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Issue 346 – February 12, 2013

Dear Andy,

I’m supposedly a “hover” parent. I’m trying to learn not to be, even though my son’s considered on the immature side. He’s had a fear of the unknown since he was an infant, and it persists. Does this make him “immature”? I have to coax him in multiple ways to get him to try new things. Does this also make him immature? If he fails in experiencing a new adventure because I haven’t coaxing him to try it, does that make him immature? I realize that part of Scouting is failing and learning by your mistakes. But I don’t understand why it’s frowned upon when I try to motivate him to try new things. If it were left up to him, he wouldn’t. When pushed to do things, he’s hesitant; but when it’s accomplished he’s proud of his accomplishment. I don’t feel like he is getting enough leadership, and if his mode of thinking isn’t going to be understood, then he’ll be a failure and a quitter in Scouts. He’ll wind up being the one kid sitting at camp by himself, while everyone else is having some type of adventure. I go on the troop’s camping trips with him because I want to see how he has fun and handles situations. I’ve convinced him to do things that I personally wouldn’t have attempted at his age, and we actually did it with the troop just to get over this fear of the unknown. On one campout, for instance, I found out that I was a little claustrophobic; to my surprise, he wasn’t! The only time that I interact with him on campouts is when there’s something new that he won’t do. I used to hover a lot more. I love my son and I don’t want him to be afraid of the unknown. I want him to grow up thinking fondly of things that we accomplished together in life and while he was in Scouts. Is it wrong to think this way? It was hinted that maybe we should do this separate from Scouts. My son isn’t loud or a good public speaker, nor is he athletic. But I think he’s good enough to be an Eagle Scout!

I’ve considered bowing out of Scouts, myself, but that would make me a quitter! My son has an awful lot to offer and I don’t want him to miss out. Scouting has so much to offer. But what do I do? (Concerned Scout Dad)

Your son’s Scouting experiences probably amount to about 40 or so hours a month, out of a total of over 700. That’s less than 6%. He spends vastly more time at school, religious activities, sports, and just being at home. You can’t go to school with him every day, for obvious reasons. You can’t sit in on his Sunday school or other religious sessions, either, and for good reason. If he plays a sport, you can’t be on the field with him for practices or games, and you abide by this, too. Now you may not be OK with these strictures, but you nevertheless heed them. So, since Scouting accounts for so little time, when you take the long view, why use Scouting as a way to keep your son “small”?

What do I mean by “small”? Well, we know that the hardest thing parents need to learn how to do is let go of their children. All parents are reluctant to do this, even though they know that, beginning at around age 11, boys especially must begin the process of individuating themselves. This is how they mature and ultimately become their own persons. If we, as parents, delay or sabotage this natural process, we do significant harm to our own children’s future lives.

Boy Scouting is designed specifically to help boys individuate themselves in a safe environment. That’s why it’s called “Boy” Scouts and not “Parent-and-Son” Scouts! Cub Scouting was different. That’s because boys between the ages of 7 and up to 11 aren’t into “individuation mode”—they still need (and should have) Mom and Dad pretty nearby. But definitely not Boy Scouts.

In Boy Scouting, your son will begin to form solid peer relations, at his own readiness and pace. Many of these can literally last a lifetime. In Boy Scouting, your son’s own curiosity and interest in new experiences will begin to emerge–naturally and at his own chosen pace (Keep in mind: EVERYONE is fearful of the unknown, to one degree or another, and age is irrelevant to this!). In Boy Scouting, your son will connect with caring adults who are neither parents nor teachers nor coaches–this is what you, as a parent, should want!

But none of this can happen as it’s supposed to if, no matter which direction he turns, your son can’t get away from his own parent! If he can’t do this in the small amount of time he’s actually involved with his patrol and troop, then a fundamental (and critical) aim of the Scouting program is defeated.

This is much like your son’s “first day of school.” Off he goes, into the unknown. And it’s just as “unknown” for you as it is for him! But you let it happen, because you know it’s right. You must do the same thing with Scouting: Let go.

Scouting is the ONLY youth activity on the planet in which a boy is given the opportunity to find and then make his own way. But “hovering,” as you’ve called it, you’re taking this opportunity away from him.

Yes, I understand your fears, concerns, and desires for your son. However, consider this: If every new step he takes is through your encouragement, and in your presence (even if approximate), when is it that you expect him to step out on his own, and when do you expect this to happen? The longer you keep him in a “zone of comfort,” the longer it’s going to take him to individuate himself and try new adventures for himself. It’s like having a crutch that’s permanently attached… We can never learn what it’s like to walk without it!

