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Issue 378 – December 30, 2013

Hi Andy,

I read with interest your latest column about the Scout needing to reschedule his appointment time because his mom decided to change the time she could drive him. Unfortunately, this sort of parental dysfunction is all too common.

Several years ago, I took karate classes with my daughter. The instructor was talking to me one day about how in the past they’d punish the students who came in late with push-ups or some other physical task meant to remind them to not be late. The same children would always show up late and have to go through the process. He told me that they finally started asking the kids what was going on. He found out that the kids were doing everything right: They were ready to go early, they reminded their parent early that they needed to go, etc. But the parents just wouldn’t get them there on time. The instructor realized he was punishing the child for the actions of the parent—something that wasn’t fair to the child who was doing everything right. So he ended that practice and decided those who were late would just not get as much from the training that their parents were paying for.

In Scouting, we don’t punish tardiness (or anything else) because the program isn’t about punishing. As a Cubmaster, I found that my first few pack meetings couldn’t start on time simply because parents didn’t get their sons and families to the meeting on time to begin. Sometimes I’d have only one boy when it was time to start—not hardly enough to even do an opening ceremony. Everything was set up and organized, and we had a fun gathering activity each month, but I just couldn’t get them there on time. Some late Cubs would be upset that they missed the fun activities if we were able to get started before they made it. Usually, I’d have enough Cubs trickle in after about 15 to 20 minutes to get started, and a few would come in 30 minutes or more late. For a pack meeting that lasted about an hour, some only got about 15 minutes of actual meeting if we started on time!

It didn’t matter what night we had pack meeting or what time we started. The parents just would not get them there on time. It wasn’t the Cubs’ fault and I was determined to give them a good program. So I changed the time and scheduled pack meetings 15 minutes earlier than my intended (secret) start time. I told the parents this was to give their sons some time to practice the flag ceremony a few times and get some additional instruction from the Den Chiefs about how to do it. I stressed the importance of showing respect for the flag by doing a run-through before the actual start, so we could have a better-rehearsed ceremony. The families still arrived late, but usually during that 15 minute “window” I got enough there to run through the flag ceremony one time and we started at my intended start time.

It’s a silly way to deal with the problem, but it worked. The current Cubmaster does it the same way I did. I’ve not found another way to deal with inconsiderate parents who can’t get their sons to an appointment or meeting on time other than to use a “trick” like this. Talking to them doesn’t change their behavior and rarely have I found an instance where the habitual problem was the result of the something the boys themselves were doing or failing to do.

I was raised by my parents to always be early. My clocks at home and in my car are purposely 15 minutes ahead so that I’m not late! But I don’t think most people today think this way. Perhaps the younger generations have a different way of seeing time and the inconvenience it may cause others. It’s sure not a great “lesson” to instill in their kids. (Jason Orton)
Hi Andy,

Our troop leadership interprets “two-deep” as: Two adults must be in the campsite if there are Scouts there, and an adult can’t enter or remain in the campsite unless there’s another adult present, even if that means leaving the Scouts unattended. I was under the impression that it was only one-on-one contact that was not allowed. Can you clarify? (David Melton, Orange County Council, CA)

The GTSS specifies that two qualified adult leaders must usually (but not always) accompany Scouts on hikes and camp-outs. But, once at a base camp, there’s no requirement that says they have to be joined at the hip at all times. Just so long as there’s no one-on-one in a private situation, there’s no reason whatsoever why a single adult leader can’t be in the campsite with two or more Scouts. Moreover, applying good sense, wouldn’t it be a wiser decision to have at least one adult present, rather than barring this if two aren’t available and leaving Scouts without the watchful but discrete eyes of an adult?

