Yes it does, according to new research from Tufts University doctoral candidate Dan Warren.
Warren studied 4,000 kids in the Philadelphia area, including some who are in Scouting and some who aren’t. The research by Tufts University was funded through a grant by the John Templeton Foundation in Philadelphia.
He shares his fascinating findings in the January 2015 episode of CubCast, the BSA’s official podcast for Cub Scout leaders.
Warren tells CubCast hosts Pat Wellen and Aaron Derr that three characteristics make something “a positive youth-development program.”
The good news for Cub Scouters is that the BSA checks all three boxes. The characteristics are:
1. Includes sustained, positive adult-youth relations with caring and supporting adults
“The suggestion is that this takes at least a year of connection in order to really benefit from this,” Warren says. “Scouting accomplishes this by leadership positions and extends over a year of time in a variety of settings, so Cub Scouting checks that box really well.”
2. Promotes development of life skills through program activities
“Scouting is full of skills that can be directly applied to the life of a growing boy from everything from cooking to crafting skills,” Warren says. “Also, life skills like communication are all aspects of Scouting.”
3. Provides leadership opportunities
Check. That’s three for three.
“I mean, if there’s one giant thing that Scouting produces, it’s leaders,” Warren says. “As the Scouts progress in the program, they’re allowed to take on more and more responsibility.”
What about selection bias?
Wellen asks: Aren’t boys who get into Cub Scouting already boys of high character? If that’s the case, the study doesn’t really prove anything.
Warren answers that question thusly:
“This is not the case. It’s like talking about why Harvard students they do well. ‘Well, your selection standards were incredibly high so of course you’re going to do well,'” he says. “When we look at the kids who are coming into the program and their characteristics, especially when you start looking at the younger years where they haven’t been in the program for a long period of time or they’re just new Scouts, we’re not seeing a big difference here.
“You cannot identify them from other kids. In a really neat way, you have an average group of kids that come to Scouts.”
In other words, Scouting changes them for the better.
Sports or Scouting — or both?
Warren even uses his research to address the age-old question of whether a kid gets more out of Scouting or sports, and the answer may surprise you.
He found that a young person’s best bet might be participating in both.
Few kids are in only one after-school program anyway, but if they’re in just one, it’s typically sports. Some 80 percent of American youth have some sort of sports involvement, Warren says.
The jury is still out on the benefits of sports participation. Some studies show pros like better grades, improved self-esteem, enhanced leadership skills. Others show cons like increased aggression, reduced ability to see right and wrong, and more chance for risk behaviors.
But if a kid is only doing sports, he might not be living up to his potential.
“What we found was that if kids are participating in sports and nothing else, things didn’t seem to go well,” Warren says. “If they were participating in some type of youth-development program like a Boy Scout, when you add sports onto that, there is this amazing result. It catapulted.”
Sports and Scouting combine to create the character-building environment outlined in Nos. 1, 2 and 3 above. The benefits of convergence seem to go against the concept of Scouting and sports being competitors. Instead, Warren says, they should be teammates.
“I think if the leaders of these organizations are going to not see this as a competition, start reaching a hand over there and saying, ‘How can we work together to make sure our games and our camporees can work at the same time because we’re benefitting each other?’ That’s really important,” he says.
I’ll share more about this study once it’s fully released. Meanwhile, you can get more of this interesting discussion by listening to the complete January 2015 CubCast. Or you can read a transcript of it.
About the hosts
The January 2015 episode of CubCast marks the splendid debut of two new hosts. Pat Wellen is department manager of the Scouting Design & Development Center. Aaron Derr is senior writer for the BSA’s magazines, with work appearing in each issue of Boys’ Life.
The two did well in their debut episode, and I’m looking forward to hearing more discussions between them in future months.