So, since he sleeps on his own, goes to school on his own, plays sports on his own, and is religiously engaged on his own, how about allowing him to enjoy Scouting on his own, too! If you don’t, neither he nor you will ever enjoy his returning from a hike or camp-out saying, “Hey! Guess what I did!?!” And that would be a great pity… and loss.

Thanks, Andy.  OK here goes.  I’ll quit going on camp-outs. I see a lot of what you say, and I guess I’ll just have to miss out on some of his growing up. The part where you mentioned the first day of school… Who do you think put him on the bus and convinced him that it’s okay to face the unknown? But, I get what you’re saying about “Guess what I did this weekend.” (CSD)

Yes, definitely quit going camping when he goes with his fellow Scouts. Give him room to grow, on his own. Let him tell you about his trip when he gets home again, but don’t pressure him to talk, or he’ll stop going so he doesn’t have to go through the “getting home inquisition.” The best way to convince a boy that it’s OK to talk about himself and his life away from home is to model for him… Tell him about your own day (or weekend)! (But don’t tell him how much you missed him, or he’ll start feeling guilty and stop going!) For troop meetings, a drop-off and then pick-up is fine. But if you do decide to stay, hang around with the other parents and stay away from him while he’s “being a Scout.”

Yes, you’re going to “miss out” on some of his growing up… And this is a good thing! You’ve given him roots; now let him grow his own wings! (Besides, as we can now realize, we’re talking about 6%… that’s all!)

Meanwhile, if you and he like to go camping and hiking together, keep doing this. But do it as father-and-son, away from his Scouting weekends. Go to ball games together. Go to the movies together. Go bicycling together. Go out to lunch on weekends together. There are lots and lots of ways to still be father-and-son, but don’t be “buddies.” He has buddies in his patrol and troop!

You’ve promised yourself you’ll let go. At first, it’ll be difficult. But it’ll get easier. And you’ll both be the better for it!

Hi Andy,

First Class req. 10 is, in part, to invite a non-Scout friend to a troop meeting or event. We’ll be having a campout later this month and one of our Scouts was going to bring a friend to this. How are we (and how is he) covered by insurance if there’s some kind of accident? Should this boy complete a Scout application before the camping trip and then have it returned to him if he decides not to join? Or should we be doing something else? (Gary Hanes, SM)

When a boy attends a troop event as a guest of the troop, this automatically covers him. For a camp-out, be sure to get a medical history form (no doctor visit necessary) and consent to treat form from his parents before departing.
Dear Andy,

When a Boy Scout troop invites a Webelos den on a weekend camping trip, does the Webelos den have to complete a separate tour plan, or can they be included on the troop’s plan? Related to this, is the den required to have two adults attend as well? Further related, when inviting a non-Scout on a camping trip, does the need to bring a parent? Can you cite the relevant BSA publications that cover these situations? Thanks! (Randy Szabo, Central New Jersey Council)

Webelos camping—whether with a troop or not—requires one parent or guardian per boy. All are guests of the troop, in your case, and the den does not fill out a tour plan. If a non-Scout boy is age 11 or older, his parent does not need to accompany him while he’s a guest of the troop for an overnight camp-out. Your best reference for these and other relevant matters is the GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING (available online).
Hello Andy,

I realize that few Scouts open their handbooks except to work on a requirement or how to tie that knot. I remember reading my own first handbook cover-to-cover the first day I got it, but that’s me. Today, most don’t. I’ve thought that, as a troop, we should take a few minutes out of a meeting each week and look at the handbook together—to study it like you’d study the Bible. There’s more in it than just skills. What are your thoughts on this? (Stephen Lesh, East Texas Area Council)

Although the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK is second only to the BIBLE in copies printed, it’s not the same as the BIBLE: It’s not a book to be studied en masse. Handbooks belong to individual Scouts, who certainly refer to them for requirements; however, each requirement provides the reference page numbers for learning the skill or completing the requirement successfully. I don’t recommend “looking at the handbook together” in troop meetings. Reminds me too much of Sunday school, with emphasis on school.

That said, there are definitely ways to encourage reading it. One is to periodically give a “prize” to the “best-looking” handbook—the best-looking being the one that’s most worn, dog-eared, and obviously used, while the “pristine” handbooks are acknowledged only insofar as observing to the Scouts that, just like an unused set of keys won’t help anyone get anywhere or unlock any doors, a handbook unused doesn’t help learn cool stuff found in no other book! Another “Scoutmaster’s Minute” is the story about the Pacific theater fighter pilots of WWII… They almost to a man asked for the same three things: A BIBLE, a sturdy knife, and the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK!

