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Issue 443 – May 19, 2015

My previous column closed on a bullying scenario—something that seems to be in the news more and more these days. When I was a kid growing up, bullies were pretty easy to handle. You got a bunch of your neighborhood buddies together, confronted the jerk, and told him to cut it out “or else” (even though, in reality, none of us really knew what the “or else” really meant) and it usually worked. When it didn’t, a shove back often did the trick, because it was the least expected response. We didn’t involve our parents because Dad worked all day and didn’t want to deal with it when he finally got home and Mom had the younger kids to take care of and didn’t want to hear our whining. (And this, by the way, is from a pretty nerdy “city kid”—I sure wasn’t the strongest or bravest kid on the block!) If it happened at Scout camp—which it did, by the way—then you got your Scout buddies or tent-mate and you dealt with it the same way as if you were back home. To tell your Scoutmaster would have been “tattling” or “snitching,” that that’s even worse, so you figured out how you were gonna deal with the jerk, and then you did it. And if you were reasonably smart, you did it where you both could be seen and not in any place that’s isolated. That way, if there were any other bully wannabe’s around, they’d know pretty quick you weren’t gonna be messed with.

But today’s different. Bullying can certainly happen eyeball-to-eyeball, as it has for generations, but now we have something new, called “social media” and a whole host of new ways to mess with one another in ways we shouldn’t.

And, along with this, there’s another problem: How do we define “bullying” nowadays? It used to be pretty easy. You knew when your buddy was being picked on because it was usually physical, and certainly overt. Now, it can be a lot more subtle. But this raises yet another question… If somebody simply twitches his eyes at you, is this “bullying” or does he have a vision problem? Frankly, I’m no expert, and I certainly respect anyone who’s professionally made the time to figure some of this out.

I believe Andrew Yeager, a school psychologist and student assistance coordinator at Park Ridge High School in New Jersey, has. He recently wrote a terrific article titled “Bullying Redefined” for the NJEA REVIEW and I’m going to share some of his commentary with you. Here goes…

“In order to create effective bullying-related lessons that (young people) can relate to…we need to dig below the surface of clichés and caricatures, past the statutory definitions, and speak directly to the underlying behaviors.

“At its heart, bullying is about identity, status, peer approval, bonding, impulsivity, entertainment, insecurity, jealousy, competition, retaliation, revenge, and many other…factors that are part and parcel of psychosocial development.

“…There is nothing wrong inherently wrong with peer approval and acceptance, social bonding, identity development, seeking attention, enhancing social status or entertainment. But (young people) must find healthy ways to achieve these needs and goals.

The key, Mr. Yeager reveals, is understanding which side of the fence the behavior is on. If it’s inclusive (i.e., not “two against one” or “telling tales out of school” on another, as the old expression went) and has no negative impact on another, then the behavior is likely to be healthy. If, on the other hand, the behavior excludes another, or undermines another’s social standing, or inappropriately invades the “personal space” of another, or includes and unwanted touching of any kind, then it’s likely we’re looking at a bullying situation.

Mr. Yeager’s answer to the bullying problem is through insightful education and guidance. As parents and Scouting volunteers, even though we aren’t professionals, we can still find ways to at least better understand what we’re observing, so that we know where the danger signs are. And, whatever we may do, we need to focus on behavior; not on the underlying psychology, which few of us are equipped to diagnose or cope with. Stick with behavior, in other words, and don’t try to play “guardhouse shrink,” as we used to call it. Behavior never lies.


Hello Andy,

Thanks for your work here. Your advice and commentary have been extremely important in shaping me as a Scouter.

I’m Scoutmaster now, and I was recently asked by a family in our troop to bring their Webelos Scout son into our troop. Their boy is in fourth grade, age 10 and a few months old, but he’s apparently earned his Arrow of Light rank. According to BSA joining requirements, this boy could join my troop, but it would be rather unusual. At first, I didn’t believe this possible (there used to be a tenure requirement for the Webelos badge which slowed things down), but I’ve consulted the current requirements and it does appears to be okay. So I have several questions…

First, has the BSA decided that it wants 4th graders to join Boy Scout troops (because that’s where these requirements are leading us)?

