Youth Protection and texting with Scouts

expertlogo1Waiting on that Scout to email or call you back? You could be waiting a long time.

These days, three-fourths of teens have smartphones, and their favorite way to communicate is by texting, according to the latest research.

If you’re a Scout leader, that isn’t news to you.

But how does the Youth Protection rule prohibiting one-on-one contact apply to texting? That was the question on the mind of a Scouter who emailed me recently and asked to remain anonymous. The Scouter writes:

Emailing Scouts/Venturers and following Youth Protection guidelines of two-deep leadership and no one-on-one contact is easy. I simply copy their parents on the email and ask the Scout to reply all.

But most of my Scouts don’t email. They want to text. How do you recommend I communicate with them by text? Some phones allow you to send group messages, while others don’t. What are your thoughts?

First, let’s review the official Youth Protection guideline on the matter:

Two-deep leadership and no one-on-one contact between adults and youth members includes digital communication. Leaders may not have one-on-one private online communications or engage one-on-one in other digital activities (games, social media, etc.) with youth members. Leaders should copy a parent and another leader in digital and online communication, ensuring no one-on-one contact exists in text, social media, or other forms of online or digital communication.

Next, let’s hear from Michael V. Johnson, the BSA’s Youth Protection director, who offers even more great insight:

Thank you for the question. Together with our Internet safety partner — the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and NetSmartz — the Youth Protection Task Force is familiar with the trend of youth moving away from emails and towards text as a primary form of communication.

We want to thank you for your concern and commitment to following Scouting policies found in Scouting’s Barriers to Abuse.

We suggest three things:

1. Hold a parents’ meeting and discuss communications with Scouts. Many parents (beyond the policy violation) do not want one-on-one communications with their children. A unit’s mutual agreement on Scout communication is important. It will demonstrate your Youth Protection concern and leadership on your part. Inform all of the policy and seek a reasonable, agreed-upon solution.

2. For planning and organization purposes, we do usually recommend a more-formal communication tool, rather than an unregulated third-party app. The Scoutbook web app, for instance, offers calendaring, planning and electronic two-deep leadership communication.

3. If you’re having trouble with group messaging on your phone, check your provider’s website or take your phone to your provider. The phone may have functionality you don’t know about. You may be able to copy parents or other leaders — which is required for all digital communications.

Learn more with this Cyber Chip webinar

In June, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and BSA hosted an informational session on Internet safety, the Cyber Chip and how you can make your Scouts safer online.

Watch a replay of the webinar here.

Your thoughts?

What are your preferred methods for digitally communicating with Scouts while still following Scouting’s Youth Protection guidelines? Please share your advice in the comments.

26 Comments

  1. My general thought:
    “Many parents (beyond the policy violation) do not want one-on-one communications with their children.”

    Lacking survey data that speaks contrary to this, it should be rewritten “some parents”. Most would rather have a scouter in text communication with the child. E.g. many of our parents have been grateful to scouters who’ve advised them of a child’s social media expression “going south.”

    However, this has to do with the content of the message. Parents might expect a one-on-one reply to “Can I get the name of a ___ merit badge counselor?” But they would certainly want to be in the loop while replying to a personal problem.

    Regardless, having the CC organize parents to discuss this is a good idea.

    Text messages can also be retrieved by parents. So, the notion of one-on-one contact gets a little blurred.

  2. I simply tell scouts not to text me. I explain that while I understand this is the communication route they are used to, the no one-on-one rule exists for everyone’s protection. We have a troop email account and encourage ‘official’ troop emails from the scribe and adults to use that rather than private accounts.

    • Agree with BryanK. Why can we have a phone conversation with a scout without being on speakerphone, but we can’t do a text without sending it to parents? It gets real confusing for the scout and parent on who should reply. I’ve had to resort to just texting the parents and having them relay the message to the scout.

      • I’m in total agreement with what you said and that is my position.

        If I can talk to a Scout one-on-one on the phone, with no speaker phone or being recorded, than why do I have to copy and e-mail or test?

        If I can have a conference with a Scout, in view of other individuals but not in earshot, why do I have to copy an email or text?

        If I can meet with a Scout in a public venue to approve an Eagle Scout Project or work on a merit badge, and we can converse out of earshot of anyone else and it’s NOT being recorded, then why do I have to copy an e-mail or text?

        If I can walk a Scout to his activity in summer camp and we are on a road or path with people coming and going and are conversing and it’s NOT being recorded or anybody else listening, then why do I have to copy an e-mail or text?

