What to do when you spot bullying — and your next steps if it becomes more serious

Note from Bryan: October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Each Wednesday this month, the BSA Youth Protection team will share important reminders about what each of us can do to prevent, recognize and report bullying as we work to make Scouting a safe place for all.

This post comes from Jim Wilson, national Youth Protection chairman.

What to do if bullying becomes serious

Sometimes, no matter how much we learn and teach about bullying, it still happens.

Sometimes what starts out as hazing, name calling, or seemingly “playful” actions escalate into serious bullying situations.

What happens then? What actions do we take? How do we resolve the issue?

The following are some of the tips that can help Scout leaders, parents and “upstanders” respond quickly and effectively:

  • Immediately stop the bullying, and control the situation. Separate the bully and the target.
  • State what behaviors you saw or heard that are unacceptable and against the Scout Law.
  • Support the bullied youth in a way that allows him or her to regain self-control and feel safe from retaliation.
  • Do not require Scouts to apologize or make amends during the heat of the moment. Let things cool off!
  • Immediately notify parents or guardians of both the target and the youth who bullied of what occurred. Address the parents’/guardians’ questions and concerns, and inform them of next steps.
  • To seek further help, contact the “Scouts First” Helpline for Abuse and Youth Protection: 1-844-Scouts1 (1-844-726-8871)

If the bullying gets worse and you need additional help, consider the following if:

  • Someone is at immediate risk of harm because of bullying. In this case, call 911.
  • Your Scout is feeling suicidal because of bullying. Contact the suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Your Scout’s leader is not keeping your Scout safe from being bullied. Contact your local BSA Scout Executive through your council service center.
  • Your Scout is sick, stressed, not sleeping or is having other problems because of bullying. Contact a health professional.
  • Your Scout is bullied because of his or her race, ethnicity or disability, and local help is not working to solve the problem. Contact Boy Scouts of America Member Care at 972-580-2489.

All adult leaders and youth members have responsibility here. Everyone must act in accordance with the Scout Oath and Scout Law.

Let’s ensure that hazing, discrimination, harassment, bullying and cyberbullying have no place in the Scouting program. Any of these could result in revocation of membership.

For more information, see BSA’s Guide to Safe Scouting and Youth Protection resources.

President Theodore Roosevelt said it best: “Knowing what’s right doesn’t mean much unless you do what’s right.”

Let’s make sure we do what’s right where bullying is involved.


  1. It doesn’t appear from the post that BSA is willing to recognize bullying based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The implication is that such bullying is acceptable in BSA.

    We are not protecting youth by pretending that bullying based sexual orientation or gender identity doesn’t happen. This is wrong.

  2. Charles, Bryan, Jim, Darlene and others, not that I’m an expert – but it breaks my heart to see an article about protecting children end up with a handful of thumbs down icons. Seems to me the world has become hyper-politicized and the BSA has (and will continue) to find itself a part of that hyperpoliticized world.

    Charles it seems to me, Jim’s article doesn’t reference the cause of bullying. People get bullied for all sorts of reasons, economic status, racial, height or physical prowess, interests etc. The thing about bullying is that it is unwarranted, by its very nature bullying equates a person’s inherent worth and dignity to a single attribute. The act of bullying picks on a persons uniqueness and singles it out as a weakness. That’s why bullying is so dangerous (and common) among pre-teens and teens. Because during those ages they want to fit in, and they gain their self worth from peer recognition. That’s why bullying, in all forms and regardless of motivation, is so sinister and hurtful. As Scouters we need to take it seriously and act to prevent it in all forms, regardless of the cause.

    On the other hand, the BSA spent decades over stepping our bounds by interpreting for chartered organizations and families who was an acceptable member of their local Scouting community. That was never our place and we hurt people in that process. I for one, am sorry that we ever made a Scout or Scouter feel unwelcome. While I understand, every chartered organization might not be a good fit for every family, we should be dedicated to helping every family find the right Scouting environment. And we should always create an environment the respects each individual.

    All that being said, sometimes it’s OK and appropriate to “over-reach” when you’ve hurt someone. Think of it as bringing flowers home to your spouse a week after you made a mistake. You solved the problem a week ago, but now you dig a little deeper and make sure your spouse knows you are sorry. That extra effort goes a long way toward repairing the damage.

    It takes a little humility to bring those flowers a week later. It’s one thing to apologize in the moment, but a week later? The flowers, along with a change in behavior, shows sincere contrition.

    The thing I’ve always observed about the Scouting community, is that it’s made up of genuine and kind people. People who would never want to hurt anyone. And people who want badly to share Scouting so others can gain and grow from it too!

    I think the disconnect between Jim’s article, your comment, and the thumbs down icons is about the flowers and the change in behavior. You, and many in the Scouting community are hopeful and looking to see the flowers and the change in behavior. I suspect, others in the Scouting community believe they’ve already delivered the flowers and changed behavior.

    This hyper-politicized world enhances the everyone’s sensitivity to the apology and the subsequent actions.

    I can’t (or shouldn’t) comment for others and I realize I’ve made a couple leaps here, I hope everyone knows those stated suspicions are just me trying to empathize and I’m open to any comment and feedback.

    However, I can control what I do personally, and how I interpret our local Scouting community. As the Scout Executive for Spirit of Adventure Council, we recently hosted our first LGBTQ day at our flagship camp. Our camp is open to the public, and open year round. We served about 400 – 500 campers that weekend. Lots of girls (about 40%) lots of LGBTQ staff (including the weekend’s camp director) lots of Non-Scouts (typically about 25% of our guests). EVERYONE in camp participates in the Scouting curriculum.

    I guess I write this whole thing to say – there is room for everyone in Scouting, and no room for bullying. We aren’t perfect, sometimes Scouts burn the pancakes, the best thing about Scouting is, the Scouts learn not to burn the pancakes next time – by eating burnt pancakes. YUM!

  3. Can you please also comment on how a scout can help other scouts who are being bullied by adult leadership? For example, conflicts with Adult leadership that is unkind and challenging rather than kind and instructive and when it is repeated.

      • they’ve been found to be useless and want to make things appear less serious for the scout than actually are. then the adults retaliate for the youth and the parent complaining to make them feel guilty. that’s the reality. We know

  4. Just a little bit of information on the response regarding “being bullied by adult leadership” / “conflicts with adult leadership”. With “issues” in our current troop scout leadership of late, we (the parents and other committee members), have exhaustively engaged our council service center only to find out that they can’t act on anything less than child-abuse accusations. Lesser matters need to be taken up with the charter organization(s). In which case, they may or may not do anything about the “issue”. Regardless for us, this has resulted in a pull-back of the engagement parents/volunteers/leaders in our troop as well as significant attrition in our scouting ranks. It is truly discouraging that few bad apples in key leadership roles can maintain themselves in position and cause this much harm to such an otherwise established and energetic troop.

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