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Issue 470 – January 12, 2016

Hi Andy,

I recently transferred councils and connected with a new troop. This troop’s been around for over 50 years but right now is under brand-new adult leadership. They’re trying their best to elevate the troop to truly “Scout-Led,” per Baden-Powell, and so we’ve just had patrol elections for Patrol Leaders. Unfortunately, one patrol seems to have elected the “wrong” Scout, who’s having trouble leading, attending meetings, and so on. I remember reading somewhere that, when a patrol creates this sort of problem for themselves, we should just leave him in the position so the patrol learns by their mistake and will elect a better Patrol Leader next time. Any advice here? (Jim Moran)

The Scoutmaster’s primary responsibility, according to several editions of the SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK, is to train, coach, and mentor the troop’s youth leaders so that they can run their own troop. This elected-but-less-than-effective Patrol Leader is certainly a top candidate for help, and this is the Scoutmaster’s responsibility, together with occasional collaboration from the Senior Patrol Leader. This may require special sessions, but that’s what we Scoutmasters are here to do. If every young man were a “natural leader,” we’d hardly need Scouting! Scouting is the safest place to mess up and the greatest place to learn leadership skills and techniques. Scouting also, and uniquely, isn’t about listening to lectures; it’s all about DOING! And doing again when we mess up, until we get it right. The Scoutmaster provides the safe haven for a young man like this to grow into his responsibilities one step at a time, but understanding that he’ll also back-slide from time to time. That’s where the Scoutmaster is the quiet “safety net,” who saves the Scout and his patrol from disaster not by “taking over” but by quietly guiding the scout by asking questions that lead the Scout toward thinking through the right ways to do things.

The Scoutmaster’s responsibility, in a nutshell, is to turn every “green” Patrol Leader into a competent, self-reliant leader of his peers. So here’s an opportunity!
Dear Andy,

Where can I find a “BSA Declaration of Religious Principles”? (Name & Council Withheld)

Just use any online search engine for exactly what you have in the quote marks! Bingo!
Hi Andy,

My son joined Boy Scouts at the end of last school year after having been in a Cub Scout pack since the beginning as a Tiger. In the last two or three years of his Cub Scouts experience I started getting involved in leadership roles, most notably taking over as the Webelos I and II Den Leader.

Just about a month ago, our troop’s Scoutmaster advised us parents that he needs to step down. Seems even though he’s been Scoutmaster for several years, his own son’s interest in Scouts is waning (which I can understand…my own son gets bored with stuff on and off, too).

Anyway, the reason I’m writing to you is that I’ve been asked by the current Scoutmaster and Committee Chair if I’d be willing to take on the Scoutmaster position. Although we have five Assistant Scoutmasters presently, none of them is apparently willing to step up, although they did commit to support me if I did.

My big concern is that I’ still so very new to Boy Scouts (although I’m familiar with The Patrol Method through other training). And I really enjoy Scouting and its outdoor program and I’d like to see the Scouts develop on their own with guidance by the Scoutmaster and his direct staff, and I have no problem delegating tasks and planning in advance.

Some close friends are, however, very concerned that this will take a heavy toll on me, in large part because I suffer from epilepsy and very much believe work stress is the cause for my seizures (I’ve since quit the job that was causing a large amount of work stress and seizures). Can you provide some guidance for me? (Name & Council Withheld)

Based only on what you’ve stated, I’d strongly reconsider taking on a role as Scoutmaster. Not because that role is inherently stressful, but because epilepsy, as I understand it as a layman, is pretty unpredictable. If you add to this the raw fact that not one of five current ASMs is willing to step up to the Scoutmaster position, I’d have to say there’s a big CAUTION sign staring you in the face. I’d suggest making your decision keeping in mind that your own son is your very first priority. With this at the forefront of your thinking, I’m sure you’ll make the best decision possible. And, if you do decide to take a pass on Scoutmaster at this time, this by no means that, in the future, you couldn’t speak up once you’re more sure of what Boy Scouting’s all about and how much you can personally handle.

Thanks, Andy. Just spoke with my brother, who pretty much outlined every single concern you mentioned. My wife did, too. Have you any further thoughts? (N&CW)

Just one: You can listen to whomever you like, but the most important thing you can do is listen to your own “inner voice”. Follow your heart and you’ll not be wrong.
Dear Andy,

How do we deal with a Scout who’s not fitting into our troop because of his own, unprompted bullying and generally mean behavior? What alternatives does a Scoutmaster have, short of dismissing the Scout from the troop? (Warren Fellingham)

The BSA is pretty specific on situations in which a Scout brings, or threatens to bring, physical harm or emotional abuse upon a fellow Scout: He is to be removed from further participation with the troop until his threatening behaviors cease. This is done in face-to-face conversation between the Committee Chair and Scoutmaster, and the Scout and his parent(s). The purpose of the removal is to eliminate the possibility of harm coming to another Scout in the troop; it is not intended to be punishment but, rather, a consequence of his behavior, and for the protection of his fellow Scouts. Per the inventor and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, you’re seeking the greatest good for the greatest number. Which, in this case, is the troop as a whole.

This is done when direct counseling by the Scoutmaster (first) and the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair (second, and together) fail to reverse the abusive trend or to end the youth-to-youth physical contact.

The Scout is not, however, dismissed from Scouting itself; he is simply removed from putting others in harm’s way until he can learn how to control his emotions and restrain himself. He is welcome to return to the troop as soon as he’s accomplished the proposition set before him in direct, crystal-clear terms. The reason why he’s not summarily dismissed from the Scouting program is fundamental to Scouting’s ultimate purpose: It is to HELP troubled youth; not to weed out all those who aren’t paragons of virtue!

Scouting volunteers like you and me aren’t trained professionals in psychology or sociology; you’re volunteers doing your best to help boys and young men lead themselves in a fun, challenging, adventurous program we call Scouting. This is why you leave it to the aberrant Scout’s parents to help him work out his issues. And it’s also why you’re always prepared for the Scout, when he straightens himself out, to come back and enjoy the program too!

In proceeding, keep this in mind: We all—especially teens—need acknowledgement and attention, and our psyche doesn’t care whether that’s negative attention or positive attention, so long as it’s attention. So the question becomes: What’s going on in this boy’s life outside of Scouting that’s causing this negative behavior. To find out, so you and primarily his parents (or even his school’s professional counselors) can provide the help he needs, this is what one-on-one Scoutmaster’s conferences are for!

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. 470 – 1/12/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]


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.

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