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Issue 473 – February 11, 2016

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Dear Andy,

There’s a young man (let’s call him Jack; he’s coming up on his 16th birthday) in our troop who has struggled with maturity issues. About nine months ago, my son mentioned that Jack had been talking a lot about marijuana use with some of the older Scouts. “Talking,” of course, isn’t necessarily “doing,” so I advised him to steer clear of anyone who might be involved with drugs, and to tell me immediately if they saw anything that suggested any actual “use.”

Well, the worst (but not the “end of the world”) happened: Our son (let’s call him Brandon) came to us asking for help: Brandon said he’d been smoking pot “for a few months” in an attempt to self-medicate for depression, and he wanted our help staying away from it. We chose not to be punitive—our priority was to get him the help he needed. But we did insist that he tell us where the pot came from. “Jack” was his reply.

While this was going on, another troop parent began to suspect that her son (let’s call him Tyler) was “using” something he shouldn’t be. She went through Tyler’s smartphone and found all kinds of marijuana-related stuff in a Twitter feed from Jack. These weren’t something law enforcement would consider “probable cause,” but, as a parent, well…where there’s smoke (no word play intended), there’s sometimes ganja.

Flash forward to an upcoming camp-out, but “cabin-style.” Our mutual concern was plain: If Jack brings marijuana (or other controlled substances) on the trip, and he’ll be in the cabin with younger, perhaps impressionable Scouts, he might have the opportunity to “introduce” them to his stash. (We realized that, even if we had one or more adult leaders in the cabin, that wouldn’t prevent Jack and other Scouts from slipping off into the woods behind the cabin to “experiment.”)

On further checking, via ostensibly (to them) casual conversations with other Scouts, we further unearthed that another Scout (let’s call him Charlie), had been a tent-mate of Jack’s at last year’s summer camp, at which time Jack had asked him for a light and, when Charlie said, “Hey, dummy, no open flames in tents! What do you want a light for?” Jack showed him what appeared to be marijuana and paraphernalia. Charlie, not wanting to participate but also not wanting to rat Jack out, immediately to the adult leaders because, as Charlie put it, “Jack’s a nice guy who’s really struggling to grow up, and I was afraid the adults leaders might be ‘mean’ to him.”

The other parent and I met with the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair to review BSA policy, which is very clear about what is and isn’t allowed, but the policies are silent on and give no guidance about how to handle hearsay or information that’s reported months late. We decided to meet with Jack and his parents to review BSA policies and have an open conversation with them all about the potential effects drug use on both Jack and the troop, and also to let them know that we’ll be watching Jack carefully over the camp-out and, if we found him “using” or trying to get other Scout to do the same, he’ll be dismissed from the troop with no possibility of return.

Out Committee Chair isn’t comfortable with the idea of immediately removing Jack from the troop without clear proof, and so am I. We want to believe that the Scouting program can benefit a young man who’s struggling, and we recognize that, as former teenagers ourselves, we’ve all had our own issues as well. But we’re not going to be stupid about the potential risk to our chartered organization and our youth members if Jack should bring controlled substances to a troop activity, or if other parents should learn via the proverbial grapevine about all of this.

But Jack’s parents haven’t responded to the Scoutmaster’s emails for the past three weeks, and the camp-out is this weekend! Meanwhile, Jack approached my son at a troop meeting and asked him if he wanted to sneak off outside the building the troop meets in and “vape” while “nobody’s looking” (apparently, teens somehow now use vaping devices for marijuana). Good news: Brandon told Jack, “No! I don’t do that!”

After that, the Scoutmaster, Committee Chair, and I have been making an extra effort to keep an eye on Jack, including doing walk-throughs during the outdoor games at meetings. So far we haven’t caught him at (or with) anything.

But last night, in response to Tyler’s strange behavior (the friend, remember?), his mother told him that she would be drug-testing him. Based on the way he’s been acting lately, she thinks he may be using something stronger than marijuana. She took his cellphone away from him shortly after that conversation and found a short a “conversation” between Tyler and Jack about how long “stuff” lasts in your system (unfortunately, Tyler has already deleted his half of the conversation and, by the next morning, the entire conversation was gone).

We let the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair know about this exchange immediately, and the Scoutmaster this time picked up the phone, called Jack’s parents, and told them that they absolutely must meet with us before the camp-out.

We have a couple of options, and this is where we need your guidance…

If Jack and his parents don’t show for the meeting, we have the option of simply informing them that he’s been removed from coming on the camp-out, period. But our concern is that, if Jack shows up anyway, this could be an ugly scene in the parking lot at departure; plus, the trip’s a significant cost and the parents have already paid for Jack. Moreover, the Committee Chair really doesn’t want to have to do this based on hearsay and half-conversations via texting. (I personally don’t have a problem with telling him he can’t go on the trip since Jack’s parents, apparently, haven’t made any attempt to respond to our contacts with them to deal with this problem.)

Or, we could inform the adults going on the camp-out of the situation, and ask them—especially the adult leaders who will be in the cabin with the Scouts—to watch for anything suspicious. But, again, the Committee Chair doesn’t want to spread “gossip” with no proof, particularly because some of the parent-drivers have been with the troop less than a year (we all do agree that it’s not a good position to put the other parents in). It’s also pretty much impossible to keep eyes on Jack all the time—although it’s a small-ish camp ground, it still wouldn’t take much effort for anyone to slip off somewhere for an hour or more.