Along these lines, do apply The Buddy System: No Scout goes anywhere without his designated buddy.
Hi Andy,

I just read the item in your December 10 column (no. 375) about some people thinking a 14 year-old is too young to be an Eagle Scout. Seems there are a lot of leaders out there that think this way. Here’s a thought:

There are currently 133 merit badges. A Scout needs 21 to make Eagle. That leaves 112 he can apply toward palms. At five merit badges per palm, he can earn a maximum of 22 palms (3 months for every palm is 66 months, or 5-1/2 years). That means a Scout would need to earn Eagle and start working on palms by the time he is 12-1/2 to earn all of them. That seems to say the BSA is OK with a Scout making Eagle at 12-1/2, so 14 certainly isn’t too young!

At the same time, I think they do state a minimum age. Wouldn’t that be the youngest age a boy could become a Boy Scout, plus 16 months for Star-Life-Eagle advancement (be active 4+6+6 months), plus some time (no minimum stated) to earn Tenderfoot through First Class? I’m not sure exactly what the youngest age a boy can be to join. Is it age 10? The “complete 5th grade” verbiage makes it a little confusing. What if a boy skips a few grades and completes 5th grade as an 8 year old? (Name & Council Withheld)

While “grade-skipping” isn’t a norm any longer, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility for a boy to be considerably younger than most when he begins Boy Scouting, and so earning 22 palms becomes possible (though not probable).

The BSA doesn’t offer so many merit badges with the intent that a Scout earn them all; rather, the intent is to provide a wide variety of interest areas, so that the majority of young men will find a whole bunch that are of personal interest. Like a cruise ship buffet, the idea isn’t that you fill your plate with every conceivable item offered—though you can, if you wish—but that the variety appeals to the widest range of tastes feasible.
Hi Andy,

You recently had a letter from a parent concerned about how his son was being treated in his quest for Eagle. While I agree with your answer, I think you left out two other possible options:

First, consider talking with the Unit Commissioner, the District Commissioner, and/or District Executive. This sounds like a unit that needs intervention to get them back on the right path.

Or, talk to the Chartered Organization Representative and get the Committee Chair replaced! It’s pretty obvious that the CC doesn’t know how Scouting works.

Age 14 is a critical point in Scouting. Boys have many other things starting to compete with Scouting for their attention. Discouraging a boy at this age can be a real problem and you run the risk of permanently losing the boy’s attention.

While a transfer to another troop would solve this boy’s problem, I’d
imagine that other Scouts in the troop are having the same problem and a permanent correction of this problem is in order. (Robby Wright, ADC, San Diego-Imperial Council, CA)

Thanks. Your suggestions are good ones.
Dear Andy,

Kudos to your answer (December 5 – No. 374) to the Merit badge Counselor with a problem. I also understand that requirements can be interpreted differently by different people. I’m having a problem with Scouts interpreting them in such a way as to do the least amount of work possible. When I run into this, I ask one simple question: Did you do your best? Usually, any Scout with a conscience is going to admit that he didn’t, and we can have a conversation about further work. If he says yes, I know there’s a deeper problem. I also sometimes have “helicopter” parents who think they can run interference for their sons, but I always insist on speaking to the Scout, without parents. It amazes me how many parents want to keep the blue card and the records for their sons, do the work for their sons, and even meet with me to describe what their son has done—even without the Scout even being present! I explain to them that one of the many advantages of the merit badge program is that it gives a boy the opportunity to learn how to communicate with adults other than his parents, to take responsibility for his own progress and success. I caution them that, by trying to “help,” they’re actually doing harm. If it appears the parents have done most of the work for the Scout, I’ll let the Scout know that’s not acceptable. But I also emphasize this up front at our first meeting, so there are no surprises. (Christina Russell, MBC)

As a fellow MBC, I’ve encountered similar situations, all of which usually wind up getting put in the “Webelos 3” bucket. I like how you handle these situations!
Hello Andy,

Our troop has struggled with understanding and applying the patrol method, despite the adult leadership’s strongly stated beliefs in the “boy-led” nature of Scouting. Recently, several adult leaders told me that, in this troop, “new” Scouts don’t elect their own Patrol Leaders or send them as representatives to PLC meetings. I was surprised. I understood that as soon as Scouts joined a troop they were full members and are supposed to form their patrol right away, hold elections, start patrol meetings, etc. What’s correct? (Name & Council Withheld)