        Have I made my point? It’s a stupid policy and I refuse to abide by it as it is inconsistent as I listed above. Besides, any e-mail I send there is a “paper trail”; it’s recorded for prosperity. I have a copy and the Scout has a copy that he can show any interested party. You do NOT have that in a telephone conversation or private conversation.

        It makes absolutely no sense.

  3. So, just to make this fun … what about requirement 9b of Signs, Signals, and Codes merit badge:

    Share with your counselor 10 examples of symbols used in everyday life. Design your own symbol. Share it with your counselor and explain what it means. Then do the following:

    c. Discuss text-message symbols and why they are commonly used. Give examples of your favorite 10 text symbols or emoticons. Then see if your counselor or parent can identify the meaning or usage of each symbol.

    I guess a scout isn’t allowed to text the counselor those symbols?
    Or, can he text them, but the counselor can’t text back confirmation? 😛

    • He could text them and copy another scout, parent or leader by sending it as a group MMS. The counselor could in turn reply that same way.

      or…

      He could send those symbols in an email and copy another scout, parent or leader. The counselor could reply the same way.

      or…

      He could show those symbols on his phone to his counselor during a face-to-face meeting when he is also doing the discussion required for the first part of that requirement (and all of requirement 9b).

      or…

      He could print out those emoji and show them to the counselor during a face-to-face meeting.

      or…

      He could show his parents and get their response as the requirement allows and then discuss the results with his counselor.

      Plenty of ways to meet that requirement.

      I routinely have digital communications with my scouts. Mostly through text, facebook and email. It isn’t hard to keep the YPT requirements in mind and not that big of a hassle. Facebook allows for creation of closed groups to share posts or also message groups for instant messaging. We created a PLC group where all the scouts who have facebook accounts and are in the PLC can have discussions. The SM and all SA’s are also in that group. If we’re doing a group chat then the same rules apply, both SM and SA’s are a part if we have an adult having a conversation with youth. If I’m sending an email to a Scout I’ll CC his parent as well. If I’m sending a text, it’s a group SMS/MMS with a parent or other leader on the receipient list.

      The more common issue is getting a direct communication from a scout that is sent one-on-one. When I get those the response gets copied to either another leader or a parent as appropriate.

      These controls are really not that difficult nor are they any more than a few extra keystrokes.

        • The closed group in facebook for your unit is OK. Private channels are not. The closed group that you allow all parents, scouts, and leaders within your unit to be a part of follows the youth protection guidelines as anything posted would be open to all in the group, not one-on-one. Just remember, no private chats.

        • I think the passage “Therefore, no private channels (e.g., private Facebook groups or invite-only YouTube channels) are acceptable in helping to administer the Scouting program.” is being misinterpreted. This is understandable, because it’s worded very poorly. When they reference “private Facebook groups”, I believe what they mean is private between, for instance, a leader and a Scout, or in something hidden from the leadership of the Unit.

          I am about as certain as I can be that they do NOT mean to distinguish between “Public”, “Closed”, or “Secret” Facebook groups (https://www.facebook.com/help/220336891328465). FWIW, the units I have been involved in, all choose to make “Secret” groups, because we want them to be invite only, we want them to be only visible by members, we want to protect the privacy of our membership, we want to make the members feel more open to share pictures, or more open to discuss Unit business, and so on.

  4. We only text scouts through our Troop Web Host account. It automatically keeps a record of all messages, and it also sends a copy to their parents.

  5. We need to find a solution, either to loop in a troop watchdog or national needs to provide a monitored line or something. These kids are communicating with sport trainers, coaches, teachers, tutors, music/dance leaders, volunteer groups, church leaders, and non-scout camp staff all one-on-one and this is filling up their lives with THOSE activities. I agree we need to prevent any impropriety, but the delays in progress for both troop initiatives to line things up, is killing scouting. I have setup a read-for-all account for emails, but have been stymied on creating a free/cheap facility to aggregate texting.

  6. Our Venturing Crew uses GroupMe with great success. It allows you to send texts to an entire group at once and when someone responds the whole group sees it. It’s free and works across all smartphone platforms (iPhones, Androids, etc) and on basic phones too. In addition to the main group which includes everyone, we can quickly put together small groups as needed (for example, Crew officers or just those attending a particular activity)

  7. Our Crew has what we call Cyber 2 deep. If an adult has to message a Venturer. They must add an adult that is the same gender as the teen to the conversation. It works very well.

  8. The text says a parent ‘and’ another leader. That’s three adults. Could it be that there is a typo and it should say a patent ‘or’ another leader? We’re looking for “two deep leadership” aren’t we? Please clarify.