Is the new Cub Scout program aiming on having boys join Boy Scouts in the 4th grade or the 5th grade?

Doesn’t our troop have a choice about when it accepts new Scouts? Do we have the option to decide that not-yet-eleven and still in 4th grade is too young? (Every year, we deal with a lot of immaturity even with 5th graders.)

I’m about to contact the leaders of this boy’s pack, so that I can better understand the situation, and also not to blindside them if we’d prefer not to have such a young boy joining the troop right now. Do you have any other advice? (Maurice Aufderheide, SM)

There are three separate and distinct ways a boy can qualify to join a Boy Scout troop: He can be 11 years old, OR he can complete 5th grade, OR he can earn the Arrow of Light rank. Not all three; simply any one of these. So, if this boy has earned his Arrow of Light, he’s absolutely qualified to join a Boy Scout troop.

But has he indeed earned the Arrow of Light rank, particularly with regard to AoL Req. 1, which states: “Be active in your Webelos den FOR SIX MONTHS SINCE COMPLETING THE FOURTH GRADE (OR FOR SIX MONTHS SINCE BECOMING TEN YEARS OLD).”

So, since he hasn’t yet completed fourth grade, his precise age becomes critical: If he’s is not at least ten years and six months old, he couldn’t have met this AoL requirement and therefore is, unfortunately, not qualified to become a Boy Scout. So please check his precise age. If he’s 10 years and 6 months old, or older, even though he hasn’t completed fourth grade, he’s good to go. But if he’s younger that this, it’s a no-go situation until he reached that specific age. So please double-check, to see what’s going on.

If he does qualify, then I do recommend he join up right now, so that he gets acclimated to the troop before the summer hits, and signs up to go to camp with the troop this very summer. Honestly, if you hold him back or suggest that he “wait a year” (or even till this coming September) before going to camp with the troop, you’ll lose him—probably permanently. And that’s simply not what we’re in business to do.

If, for some reason (although I can’t imagine what it might be) your troop is unwilling to do what it’s supposed to do, at least please have the courtesy and wisdom to give this family the name of another Scoutmaster, of another troop in town, so that this boy can join up as he’s supposed to.

If anyone associated with your troop has any further questions about this, you might point out that bridging from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts in the late winter-early spring—so long as Arrow of Light has been correctly earned—has been the BSA procedure since 1989.
Greetings Andy,

I’m our troop’s immediate past Scoutmaster, now serving as an Assistant Scoutmaster, and also serving as our district’s Eagle Project Representative. In this latter capacity I enjoy working with Scouts who are actively reaching the final steps to meeting their Eagle rank requirements and, ultimately, their Eagle board of review. From time to time, I have the opportunity to share some insights to help these Scouts get ready for their Eagle review, including handshake, eye-contact, and communication. As a business owner whose employees work daily with the public, I expect a professional level of hairstyling as well as grooming standards as related to body piercings, tattoos, etc., all of which are clearly stated in my business’s employee policy manual. As a Scouting volunteer working with Scouts preparing to participate in possibly the most rigorous interview of their lives as a youth, I want them to succeed and do well at their boards of review. From time to time, I’ll encounter a Scout with a very long hair style (more than several inches past the collar of their uniform shirt). Radical hair color can sometimes be an issue as well. I’ve looked in the SCOUT HANDBOOK and visited to find any definitive guidance or standard on these issues, but without success. In dealing with Life Scouts on their way to Eagle, what can I suggest? There are grooming standards for camp staff, such as those working at Philmont or other camps. What about Scouts seeking Scouting’s highest award? I feel I should be encouraging them to seek the same professional standards we expect of our Scout leaders when they prepare for their Eagle board of review. (Gary Moss, Bend, OR)

Well, I’m not exactly seeing a question in there, so I’ll make one up: Andy, am I within bounds to be doing what I’m doing?

In analyzing the situation regarding boards of review, we need to always keep two things in mind. First, these young men are volunteers; not employees. This means that except for hygiene, we make no policies regarding hair, piercings, body ink, etc.

