’s Box that has been opened, and we’re just now peeking inside.

    What is a useful and necessary tool for a mature, responsible adult can be a dangerous and hurtful weapon in the hands of a pubescent, impressionable, precocious and mischievous child and it’s unintended damage can be exponential. They are absolutely forbidden on troop overnights except when used expressly for technology-based activities. For that I make no apologies.

  37. Reblogged this on Mark Ray | Writer and commented:
    Great thoughts on the use of smartphones in Scouting, which I support. Of course, many Scouters disagree, some with valid reasons. (My successor as Scoutmaster was quite surprised at summer camp the day a mom showed up to pick up her homesick son, who’d brought a contraband phone to camp.) Whether you agree or disagree with allowing smartphones in your troop, remember one thing: It’s not your troop. 🙂 The patrol leaders’ council, with your guidance, should set policies like this. Too often, we say we support the youth leadership method but then make decisions by fiat or pull rank when we disagree with the decisions our youth leaders make. And think about this question: Which of these options will teach youth leaders more about leadership: 1) “I’m the Scoutmaster, and I say no smartphones.”) or 2) “Guys, you all remember the problem we had at summer camp last year when Johnny called his mom and she drove out to pick him up. How could you craft a policy that would prevent problems like that but still allow Scouts to use smartphones as a tool?”

  38. The problem is not using the phone as a GPS. The problem is when Scout A says something to Scout B that Scout B takes offense at and MY cell phone rings because “The boys are being mean to my son – do something!” or the parent even shows up at the campsite! We have numerous mothers that call their son one, two or even 3 times a day to “make sure he’s O.K.” if they have their phones. Yes, I’ve told them several times that this is not how the Scouting program works. They don’t care.

  39. While technology has many benefits already discussed, realistically kids use it for entertainment more than anything else. One of the benefits of scouting is escaping the mindless entertainment that technology offers. Kids already waste enormous amounts of time on this. As a mom, I don’t worry about my scouts on camp outs with the troop. I trust my boys and the leadership. I would however worry about what they are exposed to with unsupervised access to internet. Many young boys do not have good judgement. My boys do not have smart phones. I let them go on scouting trips to learn about the outdoors, push themselves to be independent, learn leadership skills. I think that being boy led does not mean allowing them to fundamentally change what scouting is about. It is not about video games, You tube videos, Facebook, Twitter, instagram or any of the other internet sites that consume today’s kids. If you want to allow them to use a smart phone as a teaching tool, use one of the adult phones so that it is only used for learning.

  40. Like everything in life, it is finding the balance.

    As for recording “every single one of those life changing moments”, I would have to disagree, at least in part. I am a professional photographer, so, if anyone can appreciate capturing moments, it’s me…but not everything needs to be recorded. Even when photographing a wedding I suggest to the couple that not everything needs to be photographed, that some things should be memories. Besides, when photographing something, your experience is limited – it is very easy to be so consumed with making the photograph that you don’t take in everything else that is going on. Yes, the opportunity to make images of the experience is well worth the time, but take a moment to step back and take in the whole thing as well.

    • Mark: That is what I was trying to say earlier. I read the same thing somewhere about being so consumed in filming/photographing the scene that one actually misses what is happening.

