Rule No. 38:
- Wealth doesn’t assure happiness; neither does poverty.
Do you happen to know where I can find the requirements for the “Commissioner Excellence in Service to Units Award”? (We were told about it by De Nguyen, from the BSA National Council, when he came out to speak to us about the New Unit Retention Program.) (Bob Mayhew, ADC, Denver Area Council, CO)
Sure do… Go here and read all about it:
At our troop meeting this week, plans sort of collapsed due to abnormally low attendance, so the Scout did what they could from the plans, then fell out for free time (Scouts who wanted to work on advancement did that, while others were just playing a game on the field outside the building where our troop meets). I went up to the field to more or less keep an eye on things, and while there I overheard something that was pretty disturbing to me. (I’m younger than most of the other adult volunteers with the troop, so the Scouts will often say things around me that they wouldn’t around the others. Sometimes I have to correct them, and sometimes I have to hold my breath and keep in mind that they’re teenagers.) On this occasion they were talking about whether anyone’s seen a video available at one of the online video sites. I could tell from the tone that it was pretty unlikely that this was something they should be viewing, so I told them to find something else to talk about.
When I got home later, I found it via a search engine, and I have to say it was disgusting. I’ve read and even conducted any number of research studies on teens and the Internet, so I know that unfortunately in this digital age the boy who hasn’t seen vulgarity or porn is a rarity; but the gross nature of this one shook me up quite a bit and I feel that I need to do something… but I don’t know what. I’m not about to speak to the Scouts directly about this because I’d need another leader or adult present and I don’t want to put the Scouts in an uncomfortable position, plus this really isn’t within the scope of what we’re here for to talk with Scouts about that stuff at all. Then, if I talk to with their parents, they might freak out, and I don’t want to put myself in their crosshairs (at least half of these parents are more likely to shoot the messenger rather than thinking their own precious son may have been out of line); however, I don’t want these Scouts to get sucked down the black hole of more than questionable Internet videos. I really just don’t know if I should do or say anything or not. Do you have any advice on this? I’d really appreciate it. (Name & Council Withheld)
First, we do agree that Scouting volunteers are just that—volunteers; not professionals. We’re not licensed counselors or therapists, and we’re sure not sworn peace officers trained to deal directly with situations like this.
What you’ve described seems to be a singular incident that has broader implications. Consequently, rather than culling specific Scouts or dealing with specific parents, it strikes me that a broader approach is likely the better course of action here.
The current Boy Scout Handbook (see pages 51 and 61) contains two specific sections on Internet safety. So, for all of the Scouts in the troop, consider a special full-attendance session on the subject of Internet use, good judgment, etc. Slot it into a troop meeting, keep it short, and keep it to-the-point. Make it informational, educational, and non-accusatory. Consider making it interactive, with a Q&A segment too. Consider that this might actually be led by the troop’s pre-coached Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders, with the Scoutmaster and ASMs observing from the sidelines.
Also in that same handbook is “A Parent’s Guide,” where you’ll find the personal protection rules on page 16. So also consider a special all-troop parents’ gathering to review these rules in particular. Here, the session would be delivered by the Scoutmaster and ASMs, with the Committee Chair there for support and to respond to any parents’ questions or comments. Again make it informational and educational, with no singling out or accusations.
Third, consider bringing in a member of the local police department, for a talk to both Scouts and parents. (Many police departments have officers specially trained in Internet-related subject matter, and I’m sure they’d welcome the opportunity to have an audience like this.) In the possible absence of this resource, consider the local school system’s guidance counselors—I’m positive one or more of these would equally welcome this opportunity.
Meanwhile, I strongly urge you all to hit a search engine and get yourselves a copy of the BSA’s “Troop Meeting Plan,” and then start using it. This will help your Senior Patrol Leader and Patrol Leaders Council avoid “free time” and stay constructive and on-plan. Use the precise seven segments, just as described, and you’ll all be fine. (With boys this age, if you don’t give them something to do, they’ll obviously find something to do!)
