Scouting for a new generation
Want to get your kids off the couch and out of the house? Want them to challenge themselves to push past their fears and try new things? Want them to play outside? Want to build character?
Scouts can help. From its inception almost 109 years ago, Boy Scouts of America (BSA) has focused on youth development and good citizenship. What’s old is new again, and this age-old organization is evolving to stay relevant among today’s families.
Opening doors at BSA
Major shifts at BSA on the national level include admitting all youth to Cub Scouts (ages 5-10) regardless of gender and lifting a blanket ban on openly gay leaders. As of Feb. 1, Boy Scouts (ages 11-17) will no longer be exclusively boys, and it will be called simply “Scouts.”
Jennifer Wente, committee chair of the Blessed Sacrament Parish BSA Troop 31, in which her son is active and her daughter will soon join, says the changes allowing girls to join Scouts are perhaps less earth-shaking than some might assume. First, she says, Boy Scouts has always been referred to as “Scouts” by those in the community, so that won’t cause any confusion. Also, thanks to the family-friendly atmosphere of scouting, there have always been girls in the mix – joining the pack is nothing new to countless sisters. For instance, long before girls were admitted to BSA, Jennifer’s own daughter made a pinewood derby car alongside her brother and whittled a bar of soap as the pack practiced carving skills.
“The girls have always participated,” Wente says. “It’s just that now they will receive credit for their participation.”
One common misunderstanding Wente would like to dispel? Other than a few major whole-pack events, Scouts will not be co-ed. Boys and girls will be grouped into packs and troops made up solely of their own gender.
Learning life skills
A leader in both BSA Troop 31 and Cub Scout Pack 31, Rick Stewart, with two of his three daughters (the third will join in February) and a son in BSA, says BSA teaches leadership skills through real-world trial and error. At the 11- to-17-year-old level, Stewart says, “everything is run by the youth. The boys are learning to work with their peers and lead their peers. It’s a life skill to learn to work with people you may disagree with for a common goal.”
Wente says the troop leaders are there to supervise, but they only intervene if there’s a safety concern. “They might burn their food the first time they’re cooking,” Wente says, “but after that experience, they won’t burn it again.”
Stewart says one of the most inspiring and rewarding parts of participating in BSA is when kids –and even their parents – accomplish something they never would have thought possible. Whether it’s hiking a great distance or conquering a fear of public speaking, Stewart says, scouts routinely surprise themselves. “They think, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’”
And once youth begin breaking though self-limiting beliefs, there’s no telling where they might end up. BSA offers kids a ticket to adventure and new possibilities.
Elizabeth Watson is a freelance media consultant in Springfield and the mother of two Cub Scouts.