A little background might be useful. The vast majority of Boy Scout units in our area are sponsored by the LDS Church. Each BSA unit answers to the head of its chartering organization. In the LDS Church, that’s the ward bishop. The LDS Church enrolls boys in different levels of the BSA program based on age.
- Ages 8-10 are Cub Scouts.
- Ages 11-13 are Boy Scouts. But the church has a separate program for 11-year-olds. While the members of the New Scout Patrol are members of the Boy Scout troop, they do not participate in the troop’s full program. They hold few camps and they focus mainly on advancing through Scouting’s primary ranks.
- 14-15-year-olds are Varsity Scouts.
- 16-18-year-olds are Ventures.
LDS Church policy prohibits 11-year-old boys from attending summer camp with the troop. There is a loophole that allows people to skirt this regulation. 11-year-old boys cannot be barred from attending summer camp if they are accompanied the whole time by their parent or legal guardian. And there’s the rub.
One boy that is in our unit’s Cub Scout program turns 11 a week or so after the troop goes to summer camp. He’s only 10 right now. But his father wants to come to camp with the boy. You wouldn’t want a boy that will turn 12 during the summer to miss camp due to an accident of scheduling. But a 10-year-old is a different matter.
When I served as scoutmaster I had a similar situation. I simply went to the bishop — the charter organization head — and asked him to tell the father that the boy couldn’t go with the troop. That worked back then. But the father of the boy in question this year is a member of the ward bishopric.
Perhaps without realizing the difficulties he was foisting onto the scoutmaster, the bishop agreed to allow this man to take his son to summer camp with the troop. Since it wouldn’t be proper to allow only one individual such a privilege, all boys of a similar age in the ward must now be permitted the same opportunity.
This situation dramatically expands the number of people that will be going to camp with our troop. It increases planning and trip execution by orders of magnitude. More troop equipment will be needed. The scoutmaster will have to keep track of the activity and advancement progress of more boys, even while he has far more boys to look after. More people will have to fit in the campsite.
BSA policy prohibits adults from sleeping in the same quarters as youth that are not members of their immediate family. You can minimize tent space by grouping the adults and grouping the youth. But our stake’s interpretation of church policy is that boys under 12 must sleep in the same facility with their father. That means that each sub-12-year-old that attends adds another tent. Since campsites are only so large, we will be cramped.
Meals will become far more difficult, as the number for which food must be prepared nearly doubles. Cleanup becomes a much larger chore. Keeping track of troop members ends up being like trying to hold a pound of sand in your hands. Some is always slipping out between your fingers, no matter how hard you try to keep it together.
You’d think that having all those extra adults along would be helpful, but you’d be wrong. As I have long known, and as the scoutmaster explained to me today, there are low maintenance adults and there are high maintenance adults. Some adults know how to facilitate the boys’ growth and accountability. Some are more of a hindrance than a help. Fathers that aren’t fully on board with the program sometimes thwart their sons’ ability to engage properly.
Having been involved in Boy Scouts for a very long time, having worked on BSA camp staff, and having been to Scout camp more times than most people have gone on overnight campouts, I have developed a different personal philosophy. With rare exception, I do not like to take a boy to camp that is outside of the age range of the target youth group. I have carefully observed this rule with my own sons.
I have found, for example, that when 11-year-olds go to Boy Scout summer camp, they end up being pretty high maintenance campers — even when they have their fathers in tow. Then by the time they’re 13, Scout camp seems so “old hat” to them that many of them end up making trouble.
A Varsity Scout leader once insisted on bringing his 12-year-old son hiking with the team in the High Uintas. At one point during our encampment, the boy broke the buddy system rule while he was out fishing and tried to make it back to base camp on his own. He ended up getting lost, and it was only by a near miracle that we were able to rescue him.
One year when I allowed some 14-year-olds that had been some of my best Scouts to come with us to Scout camp, even they ended up being trouble. There are certainly exceptions to this, but it seems to me that it is usually worth sticking to the age-limit rule.
Having said that, I must now admit that my scoutmaster let me and two of my friends come to camp with the troop when we were 14. (We all turned 15 just a couple of months later.) We acted in the role of junior assistant scoutmasters. That camp was a very important event in my life. A few years later I found myself working on camp staff.
The first time I went to summer camp I was homesick, hated hiking, and was scared of adventure. Who knew that I would someday work on camp staff and would grow to enjoy hiking? That staff experience of my older teen years has very positively colored the whole rest of my life. So, I’d say that there are times that exceptions to the age-limit rule are acceptable. A wise leader will know when it is right to make such exceptions.
Right now I am feeling sorry for our scoutmaster. I have been in his shoes before and have taken very large troops to summer camp. The run-up to camp and the camp experience will present serious challenges for him. I will do my best to support him. But I know from experience that he will breathe a high sigh of relief when it’s all over.