Thanks, Andy. I was thinking about this as a way to encourage reading it, rather just referring to pages for whatever skill we’re working on.  But I’ll take your advice and find other ways to encourage reading more than just the pages of skills. (SL)

Keeping in mind that Scouting is “fun with a purpose,” in addition to the two Scoutmaster’s Minutes I gave you, you have some other creative options, too. Of course, “reading about the skills” is just fine all by itself. But if you like, you can maybe add some “Scouting trivia” quizzes that your Senior Patrol Leader can run from time to time…

– “Why is February so important to Scouting?”
– “What do the two stars on the Scout emblem mean?”
– “Who is ‘Uncle Dan’?”
– “How many Scouts attended the 1935 National Jamboree?”
– “Where is Mafeking and why is it important to Scouting?”
– “What does a circle with a dot in the center mean?”

And never forget KISMIF!

Dear Andy,

In a recent column about Totin’ Chips, you said, “However, before proceeding, consider that such actions as ‘tearing off corners’ or taking back the card if someone is found to be using an edged tool improperly are considered abusive.”

I’m sorry but I must disagree with this. Why would this be considered abusive? Is it “abusive” when the traffic court fines you for a traffic violation but doesn’t take your drivers license away? Tearing off the corners of his Totin’ Chip allows the Scout to realize that he’s messed up and that he needs to get his act together. While I’ve seen numerous Scouts with a corner or two torn off their Chips, I’ve only seen one Scout who really needed a lot of retraining. I do think this would be considered abusive if in front of others, for all to see, but I can’t see it as abuse if it’s done with respect for the Scout.

To me, saying that tearing off the corners of a Totin’ Chip is abusive smacks of the same type of thing as it’s abusive for kids’ sports teams to have losers as well as winners. (Bobby Sammons)

Scouting and sports have little in common. John Wooden himself said: “Sports reveals character; it doesn’t build character.” Scouting builds character. Tearing off corners is completely unnecessary; this act is one of “power;” not of instruction. Invested in it is the notion of “catching kids doing something wrong,” just like your analogy to the police citing a driver for a traffic violation. Scouting is invested in “catching Scouts doing it right,” and helping those who are struggling. If you continue to disagree, I can’t help you; I can only pity the Scouts in your care.

Andy, I respect you opinion but I still disagree… and as far as your last line goes…you need to bring yourself into the 21st century and see what the boys want. All of the Scouts I’ve ever talked to about this say that complete retraining is a waste when just a little reminder will do. And all but one said that the tearing off of a corner was all it took to make them realize that there are consciences for their actions—and the one who disagreed with this had been retrained three times before he grew into what the responsibilities that the card represent.

Who said “complete retraining”? That’s nonsense and it sure didn’t come from me. The only instruction necessary is the correction for whatever the Scout needs to know, to get it right. “Complete retraining” is unnecessary, pedantic, and BORING! As for your “21st Century” remark, I’m working with and counseling Scouts several times a week on an ongoing basis, and this is aside from my unit visits as a working Commissioner. The only “consequence” Scouting has for such insignificant “infractions” is the opportunity to learn how not to make the same mistake again.

But, if you insist, how about we print up some “Scoutmaster Chips,” and every time a Scoutmaster makes a mistake, gets a policy wrong, forgets something or to show up where he’s expected, forgets to give a Scout the “blue card” he’d been promised, doesn’t wear his complete uniform, has a patch in the wrong place, etc., etc., the Scout gets to tear a corner off the Scoutmaster’s Chip and the Scoutmaster has to sign up for and re-take the entire Position-Specific BSA Training.

Happy Scouting!


Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to Please include your name and council. (If you’d prefer to be anonymous, if published, let me know and that’s what we’ll do.)

[No. 346 – 2/12/2013 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2013]


About AskAndy

Andy is a Board Member of the U.S. Scouting Service Project, Inc.

Andy has just received notification by his council Scout Executive that he is to be recognized as a National Distinguished Eagle Scout. He is currently serving as a Unit Commissioner and his council's International Representative. He has previously served in a number of other Scouting roles including Assistant Council Commissioner, Cubmaster, Scoutmaster, Den Leader, and--as a Scout--Patrol Leader, Senior Patrol Leader, and Junior Assistant Scoutmaster. His awards include: Kashafa Iraqi Scouting Service Award, Distinguished Commissioner, Doctor of Commissioner Science, International Scouter Award, District Award of Merit (2), Scoutmaster Award of Merit, Scouter's Key (3), Daniel Carter Beard Masonic Scouter Award, Cliff Dochterman Rotarian Scouter Award, James E. West Fellow (2), Wood Badge & Sea Badge, and Eagle Scout & Explorer Silver Award.

Read Andy's full biography

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