As my very wise wife realized many years ago when one of our daughters wanted a “nose jewel,” you don’t lose your kid over a fashion fad. Today, as an ordained minister, her nose jewel is long-gone and she’s a solid role model for the youth of her congregation.

Bottom line: We don’t care if a Scout’s hair looks like he’s the son of Tarzan or his body jewelry tempts us to nickname him “Johnny Tacklebox”—He’s a Scout and learning life values in the program we’re offering.

Later in life, he may have an employer who, like you, may make some rules of dress and grooming that can be enforced among paid employees, but for now the young man is with us voluntarily and that’s that. More, boards of review—whether for Eagle or any other rank—are hardly the equivalent of doctoral orals or even a job interview; they’re conversations between the Scout and members of the troop committee (or community, in the case of Eagle candidates) designed not to suck the life out of him but, rather, to determine the extent to which the troop’s direct service volunteers (i.e., the Scoutmaster and assistants) are guiding the delivery of a quality Scouting program that provides adventure, challenges, fun, and opportunities for personal advancement. Again, that’s that.

Yes, we can model good grooming and, in fact, older handbooks used to spend a fair amount of ink discussing this. But we don’t “ding” a Scout because his hair’s longer than we’d wear it or he has metal or ink in places we’d never consider—frankly, that’s simply not what we’re here to do.

I hope you’re getting where we’re going here. The Scouts you serve need you, but not if you’re running a business instead of guiding a troop and its youth leaders. So finally, let’s also remember that, even for an Eagle board of review, having a uniform to wear isn’t mandatory either.

What it really comes down to is this: In the years this young man has been a part of the Scouting program, what have we imbued in his heart, so that he already knows what to do, and knows he can do it in a way that keeps pace with his sense of individual self?
Dear Andy,

I’m working on a history of boards of reviews and I’m looking for any information you might have on Scout-led boards of review for ranks Scout through First Class. One source has the BSA allowing such Scout-led reviews 1980 through 1997. Is there anything that supports this? My research says that these reviews were led by the Senior Patrol Leader and two other Scouts at least two ranks higher than the Scout being reviewed, and that an adult Scout leader or committee member was present but had no vote. Andy assistance in this question would be most appreciated. (Jim Polhamus, ASM, Occoneechee Council, LA, with past experience with the Blue Ridge, Rocky Mountain, Hiawathaland, and Transatlantic Councils)

Boards of review have been around since the dawn of Boy Scouting in America, and for no less than the past seven decades have not included youth of any rank or office except for a brief period from 1979 to 1990 (The “Bill Hillcourt Period” and Handbook). In this brief period, the foundational ranks—Tenderfoot, Second Class, and First Class (“Scout” is not a rank and requires no review, but this may shortly change and the BSA will have seven ranks for the first time, instead of six, and you heard it here first!—required review by the Patrol Leaders Council. At that time Star and Life candidates were reviewed by the troop committee, and Eagle candidates per council-established procedure. So, except for the time period I mentioned, boards of review have always been conducted by designated adults.
Hi Andy,

Our troop doesn’t have a trailer (yet…but we’re getting closer!), so I don’t have any experience with insurance (right now, our gear is stored in a very safe location, so insurance hasn’t been an issue).

I’ve heard several times that getting insurance can be difficult to get and costly. Why doesn’t the BSA national office set up a unit-level program with an insurance company that can be made available to troops and other Scouting units that have difficulty setting up their own policies and plans? With a dedicated company understanding what a unit needs, it should be a lot easier than a unit going off on its own to try to find a company and appropriate coverage. (Ed Colaianni, CR, Westchester-Putnam Council, NY)

Most troops neither have nor need trailers. Why? Simple: If you think about it, there should really be very little “troop gear.” It’s all supposed to be patrol gear, and patrols are expected to lift their own weight! This includes how to get their gear to the campsite or trail head, by recruiting their own parents and not relying on some “Great Coordinator of Drivers from the Sky”! Too many troops miss the critical point that the foundational unit of Boy Scouts isn’t “the troop”—it’s the PATROL!

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. 443 – 5/19/2015 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2015]


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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