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 this research from 2015.

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.

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.