  41. I am all for the good ways in which smart phones can enhance the scouting experience. My son uses his to look up recipes, keep his SPL notes and plans, find locations,… in other words, he uses his phone appropriately during scouting events. He may also play a game or watch the news on the way to and from the destination (a four hour drive can be long). He always makes sure to watch the world go by looking out the window on these trips, but sometimes you just want to listen to music or just enjoy yourself (he happens to enjoy being up to date with world happenings).
    He is now 16, a Life Scout, SPL and just finished his Eagle Project. He has a great deal of maturity under his belt.
    Here is my problem, 3 years ago, on a patrol campout, a scout a year older than my son (a high schooler) pulled out a smart phone in the tent. They did not play angry birds. This kid pulled up a porn video and showed it to the 3 middle school boys in his tent. My son was very affected by this, disgusted and disturbed. The other two boys were engaged, my son rolled over and tried to tune out the sounds he heard and go to sleep. While we want to believe that all scouts have good intentions, they are just curious boys and some kids like to flirt with the “forbidden”. My son told me about this incident, since it affected him greatly. The adults in charge had no idea that this happened.
    This is my only problem with boys having smart phones on Boy Scout trips. Some WILL use it inappropriately and cause undue emotional harm to others. Adults on the trip will not know about this. Boys will not come forward to tell about this. Electronics were not allowed in our troop at the time of this campout, yet it happened anyway.

    I like the suggestion of limiting smartphone use to those boys who have had training and reached Life Scout rank.

  42. Sorry, I have to say they are a curse. Having been a Camp Director and experiencing a lightning strike at the camp I was directing a smart phone would have caused a multitude of problems. Media personnel would have been flooding all over the camp before it would have been possible to secure it. As phone conversations go the word would have made it home but been blown all out of proportion and an ensuing panic would have sent hundreds of worried parents unnecessarily to camp.
    Protocol calls for a specific chain of command in such instances to control panic, limit chaos, keep media out of the way until an appropriate time, and paramount: get aid to those fallen Scouts and Scouters in the most efficient manner. As it was keeping media away from the campers and out of camp (A Youth Protection problem) was a nightmare and required police intervention to do so.
    Thank God there were no “smart phones” in 2001!

  43. I can’t speak for Android but the big problem with IOS is the pathetic parental controls. You can’t limit some apps and allow others and every time you disable the controls all the setting revert to default and it takes 5 minutes to set them up again.

    Unlike choosing an appropriate pocket knife you have the choice of handing them a butter knife or an assault riffle, there really is no middle ground.

    • We have used BSA’s Cyber Chip at CS & Scout levels since it was introduced a short time ago. However, I really like the idea of specifically incorporating The Scout Law, and perhaps even the Oath into the Cyber Chip program.

  44. It’s how you coach the Scouts to use or not use the tool.

    I’ve had Scouts with cellphones in their pockets use them responsibly and with great success and benefit.

    A Scout uses a smartphone to look-up the weather before heading off on a hike, a Scout takes before and after pictures of the troop’s service project, a patrol checks in with the SPL via text message when they find the next marker of an orientation course — all great!

    A Scout has his nose in his phone and spends the weekend on Facebook, texting his girlfriend and ignoring his other patrol members; two Scouts are too busy watching YouTube videos and listening to music to really enjoy being in the outdoors; Scouts posts rude comments about each other on Facebook; a Scout plays Angry Birds rather than cleaning up the campsite; the Scouts decide to prank call people using someone’s phone — all bad!

    But I’ve also had Scouts without cellphones be distracted, disconnected, and troublemakers.

    A Scout has his nose in a book and spends the weekend in his tent ignoring his other patrol members; two Scouts are too busy playing with their trading cards to really enjoy being in the outdoors; two Scouts get in a fight and trade insults or pull pranks on each other; a Scout is wrapped up doing a crossword puzzle rather than cleaning up the campsite; the Scouts find a payphone by the bathrooms and prank call people — all bad!

    It’s not the phone that is “bad” it’s how it’s used.

    • I agree! I’ve had way more “problems” with Scouts being disconnected from their patrol members, responsibilities or the great outdoors because they were wrapped up in a book or a card game than I’ve had problems because they’ve been distracted by a phone. I had an SPL spend his whole week at summer camp completing his summer reading for his AP classes. Should we ban books from campout too?

  45. In the “real world” phones exist. And we should be teaching our Scouts how to “be prepared” to live and function in the real world.