You’re 100% correct. When a group of new boys (for example, a Webelos den graduating into a troop) joins a troop together, they stay together and instantly become a PATROL. As a patrol, they elect their own Patrol Leader. Importantly, they are not “given” an older Scout from the troop to be their Patrol Leader—n t even an “acting PL.” The elected Patrol Leader then chooses another Scout in his patrol to be his Assistant Patrol Leader. In a correctly run troop, each should be given their position badges, for their left sleeves, at the soonest possible time (the very next troop meeting is acceptable, but even more appropriate is that very evening, since such badges can be purchased in advance by the Scoutmaster or someone on the troop committee). The BSA does not provide for exceptions to this process.

As soon as the patrol has been formed, chosen a name for themselves, and designated their PL and APL, the Patrol Leader attends Patrol Leaders Council (aka “PLC”) meetings to represent his patrol members and their interests. The BSA does not provide for exceptions to this procedure.

In a correctly run troop, this new Patrol Leader will be accorded an older, experienced Scout to coach and guide him—this Scout’s position is Troop Guide. Importantly, however, this Troop Guide doesn’t run the patrol as a surrogate PL; he provides one-on-one guidance to the elected Patrol Leader. The BSA does not provide for exceptions to this method.

Everything I’ve described here can be found in the BOY SCOUT HANDBOOK and also in the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK.

By the way, the first “badge” all the new Scouts will earn is the “Scout” badge. Its requirements are virtually identical to those included in the requirements for the Cu Scout Arrow of Light rank, so, Scout-by-Scout, it should take only about ten minutes time with the Scoutmaster to complete this and receive the Scout badge (it is centered on the left pocket of your son’s Scout uniform shirt). This, also, is in both sources above.
Dear Andy,

How does one get involved with Order of the Arrow? I mean, how do you join your local lodge? I was a Cub Scout as a boy, but didn’t stick with it due to sports. Now, I’m a first-year Tiger Cub Den Leader and I’m just super excited and want to incorporate Scouting into my son’s life. I have a fascination with advancement and recognition, not only for my son but for myself, too. I want to challenge myself and I’m working on applying myself wherever possible to earn “square knots,” but I want nominate others who deserve these recognitions also. How do you nominate others? How are these presented? (Josh)

Congratulations and thanks for stepping up to become a Scouting volunteer! It’s folks like you who help enrich the lives of youth across America and, in so doing, build a stronger, more values-centered society!

The best way to enrich the lives of your son and his friends is to read, read, read, and to attend as many council and district training and collaborative events as your personal and professional schedules permit, including positions-specific training, Scouting “universities,” and Roundtables, to mention just a few. Along the way, talk with others who have walked your path before you, and learn from them as well (with the cautionary note that you’ll need to separate fact from opinion).

Now, to your questions…

The Order of the Arrow is a program for Boy Scouts and (occasionally) the adult volunteers associated with this program. The OA (as it’s commonly called) is unique in that it’s largely non-members (i.e., Boy Scouts themselves) who elect their fellow Scouts to membership. You’ll learn more about this in a few years, when your son and his friends graduate into a Boy Scout troop. (The OA isn’t a program that one “volunteers” or “applies” to join.)

As a volunteer in the Cub Scout program, you have the opportunity to work on the requirements for, and earn, the Cub Scout Den Leader Award (“Google” this to find the specific requirements). You can also complete the requirements for, and earn, the Scouter’s Training Award and then the Scouter’s Key for the Cub Scout program (again, Google these for requirements). Most other recognitions occur in the Boy Scout program, for which you’ll need to wait a few years.

Some other recognitions are based on nominations by others: The Unit Leader Award of Merit for Cubmasters (but not Den Leaders) is one of these. Others include the District Award of Merit and the Silver Beaver awards. Again, do some research to learn more about these.

But—and this is the big idea here—Scouting isn’t so much about us adults earning or receiving awards or recognitions; it’s about helping young people gain knowledge and skills (many of them being “life skills”), which are recognized by various badges, etc. This is done without it becoming a “badge-bagging” exercise—the joy comes from the self-confidence gained in learning and doing!