Our troop’s new Committee Chair has what I think is a good idea. To cut down on the amount of paperwork involved with each troop camping trip, he’s proposed using a blanket parental permission slip for the entire year. Is this permissible, or should we continue to collect one permission slip per Scout per trip? (Bill Andrews, Atlanta Area Council, GA)
The BSA-designed consent, approval, and hold harmless agreement form can be found online at www.scouting.org/filestore/
What’s definitely important, of course, is that—whether event-specific or more broad—the original and not a copy be kept in the activity leader’s file, folder, or binder while at the activity, because in the event of needing medical treatment, some medical providers will only accept original documents with original signatures; not copies.
Can an Explorer square knot award be worn on a Boy Scout uniform—youth or adult? (Jack Hickey)
Far as I’m aware, there are no “square knots” associated with today’s Explorer program, so that eliminates the question about “youth.” However, back in the 40’s and 50’s, a youth at that time may have earned the Silver Award associated with the original “forest green uniform” Explorer program, or the Ace Award associated with the Air Explorer program, or the Quartermaster Award associated with what was at that time called “Sea Explorers” (later, the original Sea Scout name was reestablished and has been used ever since) and that person, now an adult, is certainly eligible to wear square knots representing any of the ranks he earned at that time.
Can a Scout use the hours he worked on an Eagle project as service hours for rank advancement? (Mike, Des Plaines Valley Council, IL)
I’m guessing you’re talking about the Eagle candidate’s helpers, yes? If I’ve got that right, then absolutely yes!
As a long-time Scouter I’ve had considerable experience with fund-raisers. Our troop is in the middle of our council’s annual popcorn sale and I must admit I’m not very enamored of either the product or the price. One of my concerns about the popcorn is it seems to be very expensive and not a good value, which is contrary to official BSA policy. Who should I contact at the Scout headquarters who would be receptive to suggestions about better fund-raising ideas?
Instead of selling fattening popcorn, why couldn’t our Scouts be known for selling American-made products that would be useful in a time of trouble, like safety whistles, light sticks, flashlights, first-aid kits, and so on? Any ideas or thoughts? (Mark Houston, ASM, Oregon Trail Council)
Regarding Trails End Popcorn, you can definitely express your views to your council’s “Popcorn Colonel (Kernel),” your local Scout Executive or council finance chair, or even Bob Mazzuca, our Chief Scout Executive. But do keep in mind that, some time around two decades ago, after extensive research and evaluations, Trails End Popcorn was selected as the chief fundraising vehicle by the BSA, for every one of the 300 plus local councils in the U.S., and it’s been that way ever since, to the benefit of the councils, the units that promote the product, and the Scouts who sell it as well. And do keep in mind that there’s very little in the consumable arena that’s actually “fattening,” so long as it’s not eaten to excess… The whole “super-sized” concept, IMHO, isn’t so much a fault of the producers as it is that of people unable or unwilling to manage their predilections in the appetite department.
BTW, in addition to popcorn, many Scouting units have supplementary product sales as well, for when “popcorn season” is over… selling light bulbs (Egad! They’re not CFLs!), first aid kits, American flags, Mother’s Day flowers, holiday wreaths, and the list goes on and on… Those products, or course, don’t carry the BSA name, can’t be sold while in uniform, and require special fund-raising permits from the local council. Trails End Popcorn, on the other hand, doesn’t require special permits and can indeed be sold wearing one’s full Scout uniform!
I’ve seen photos of Scouts whose merit badge sashes have rank badges sewn on near the bottom, below the merit badge field. Is this authorized or permitted? (Ben Ward)
Earlier rank badges, says the BSA, do not get sewn anywhere on a merit badge sash; however, it’s OK to place badges that are in the “temporary” category (e.g., summer camp patches, world conservation award, etc.) on the back (but not the front) of the sash, according to the BSA Insignia Guide.
When a Scout earns enough merit badges to cover the front of his sash, how are the remaining merit badges handled? I’ve seen a Scout with a double-length sash that stretches almost to the ground, and I’ve also seen one sash over another. I’ve even thought of putting merit badges on the back of the sash. Just how are these merit badges supposed to be officially handled? (Greg Kimball, SM, Central Georgia Council)
The front of a standard-sized merit badge sash is sufficiently long and wide enough to easily accommodate up to 60 or so merit badges—that’s the virtual equivalent of Eagle plus one gold and three silver palms. When the front’s filled, the merit badges can be continued on the back, says the BSA, and it’s unlikely that they all won’t fit, even if every single merit badge is earned (a pretty rare occurrence, wouldn’t you think?). So, neither extensions nor “bandoleers” should be necessary. For the unfortunate Scout who wears two sashes, or a super-elongated one, one can only smile bemusedly and move on… I sure wouldn’t want to be the one to tell him (or his parents) how many need to be removed and re-sewn!
