Five concerns parents might have about the move from Cub Scouts to Scouts BSA

I’ll never forget the first den meeting of my son’s Arrow of Light year.

As we did every fall, we gathered the parents and Cub Scouts together and talked about what the coming months would look like, what we hoped to accomplish, and how much fun we’d have going camping and doing other Cub Scout activities.

And then I told them how early next spring, the den would dissolve, having fulfilled its purpose of guiding its members through the Cub Scout program and into Scouts BSA. (It was called Boy Scouts back then, but the concept remains the same.)

“Wait, what?” said one Cub Scout dad who had become one of my best friends during our sons’ journeys over the previous five years.

“Hang on a sec,” said one of the Cub Scout moms in attendance that evening.

“You mean, you aren’t going to be our den leader anymore?” asked one of the Cub Scouts.

And that was when I realized that I had a lot of explaining to do.

There are a lot of differences between Cub Scouts and Scouts BSA, and what seems obvious to those of us who have been involved in Scouting for years might not be so obvious to those who haven’t.

Below are five questions parents might have about the move from Cub Scouts to Scouts BSA, based on my own experience and on conversations I’ve had with others who have gone through the same thing.

Am I leaving anything out? Let me know in the comments!

What happens to our Arrow of Light den?

Officially speaking, the Arrow of Light den no longer exists once its youth members cross over into Scouts BSA. Like a nest that served as the protective home for a family of baby birds, it has served its purpose and is no longer needed when those birds are old enough to fly off on their own.

However, this doesn’t mean that the same group of kids can’t stick together in Scouts BSA, should they and their families choose to do so.

Really? How does that work?

Some chartering organizations sponsor both Cub Scout packs and Scouts BSA troops (and maybe even Venturing crews and Sea Scout ships). It’s common in these situations for an entire Arrow of Light den to cross over into the same Scouts BSA troop to continue their Scouting journey together, should they choose to do so.

In many instances, however, a chartering organization only sponsors a Cub Scout pack and not a Scouts BSA troop. This leaves each family the opportunity to choose a troop that works best for them.

Perhaps they all end up in the same troop anyway. Or, maybe they don’t.

What?!? That sounds terrifying!

Not at all.

There are lots of factors that go into deciding which Scouts BSA troop your child should join.

By completing the Arrow of Light program, your Cub Scout will have spent some time around one or more Scouts BSA units. So, they will already have some idea of how Scouts BSA works.

Still, there are other things to consider when choosing which troop to join:

  • Which night do they meet?
  • How often do they go camping?
  • Do they specialize in any activities that appeal to my child, such as rock climbing, aquatics, backpacking, etc.?
  • Do they regularly attend any of the BSA’s national high-adventure bases?
  • What does their fundraising structure look like?

When it’s all said and done, maybe some of the families end up in the same troop together, and maybe some others don’t, and that’s OK! Part of the beauty of the BSA programs is that you’re allowed to join the unit that works best for you.

What about our Arrow of Light den leader? They’ve been so great to us over the years!

Like a momma bird that has successfully raised her young to the point that they are old enough to take care of themselves, the Arrow of Light den leader’s job is complete once the den has completed the AOL program and its members have crossed over into Scouts BSA.

So sad!

And yet, this is exactly how the program is designed to work.

Hopefully, that den leader will volunteer for some kind of leadership role in their child’s Scouts BSA troop. Even if they do, however, their role will be much different than it was before.

What does my child need to know to Be Prepared for Scouts BSA?

There are quite a few differences between Scouts BSA and Cub Scouts. Cub Scouting is a family-oriented program designed specifically to address the needs of younger boys and girls. Scouts BSA is designed to achieve the aims of Scouting through a vigorous outdoor program and peer group leadership with the counsel of an adult Scoutmaster.

  • Scouts BSA members work on advancement at their own pace, versus a den that usually works on advancement together.
  • Scouts BSA offers more of “choose your own adventure” element, as Scouts have the ability to pick merit badges that sound exciting to their specific interests.
  • Scouts BSA troops are supervised by adults but led by youth. Gone are the days where the Cub Scout leaders choose the activities for the kids. In Scouts BSA, it’s the youth who choose what they do, under the supervision of responsible adults.

But let’s be honest here: It’s not the kids who are going to be the most stressed out about crossing over into Scouts BSA. It’s the parents.

In Cub Scout camping, the parents shared a tent with their kids and could be responsible for making sure their kids performed vital tasks like eating dinner and brushing their teeth. In Scouts BSA, the kids will be tenting with other Scouts and will be responsible for all of that stuff on their own.

Even the meetings are different. Most Scouts BSA meetings are run by youth leaders. This can lead to some stressful moments for parents who might be used to jumping in and restoring order if things get chaotic.

(My advice: Let the kids handle it. They can do it!)

The role of a parent shifts once their child enters Scouts BSA, but it is still important. Every parent (and den leader) can find a place to serve in their new troop, whether it’s as a committee member, assistant Scoutmaster or other role.

Pro tip: Make sure your child attends summer camp that first year of Scouts BSA. It’ll be an amazing experience that you and they will never regret.

The bottom line is this: Scouts BSA offers you the opportunity see your child begin to gain a deeper independence.

When your child comes home from a weekend camping trip, summer camp or high-adventure outing, you might notice that they stand just a little bit taller, thanks to the confidence and leadership skills they leaned while they were there.

Hey, I get it. I miss the days when my son would hold my hand as we walked from the parking lot into our den meetings.

But rest assured, the Scouts BSA program was built for this.

And your child was built for this, too.

BSA file photo by Michael Roytek


About Aaron Derr 448 Articles
Aaron Derr is the senior editor of Scout Life and Scouting magazines, and also a former Cubmaster and Scouts BSA volunteer.