    Yes, I want my Scout to to make eye-contact and have a real conversation while they sit around the campfire on a Saturday night. But I want it because the Scout have manners and they know how to moderate and control themselves while they have that alluring cell phone burning a hole in their pocket (yes, maybe they use it to look up a fact in a conversation, or post a picture of a mountaintop view to their friends on Facebook, or even use it send their mom a text saying they survived the 20-mile hike earlier that day). I don’t want it to be simply because their phones were confiscated when they arrived on Friday. That doesn’t teach responsibility and self-control. When they get out into the “real wold” they won’t know how to balance a phone and the real world and will go off to college and spend their Saturday nights wrapped up in their phone rather than making eye-contact and interacting with other people.

    We want Scouts to be prepared for life. Cellphones are a part of life in the 21st century.

    • You’re so right about that. Sadly adults need self control in this area too. A funny, but serious event happened recently in court between Apple and Samsung. Judge Koh had to collect people’s smartphones up because they were being used during the trial.

  46. I have 7 photos of my scouting experience in actual printed out camera form. I have a few digital stills – but my parents didn’t go on campouts with me – I didn’t have a dedicated photographer for my experiences. I kept a journal, but I wish I had video of camp skits, photos from activities and such. I had a camera and never developed the film because that was an add on expense and then they got lost….

    I think the camera thing is huge. I also think the apps can bring a lot for organization – if they are taught well how to use them. I think each Troop should decide for themselves what their policy is and update it every once in a while.

    I also think the social media benefits of youth sharing their appropriate photos with their friends could help scouting as well.

  47. After reading all of the comments, maybe … and I’m just brain storming here … those troops and leaders who don’t have a problem with smartphones have a healthy, well-run troop and program; and those that do have a problem with smartphones is an indication that the troop leadership or program has some issues that need to be addressed.

    • Maybe..or the troops that don’t have a problem only THINK they don’t have a problem. Although many of us like to believe we have our fingers on the pulse of our troop at all times, we really don’t know everything that happens out of our sight.

      • What I’m hearing is rather than try and educate and help our Scouts grow or trust them; we’ll just outlaw something they use in their daily life. It makes us look foolish.

        • There are plenty of things that youth use in their daily lives that are generally “outlawed”. Would a leader look “foolish” because they didn’t allow a youth to bring his Xbox camping when the site they are going to has electricity?

        • You’re really reaching and not getting it OR you aren’t open to change. The world changes we adapt or we become irrelevant.

  48. We as adults have an obligation to always think of ways to properly bait our hooks and reel in our scouts. It’s easy to question and criticize change but it is a true leader who finds a way to make change a positive experience. Make it work.

    • I held a Catholic camporee~retreat for around 140 Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts this weekend at our local camp. We had so many stations and open time activities that the kids couldn’t get to all of them. Their free time was just that FREE TIME. The thing they really seemed to like was a pick up football game on the parade field with 30 to 40 boys and girls playing together. Maybe because we baited the hook right we had no issues with electronic devices. We never even talked about it. It’s our responsibility to make electronics a non issue. Do that & you don’t need blanket policies.

  49. This article came up with our adult leaders after our campfire this past weekend. There are many positive things that smartphones can add to the Scouting experience, but there are dangers too. What about the Scout that takes an inappropriate picture and then sends out a Tweet or posts it their Instagram or Facebook page. Whether they do it while on the camp out or wait till they get home because they didn’t have cell signal, its out there and the damage is done. It only takes a second to make a bad decision that effects them for a lifetime.

    That said, I think we can handle it like we do any potentially dangerous activity; teach them the proper way to use the tool. We have a Totin’ chip, maybe we can develope a “Micro-chip” or something.

    • If nothing else, perhaps this thread will publicize to some that have not realized it yet.

      There IS ALREADY a Cyber-Chip for this exact thing (instruction on appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle a potentially harmful tool in a sage and responsible manner). In fact, the Cyber-Chip even goes on to cover Social Media and appropriate uses there as well.