I am the Committee Chair of our troop. A parent complained to me recently that it’s not fair that one Scout was getting lots of merit badges because his father was facilitating them. Does this complaint have any validity? I’ve looked through the rules for Merit Badge Counselors and the only rule he might be violating is working solo with his son on merit badge activities (i.e., no Buddy System).
So my question is: Are there any BSA rules related to parents teaching merit badges to their own sons independently? And, if so, do we take away merit badges? This boy joined our troop just eight months ago and he already has more than 25 merit badges completed—this is two times the next nearest number of merit badges earned by other Scouts who joined at the same time. (Name Withheld, National Capital Area Council, VA)
Frankly, the troop’s situation sounds pretty weird… Are you indeed telling me that one individual parent is a registered Merit Badge Counselor and has received council approval to counsel on over two dozen different merit badges? Because if he’s not, then every single one of the merit badges he’s “facilitating” is invalid. If he’s indeed not registered and approved for every single merit badge, then it’s up to him to tell his son and every other Scout he’s “facilitated” that he’s been doing things wrong, apologize, and make things right. Meanwhile, what’s the Scoutmaster been doing all this time? (You all do know that the very first thing a Scout does when he wants to work on a merit badge is speak with his Scoutmaster and obtain a Merit Badge Application—aka “blue card”—and the name of a council-provided and duly registered MBC for that particular badge.
(I have the very uncomfortable feeling that this parent—and maybe the Scoutmaster and others, too—think that Boy Scouts is “Webelos 3,” and that merit badges are just like Webelos activity badges that any parent can “help out” with and then “sign off on.” Wrong. Big time WRONG.
In our troop, when our Scoutmaster receives a request for a particular merit badge from a Scout, he seeks out a parent to act as the Merit Badge Counselor. This one parent regularly volunteers, and then registers with the council office to be the counselor for that merit badge. He then announces at a troop meeting that he’s offering the merit badge, but no one except his son signs up. That week, the merit badge work is completed by the Scout son, under the supervision of his father, and at the following week’s troop meeting the Scout turns in his signed “blue card” to the advancement coordinator. This same father offers two to three different merit badges a month, every month, and only about a third of the time does get more than one Scout to sign up. So his son is earning two to three merit badges a month, every month, plus about a dozen more at summer camp.
Your comment that this arrangement looked a lot like “Webelos 3,” is beside the point, and you really didn’t answer my question: “Is a parent allowed to act as merit badge counselor for his/her son?” I couldn’t find anything in BSA polices that said no, hence my question. What I got from you seemed to be all opinion.
My troop can use all the parent participation it can get (which is never enough), and I don’t want to discourage a willing parent volunteer. What I want to do is make sure I understand the rules, so I can give advice to the Scoutmaster. (NW)
Yes, I definitely did express concern, because the procedure this troop is following—as you’ve described it to me—is completely counter to both of the two aims of the BSA Merit Badge Program. However, to confirm the facts of the matter…
The BSA states that a registered MBC may counsel a relative (e.g., son, nephew). The BSA further recommends that when a relative is being counseled, that at least one other Scout (i.e., a “buddy,” per The Buddy System”) be included.
The council provides to every Scoutmaster a list of registered Merit Badge Counselors, including the merit badges they are authorized to counsel and their contact information. It is from this list that the council expects the Scoutmaster to provide any Scout expressing interest in a merit badge the necessary information to get started.
Merit badges are intended to be self-directed by the Scout, at the Scout’s discretion, says the BSA. The objective is for the Scout to be counseled by an expert in the subject matter by way of education, career, or longstanding hobby; it is not intended that a Scout be guided by some sort of “universal counselor,” who uses merit badge pamphlets as a way of staying a page or two ahead of the Scout.