Focus on youth; the rest will happen naturally in its own due course.
Dear Andy,

With the “Key 3” in mind at the unit, district, and council level, we have a question about who is authorized to sign off a Scout for advancement. The style of most troops in our area is that Scoutmasters and Assistant Scoutmasters do sign-offs and the committee is the “check-and-balance” at boards of review. Is there a policy or recommendation regarding committee members being able to do both the rank sign-off and boards of review? (Sherrie Nielsen)

Who signs what is (a) shown in the Scout’s handbook (refer to pp. 432-441) and (b) implicit in the standard Troop Organization Chart. For (a) the “leader” referred to can be the Scoutmaster, an ASM, the Senior Patrol Leader, or the Scout’s Patrol Leader, depending on the rank and requirement. For (b) note that a troop’s committee members don’t have regular, ongoing contact with the Scouts of the troop, nor are committee members considered “leaders”—they’re unit support volunteers and not “direct contact” unit volunteers.

Committee members comprise boards of review for Tenderfoot through Life ranks, and Eagle palms; however, in this capacity they are not “signing off” on requirement completion but, rather, learning from the Scout what kind of experience he’s having in the troop, in his patrol, and with the volunteer direct contact leaders.

All this is described in much greater detail in the BSA GUIDE TO ADVANCEMENT.

Thanks, Andy. I’m being told anyone can sign off in the troop with permission from the Scoutmaster. You’re saying what I believed to be true. (Sherrie Nielsen)

My big suggestion is that the Scoutmaster exercise wisdom and use ASMs, the SPL, PLs, JASMs, and Instructors for this, and avoid unregistered adults and committee members.
Hi Andy,

Each year, Silver Beaver nominations are submitted to the council for consideration. The nominations are then forwarded to the Silver Beaver nominating committee for review. Those nominations that are approved by the committee are then forwarded to the Scout Executive for his approval and processing.

There’s a Scouter in our council who has been nominated for the Silver Beaver Award by multiple people for at least each of the past three years, yet none of these has ever reached successful conclusion. It seems that, each year, someone associated with the council has removed those applications from consideration before the other nominations were sent on to the Silver Beaver nominating committee. The reason the council gives for not sending these nominations forward is that the nominee is a paid employee of the council during summer camp. The rest of the year, the nominee is a full-time teacher. He’s been a Scouting volunteer for over 12 years. In that capacity, he’s served as a Committee Chair, Committee Member, Tiger Cub Coach, Den Leader, Assistant Scoutmaster, and Roundtable Commissioner. During this time he’s also participated in many district and council events.

The hang-up seems to be in the interpretation of Item 4 of the nominating instructions for this award, which state: “Nominations will not be considered for current or former professional Scouters within five (5) years of their leaving employment with the BSA. Other council employees (part time or full time) are eligible to receive the Silver Beaver Award based on their volunteer service, not employed service.”

Our feeling is that the nomination should be sent to the committee. If it’s not approved there, then so be it; however, if it is approved, then it should be sent on to the Scout Executive for his approval. If he should choose to override the committee’s decision then he should inform the committee of his decision and why he made it.

So here’s our question: Should this person’s nomination be given to the nominating committee for consideration and if approved then be sent on to the Scout Executive for approval, or should the council be able to pass judgment on the nomination before the committee has had the opportunity to review it? (Bill Casler, Great Alaska Council)

Non-professional council employees across the country are Silver Beaver recipients based on their further contributions to Scouting in volunteer capacities. Obviously, the wise nominator of the Scouter you’re speaking of would want to make certain that this Scouter’s council employment record appears nowhere in the nomination form or packet, so as not to mix apples and oranges and confuse folks. It also might be a good idea for the multiple nominators to collaborate and make certain that the very best nomination possible is submitted, because multiples carry no weight—only the Scouter’s record of contributions to Scouting matter.

Happy Scouting and Happy New year!


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. 378 – 12/30/2013 – 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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