      BSA is ALL ABOUT allowing Boys (and young women) to practice and learn in a safe environment. As Leaders, let’s never pass the buck. I want to be confident that we did all we could to mold these youngsters into leaders when we had the chance.

  50. I often use the analogy of a sports team- how many players have a cell phone when they are on the field? Or even sitting on the bench? – why is okay to have one on a scout outing, but not in a sports event? – You could make the same arguments for the benefits of capturing the moment, looking up important stats, prepping for the game as a reason to allow players to have cell phones while sitting on the bench-

    As with any tool, it takes maturity to use them properly- after all a chain saw is a much more efficient way to cut firewood than a bow saw, but we don’t let scouts use them for obvious safety reasons) – my biggest issue with the phones is that their primary use is communication- and inappropriate communication can quickly exacerbate a situation and destroy many a teaching opportunity– (in the current YPT video on there is a scene of a scout taking photos with his phone in the bathroom– and while the photo taking alone is bad enough, the cell phone affords him the opportunity to post if for the world to see immediately) –

    There is no easy answer- but I have I appreciate some of the suggestions I have read in this thread-

  51. Let’s face one simple fact, technology is here to stay. If Scouting is to remain relevant in the eyes of the youth then we must be open to using technology as one of the many tools we use to teach them. That is not to say that it should replace the old ways of doing things, but it can augment it in a limited way, limited so as not to be a distraction to the program. Let’s face it, anything can be a distraction to youth. Don’t blame everything on the technology, there are some youth who just have a hard time paying attention.

    I would suggest that there be times and places where technology would be allowed to be used and others where it would not. Any place where it could augment the experience of scouting should be welcome. Some places where you might want to ban them would be during work details, meals (eating part, not prep) and definately after lights out.

    For practical uses, let’s take Orienteering for an example. Sure, you could go Full GPS Guidance with a Smart Phone and they wouldn’t learn anything. But, if you show them the power and the limitations of the device. Then show them the Old School map and compass way. Then, how about showing them how to find the north star, look for moss on a tree, use sticks and a shadow to determine direction.Maybe even bring a magnet and a needle and show them how to MAKE a compass. You can then bring it back full circle and show them how the smart phone can help, but the GPS signal can be lost in dense forest or steep cliffs. How quickly the battery can run out and how hard it can be to use in bright sun or in rain or snow. Discuss how even the best Surveying GPS needs a base reference point from a fixed benchmark position to calibrate for accuracy. In teaching them that way they have been given a Full Overview of Orienteering, understand may ways of doing the same thing and come out with a better appreciation of the Old School Method.

    If you are going to teach them Photography would you use a Film Camera?

    As far as the Picture Taking goes, what is better than Scouts using Online Media to show their friends and family what they have been doing at camp. Talk about free PR!
    Yes, there is the possibility of someone taking an inappropriate picture, but aren’t we trying to teach them responsibility?

    There are tons of great Scout friendly apps out there for iOS and Android.

    Don’t ban them, definitely don’t use a ‘jammer’ as they are illegal and block everything including 911 calls.

    If we are to embrace S.T.E.M. then how can we say no to smartphones? Control them and use them to make the Scouting experience better for today’s youth. You may even find them not wanting to use them after a while and start relying on themselves.

    Set the rules, give them guidance and embrace the present. You may find it a powerful tool to teach them the past.

  52. I did not read all of the commits, scanned through some of them and one point that I feel was missed. Real time weather alerts. Smart use of the smart phones has kept our troop well out of dangerous weather.

    Set some rules, when they can use them and when not. The moms and dad who don’t camp with the troop will love getting photos sent home!

    Maybe a Smartphone Merit badge?

  53. I take issue with this statement:

    “It clearly beats the compass when it comes to learning about effective land or water navigation.”

    It does until it is out of power, if you are referring to it using it as a GPS receiver. I would add that the Geocaching merit badge teaches that a compass and map are essential for effective GPS use.

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