OK. Thanks. It then seems reasonable to me that we tell this parent that he needs to wait until he has at least two Scouts. (NW)
The point that’s being consistently overlooked here is that merit badges are not adult-directed, no matter how sincere that adult may be. Merit badges are intended to be selected by the Scouts themselves, not by signing up for some adult’s merit badge “classes.” Moreover, fully half of the intent of the merit badge program is that Scouts collaborate and work with an adult they do not know; not somebody associated with the troop who does merit badges with the Scouts in the troop again and again. In addition, it is the Scoutmaster who is supposed to be using the counselor list the council provides him with, and he is not supposed to be asking troop parents to do merit badges. Finally, it is expected that the counselor who registers for a particular merit badge have some specific expertise in the subject matter by way of his or her own vocation or hobby—to simply “stay a page or two ahead of the Scouts” is absolutely not the way merit badges are to be counseled. The BSA tells you all of this; it simply requires doing the necessary reading at the BSA website and via all of the publications the BSA has provided for adult volunteers. (Yes, I understand that I’ve been repetitive here. These points need to sink in or this borderline travesty will continue.)
What’s the correct procedure for submitting a suggestion for a new merit badge?
I applaud the BSA’s recent changes to reflect new and changing technology, such as the “STEM” initiative, but there have been other, more basic, changes in society that seem to have been overlooked by the BSA. For example, household chores, which once were the exclusive domain of women, are now shared between men and women.
As a single parent, I’ve acquired considerable skill in sewing (among other household responsibilities), especially since my two sons now routinely receive handfuls of merit badges at each court of honor. While sewing on their last batch of badges, the thought occurred to me, “Why don’t I teach my sons to sew their own badges on their uniforms and sashes?” So, beginning with the next batch of merit badges and ranks, my sons will start along the path of becoming proficient in sewing.
But here’s my point: If a Scout had to sew all his own badges, from the time he’s a Tenderfoot, then by the time he reaches Star he’d probably be pretty good at sewing… maybe even good enough to earn…wait for it…a SEWING MERIT BADGE! (Tom Carignan, Tukabatchee Area Council, AL)
At the usssp.org website, inside advancement-merit badges, you’ll find some suggestions and insights on how to go about what you have in mind.
Personal tale: When I was a Cub Scout, my Mom sewed on all the stuff, including those nasty little Arrow Points. But when I hit age 11 and became a Boy Scout, the very first thing she did was sit me down and teach me where the various badges go, and how to sew them on. I can still do this, and do! My own suggestion would be: “Badge Placement Merit Badge.”
Our Scoutmaster taken to the notion of fault-finding with our troop’s Assistant Scoutmasters…always in front of the Scouts. He also seems to enjoy demeaning Scouts while carrying out Scoutmaster’s conferences, while on hikes and camp-outs, and generally in troop meetings, too. Although several of us ASMs have approached the Committee Chair with this problem, the CC sees it as “a personal quirk,” which suggests to me that he’s just as intimidated by this Scoutmaster as the rest of us and the Scouts. Is there any hope here that somebody can convince this individual to change his ways and stop the general badgering? (Name & Council Withheld)
Nor a chance in the world. This troop doesn’t have a Scoutmaster; it has a nasty sergeant. If this is what you want for yourself, your son, and his friends, stay. If not, and you’d like your son and his friends to enjoy a true Scouting experience, you have two choices…
- Engineer yourself into the Chartered Organization Representative slot and then fire his sorry butt.
- Find a troop that gets it right and transfer your son, his friends, and yourself (costs $1 each).
What the blazes is the BSA thinking?! I’m a Cubmaster (I was a Den Leader before this) and we work hard to convince parents that Cub Scouts are in blue from head to toe and leave the jeans, khakis, and other non-navy blue pants in the bureau when they bring their sons to den and pack meetings. So then I open up the Scout Stuff winter catalog that arrived in the mail today and right there, on page 35, and “Real Jeans” for Cubs! Yeah, I can read the fine print, where it says “Non-uniform apparel,” but isn’t it asking a bit much of us here in the trenches who are trying to dispel the almost universal notion that “jeans are OK” when now the BSA is selling the darned things?! What gives, anyway?! (Name & Council Withheld)
I can only surmise that the merchandisers in Charlotte and the program folks in Irving may not get much face time with one another.
You commented on pets along on Scout camping trips… Please be sure to make the distinction between pets (only) and service animals. We’ve got a Scout with a service animal, and while you may think is a pet, the dog has a very important job and does it quite well. Without it, the boy probably wouldn’t be involved in Scouting at all. Though I’d agree that this service dog may not be up for camping, he remains amazingly calm at our other very high-energy events. (Carl Sommer, Occoneechee Council, NC)
I did, and thanks for reemphasizing this point.