In all of this, one thing we’re completely unsure of is the extent to which Jack’s parents have knowledge of his activities in the pot-smoking arena; we actually wonder if they may be part of the problem here.

We’d sincerely appreciate your thoughts on this matter. Oh… also, what’s our responsibility as far as notifying our council’s District Executive or Scout Executive at this juncture? Thanks! (Name & Council Withheld)

Thanks for a very well-written, factual, non-emotional, description of this situation. The key is this: Scouting is an educational movement overseen by volunteers like you and me; it has no “professional counselors” and it’s not the “police.” In the instant case, illegal substances are exactly that: Illegal. Scouting has no “exclusive” in this arena; illegal substances are available to young people at every turn, from school, to sports, to their very neighborhoods. The fact that your son (and, as you’ve described, others as well) have come into contact with a “source” (in this case, “Jack”) via their Scout troop is a secondary issue. This is why Scouting provides no specific “guidance” on how to deal with something like this. This is a parent-and-child issue, first and foremost—as you’ve wisely already noted and taken serious and wise action on.

If “Jack” is indeed a reported source of illegal substances, then your first responsibility as parents is to protect your own son. If this means that “Jack” is prohibited from attending any further troop activities until it can be concretely demonstrated that he’s “clean,” then that’s what must happen. My hope is that his parents aren’t in denial mode and will take corrective action with and for their son, just as you’ve done. If they aren’t willing to engage in an open conversation about this, the only way to keep the other Scouts of the troop safe from his influence is to inform his parents that he can no longer attend activities that would place other youth in harm’s way.

Understand: I’m a volunteer; I’m not a professional counselor, attorney, or law enforcement officer. I recommend you have a serious conversation with one or more professionals for the benefit of your own son, as well as, possibly, the troop as a whole.

Thanks, Andy! We did meet with Jack and his parents, and that meeting went as well as possibly could be hoped for.

The Scoutmaster told them that there had been rumors that Jack had been discussing and perhaps smoking marijuana. He went on to point out that we absolutely were not going to take adverse disciplinary action based on rumors, and that the issue of drug use needs to be addressed in the family. That said, we also pointed out that we had a responsibility to inform them about what had come to our attention about Jack.

I think Jack’s parents may have caught him with marijuana in the past: They asked us how current our information was. We explained that Jack’s Twitter feed was still active, could easily be viewed by anyone looking for it (including the not-terribly-computer-savvy parent who discovered it), and that the messages suggested that activity was ongoing.

We then went over the BSA policy, including the prohibition of e-cigarettes and personal vaporizers, and explained that if we found any drugs or paraphernalia at a troop or other BSA-sanctioned activity from now on, we’d be compelled to take disciplinary (different from “punitive”) action. We explained potential adverse effects on the troop (loss of charter, loss of members) if an incident occurred or if it became known that a Scout was using illegal substance with our knowledge and we’d taken no action. We also explained a potential scenario in which such substances were discovered at a camp or other event with Jack’s parents not immediately available: We ourselves couldn’t leave the Scout in possession of the substances; we could not take possession of them ourselves; consequently, our only option would be to call law enforcement—which would be unlikely to have a happy outcome for anyone.

We also explained to Jack and his parents (who seemed surprised to learn this part) that potential employers and prospective colleges often check social media feeds, and how a Twitter account covered in little five-fingered leaves and happy-snaps of bongs might affect Jack’s future even if the whole business was long past. That seemed to be a real eye-opener for Jack. We explained to him that we had his best interests in mind, both his health (if he’s smoking anything at all, we hoped he’d quit) and his future, which could be adversely affected by stupid stuff on a social media account.

We then reassured them that our goal is for Jack to remain with the troop, and expressed our belief that he’s capable of following the rules and improving. We pointed out some of the good things he’s done with the troop, noted that other Scouts really enjoy his company, and reminded him that, as one of the “big Scouts” in the troop, he needs to be a good role model for impressionable younger Scouts.

Jack’s only question was who said what to us, which of course we chose not to provide. But we did advise them that multiple parents, as well as Scouts, had come to us with concerns. Jack didn’t make any kind of fuss, and his parents seemed satisfied that the meeting had been helpful (Jack’s mother thanked us privately, and said that sharing the information had been absolutely the right thing to do, even though it was uncomfortable for all of us).

Our local District Attorney’s and Sheriff’s offices run programs on cyber-safety for parents, and a drug/alcohol prevention program for the county’s middle schools. One thing we’re considering is seeing if they have a presentation appropriate for Scouts, and asking our Senior Patrol Leader to schedule sessions on both issues from our local experts at one or two of our regular meetings in a few weeks.

I’d say that it went swimmingly. Our Scoutmaster set exactly the right tone and the parents were cooperative and open-minded. I wish every difficult issue could be handled so easily!

Thanks for your support and advice, Andy. This was a tough one, and I hope what happened here may help others. (N&CW)

You bet it can help others! Thanks for sharing so many important details. It seems to me you all—including Jack’s parents—handled this with wisdom, compassion, and knowledge that will help Jack fix himself. And your idea about a “drug defense program” is brilliant!

Happy Scouting!

Andy

Have a question? Facing a dilemma? Wondering where to find a BSA policy or guideline? Write to askandybsa@yahoo.com. 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. 473 – 2/11/2016 – Copyright © Andy McCommish 2016]

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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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