  9. A year ago I sent my first ever text message to the Asst. SM across the remote Lake because he was outside of range for a voice-mail message. We had Scouts canoeing and camping several miles distant and other Scouts with parents in a base camp where I was located as a back-up vehicle for shuttle to trailheads. I often write notes to Scouts, including the parents in the address bar, so kid and parents can read messages, all of which are Scout-related, especially for gear and equipment and outdoor skill applications. One should exercise good judgment in all communication; this used to be called common sense! Rarely have I had a problem with reasonable communication yet I save all e-mails in my Scouting file so I can pull up the messages on-demand. Covered!

  10. My interpretation is that those in National are (once again) not checking with those actually running units about how things are working in practice or even verifying logical consistency with other practices considered acceptable or effectively ignored (e.g. phone call protocol). When we can hardly get Scouts to use “Reply All” on emails, suggesting they should be asked to to remember to add a second person on a text they initiate comes across as ignoring the spirit of the question asked in order to stick to an answer acceptable to their lawyers.

  11. well, I solve this by simply refusing to communicate with scouts via text. I have all parents in my phone, and rely on the parents to be the relay. I will also not friend any of my scouts on FB.

    On a separate but related note, our DE recently forced everyone to change their troop’s FB groups from private (so we could share pictures and plans privately) to public. Prior to this, our troop’s page was a private group, and membership was restricted by us directly. All troop alumni, parents, scouters, our unit commissioner, our charter rep, our DE, and our district’s official pages were all members to ensure we not only got the word out to everyone who needed it, but to also comply with the spirit of YPT. Since the recent dictate from on high, we don’t share pictures anymore, and we’ve had a couple of strange things happen with members of the public. (DE was apprised when needed).

    The stupid part is simply this: if someone is planning to break YPT protocols on social media (facebook direct messaging, and sms messaging are only the first that come to mind), there’s not a single thing we as scouters can do to either detect it or to prevent it other than continuously stating the “thou shalt not…” requirements to any and all.

    one final point: if companies can’t get their employees (supposedly all full grown and responsible adults) to properly use the “reply all” vs just “reply” in their use of corporate e-mail… how do they expect youth to get it right every single time?

    • I’m reading this article and these comments and trying to decide whether it is worth commenting myself and you took the thought out of my head.

      “if someone is planning to break YPT protocols on social media… there’s not a single thing we as scouters can do to either detect it or to prevent it…”

      We CAN warn the kids and parents that if someone sends them a creepy message then they should save it and get that person removed from scouting I suppose.

      But overall the result of this rule is that I can’t have a quick conversation with my SPL while doing nothing to stop a predator from sending a one to one text.

  12. Scouter K, you got that correct. I coach sailing at a local yacht club, and also am a COR and active officer of a sea scout ship. The coaches text parents and youth. Depending if the details are a group issue or not. Parents get updates from directors and coaches, reminders for paperwork. You are correct that a lot of the rigidity of YP stems from past transgressions of a rather large group of 99.9 % male scouters. Mostly adults, and mostly under reported. While I detest these individuals, I also recognize that the nature of our programs are different, and that this is the price the youth and leaders of today must pay to ensure our safety. Our sailing club, has never had a youth protection issue, or anything remotely like BSA’s problems in over 60 years. We have high parent involvement. And, like sea scouting, it is for both male and female sailors. We have over 100 sailors and 20 volunteer coaches. Parents help with hot lunches and launching our 10 safety boats. Our scouts are part of this program, and their parents also participate.

  13. When I copy the parent, guess what happens? The parent jumps in to help the Scout with whatever the task or action is. This seems to work against boy-led goal of Scouting. Yes we can tell the parents not to do this, but frankly, these habits are ingrained and hard for them to break.

    I would really like to hear a clarification on the policy if possible. I think that if a second adult is copied then it is reasonable and creates similarity to other manifestations of two deep. Bryan can you please re-address this. The sheer volume of comments here suggests to me that at the least there is confusion and potentially some folks are not able to comply effectively with the guideline as presently written.

  14. Prohibiting phone calls (one-to-one, with no record) would be silly – nobody suggests it, some encourage it as preferable to text or email.
    But prohibiting texting and even emailing (which has record on both sides) is equally or more silly, an artifact of a policy that is stuck in the last century.
    Allowing text and email, even encouraging them over phone calls, is more in line with the goals of Youth Protection. The policy is overdue for change to align with practical reality today.

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