I’m a third year Den Leader now with a Bear den. One of the Cubs in our den is very disrespectful. He refuses to participate, won’t listen to or follow directions, talks incessantly during den and pack meetings, and shows blatant disregard for authority figures. My husband, an Eagle scout, helps lead the den. This boy’s stepfather signed up to be an Assistant Den Leader, yet is no help when we ask “Ralphie” (not his real name) to stop talking, pay attention, etc. The stepfather “Walter” (also not his real name) uses the excuse that “I’m just the stepdad; Ralphie always acts this way.” Here’s an example… At a recent pack meeting, Ralphie sprawled out on the floor while the other Cubs sat cross-legged on the floor, so I asked him to please sit up the right way, but, instead, he slung himself backwards, hitting his head on the floor and proceeded to pitch a fit like a toddler going through “the terrible twos.” He refused to stop, even when it became his time to receive his Bobcat pin, and proceeded to wail and cry. I do understand that Ralphie is only eight years old, but it shocks me that his stepfather allows him to act this way with no form of punishment. It isn’t fair to the other Cubs in the den and pack to have this sort of interruption and it’s frustrating to us as Den Leaders that his stepfather is registered as an Assistant Den Leader and doesn’t discipline his stepson or remove him from the area when he acts out. (I’d be more understanding if Ralphie had a disability, or was overly tired, but this has happened at every meeting and two of our pack’s outings. It seems like Ralphie rules the house and has no respect for others. He misbehaves at every meeting and, quite frankly, several parents including my husband and myself are very frustrated and irritated that he’s allowed to act this way and disrespect his Den Leaders and the other Cubs. As long as Ralphie gets his way, he’s OK, but when it’s time to change activities, stop goofing off, or be quiet he becomes ridiculous.
How can we handle Ralphie and show him that his lack of respect for others is not acceptable Scout behavior? (Name & Council Withheld)
First, let’s agree that a Den Leader really isn’t a “leader” in the sense of being the kind of authority figure that, say, a classroom teacher is, and he or she sure isn’t a leader in any military sense. In reality, you’re much more like the lovable Aunt Bea, whom your nephews enjoy visiting each week ’cause you’re cool, you have good games to play, there are always special treats, and you never ever scold or even get your feathers ruffled. Aunt Bea never loses it, and she doesn’t “correct” or give orders—She rolls with the situation and stays ahead of it, and always creates a happy outcome.
Let’s also agree that, being a parent yourself, and having a couple of years of den leading under your belt, you’re smarter and more clever than any boy in your den.
Next, let’s understand that every human being, regardless of age, wants attention, and will do his or her best to figure out how to get it… Just as little Ralphie has.
Finally, let’s agree that we all have emotional “buttons.” In this case, yours seems to be the need for respect. Ralphie has likely figured this out, and guess what button of yours he’s pushing, so that he gets the attention his little soul wants and needs.
(Stepdad Walter, meanwhile, is doing his best to help, but he’s also coping with the difficulties associated with trying to handle the male parent role when he’s not the biological father. Moreover, even as an Assistant Den Leader, he’s not the local constabulary; he’s another parent helping out.)
So, what to do…
Two things. The first is to reward good behavior by acknowledging it (meaning, focusing on the Cubs who reflect good behavior) and the second is to ignore (yes, ignore) those who don’t. That’s right: When Ralphie starts acting out, he gets ignored; when he gets over his fits you smile and praise him, and include him in your “attention circle” along with the other Cubs.
Ralphie is new to the den (otherwise, he’d have received his Bobcat pin last year, as a Wolf), and he’s trying to figure out where he fits in. He wants your attention, and he’s discovered how to get it, which means that this is your very best tool—not to be used as a sledge hammer but always as a huggy blanket that he can wrap himself in when he’s calmed down.
Understand that the very next time he acts out and gets ignored instead of “rewarded” by your own frustration (and simultaneous attention), his natural tendency will be to escalate (“Hey, it’s not working this time,” he’s thinking. “It’d better up the ante…That’ll get me what I want!”). But you’re smarter and more clever than he, so you’re not going to rise to the bait; instead, you’re going to continue to ignore it until he settles down. Then, instead of praising his calmness, you’re simply going to bring him back into the fold and give him the same attention you give the other boys in the den. In other words, you’re going to level the playing field and at the same time take his “power” away.
