Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Boy(Scout)s of Summer

I just had a chat with my son’s scoutmaster. He is fretting about summer camp coming up in July. Most of the problem stems from one man insisting on bringing his too-young son to the weeklong event.

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.
Consequently, most boys that go to weeklong organized BSA camps from our area are ages 12-13. It is not uncommon for older boys to tag along. Every once in a while a Varsity team or Venture crew shows up at camp. But these units for older youth usually focus on other types of high adventure summer activities.

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.


Jake said...

I've got my own issues with how the LDS church runs the scouting program, but that stems mainly the fact that when I participated in scouting, our troop was sponsored by the US Army, not the LDS Church. At the time, we lived outside the US on a military base and my father helped get the scout program on base started up. I was able to join the scouts at age 10 1/2 when I earned my Arrow of Light award in Cub Scouts.

I always found it helpful to have older boys in the troop instead of split apart the way the church does it. I looked up to the boys that were older and learned a lot from them. I know when I was older, I enjoyed passing on that knowledge to the younger scouts. Scouting was a lot more about leadership and teaching for me than about just playing basketball in the church cultural hall.

Because most people on the base worked for civilian contractors and they paid for a yearly vacation flights back to the point-of-hire (which for most people was somewhere in the contiguous 48 states), my father and scoutmaster started to organize summer scout camp trips. He was able to get families to schedule their summer vacation flights to go through Salt Lake City on their way to wherever they spent their summers. For most of them, it was on the east coast, so it wasn't a big problem. My father agreed to pick the boys up at the airport and then to have them back at the airport a week later to continue their vacation with the rest of their family. I remember going to camp at either Camp Loll in Wyoming or Camp Bartlett in Idaho probably 5 or 6 years in a row. Unlike a church sponsored troop, ours wasn't just 11 and 12 year olds. We had a wide range of boys, from 10 1/2 to 17 years old. Typically we had 3-4 adult leaders with our troop. Somehow, everything seemed to work out fine. It was usually my father and 2-3 other fathers of boys in the troop. Somehow, we never seemed to have any problems with kids getting lost in the woods, despite them all growing up on a tropical island. I'm not sure what the key factor was, but I think mixing the boys together, despite the age difference, really did help a lot more than it hindered anything. I really wish the church would combine their scouting program, at least in that aspect. I saw my younger brothers go through scouting in Utah after we moved back here and feel like I got to experience something special that they never did because of the way the church runs the scouting program.

I know this is rather long comment, but I hope you can at least take this from it -- whatever logistical problems you may be facing due to the addition of a few more fathers going along, it really can't compare to organizing a cross-country week long camping trip for a troop of 15-20 boys from all different parts of the country. :P

Scott Hinrichs said...

Jake, your Scouting experience is what most people outside of the LDS dominant areas experience. The older boy mentoring factor is a very important element that does not occur in most LDS troops.

I am aware that there is concern at high levels of the church about the strong walls that exist between the different youth age groups. But the insistence on completely separate Scouting programs helps foster those walls.

If our troop were set up like a traditional troop, I wouldn't have a problem with the age thing as much as I do. But when you have an entire program built around age groups, deviations from that end up causing lots of problems.

Allan said...

The name of your blog is reach upward. the first line of your about me is" I'm trying to be like Jesus" you put all this thought, time, and energy, in looking at every way this is inconvienient. dude reach upward, evaluate where this comes from, this isn't from a good place. let it go, spend your energy on things that matter. Look to God and Live. Be Happy :)!

Tah said...

BSA has three requirements to become a Boy Scout; 1 Eleventh birthday
2. Completion of the 5th grade
3. Earning the Arrow of Light

If any boy in or out of the church completes any one of the three requirement they can become a Boy Scout period, and you would be violating the BSA charter if you where to kept them out.

Scott Hinrichs said...

It's not about keeping a boy out of the BSA. It's about which program elements a boy should participate in.

But, I think Allan has the right approach.