I assure you, it may take a few attempts on his part for him to decode the message, but he’ll get it. And when he does (by discovering that you’ve disconnected your “respect button”) he’ll think to himself, “Well, that doesn’t work anymore, but being calm and cooperative does, so that’s my new way to get attention,” and now you’ve got a nice boy who fits in with his new den and pack!
One further thought, from Yoda (of “Star Wars”): “Do, or do not… There is no ‘try’.”
Who picks the Scoutmaster to run a troop’s program? (Richard Sanderson)
This is the responsibility of the chartered organization, usually done through the efforts of the Chartered Organization Representative and/or Committee Chair. This, by the way, is true of all adult volunteers associated with a Scouting unit.
Our troop has been invited by the owner of a local shooting range to have our Scouts come over and shoot at rotten pumpkins. What’s the BSA policy about Scouts shooting outside of a council camp? (Name & Council Withheld)
The policy’s a simple one: No. But double-check this with your council’s risk management committee or health and safety committee.
Our troop has started performing flag retirement ceremonies, and we’ve been told to retrieve from the fire the metal rings or grommets that remain after the flag is burned. What’s supposed to happen with these? (Greg Bourke, ASM, Lincoln Heritage Council, KY)
Who’s the self-appointed know-it-all telling you this without offering any help? Anyway, it’s “legal” to toss them, because they’re not the actual flags, but instead of doing that, consider cooling them off and giving them as mementos to the participants and attendees of the ceremony.
The BSA’s new Guide To Advancement just came out. Wow! Many surprising changes: Scoutmaster conferences don’t have to be the last requirement for a rank, the Scoutmaster approves whether or not a Scout can work on a merit badge (not just saying that he’s a registered scout), Eagle projects need to have their fund-raisers approved by the council, Eagle projects are considered unit activities and have to follow the “two-deep leadership” rule, and—one of the biggest changes—it’s now left up to troop to decide on reasonable expectations for “active.”
That last one surprised me most of all. It seems to open the door for attendance metrics. Plus, many troops already consider their percentage-style participation requirements “reasonable,” and the only thing they have to do now is make sure that their requirements are stated up front—and if a Scout doesn’t meet the troop’s attendance requirements, the troop is simply instructed to consider whether or not the Scout’s reasons for less-than-troop-required participation is “reasonable.” It seems to me that this puts a lot of requirement control in the hands of the troop.
I’ll be interesting to hear your thoughts on these changes. While this new book works to clarify vague or often-disputed points, it also seems to give troops authority to do whatever they want. This is paradise for tin gods, bullies, and gatekeepers. (Name Withheld, Three Fires Council, IL)
Yes, I’ve reviewed the BSA’s new Guide To Advancement as well. With regard to your thoughts on the potential “paradise for tin gods, bullies, and gatekeepers,” I share the concern you and other readers have expressed. However, as a working Commissioner I’m obligated and honor-bound to fully support the BSA’s policies, regulations, and procedures without prejudice, equivocation, or reservation. In fact, it’s more than an obligation; its a covenant.
Being closely associated with a local council, I understand the obligation to BSA policies. I just sometimes question just how well the national staff had “on-the-ground” people review the new ways of handling critical requirements before going to print. (A policy’s intent can often be twisted in surprising ways.) We’ll have to wait and see how it goes, of course, but I wouldn’t be surprised if you receive a number of letters expressing confusion or concern in regard to the new policy guide-especially the new position on “active.” (NW)
“Boots on the ground” is certainly more than a military expression… It sure applies to Scouting at the unit level! I’d like to believe that considerable ground-level research was conducted and insights gathered before taking a critical requirement and turning it over to the unit to decide on criteria—the only requirement in all of Scouting that isn’t managed according to a national standard. (If you’re a regular reader of my columns, you already know that over no less than the past ten years, troop leaders have played fast and loose with “active,” with particular attention to ambushing and sand-bagging Eagle candidates.)
I’ve already received any number of letters from readers about this one requirement… I’m still waiting for an optimistic one.
(October 28, 2011 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2011)