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Issue 495 – July 12, 2016

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Dear Andy,

I think your advice to that granddad about uniform wearing (Issue 494 – July 5, 2016) was perfect.

My 14-year-old Star Scout son didn’t want to wear his uniform pants to a den meeting where he was the Den Chief. I refused to drive him until he changed out of his jeans into the green pants. He got very angry and was shouting at me about how stupid it was because the Cubs wore jeans, and on and on. He got so mad he put his fist through the wall! I calmly explained that he was in a troop that wore the Scout uniform properly, that he needed to represent that troop and Scouting to those Cubs, and they would look up to his example. He yelled that if that’s how it was going to be then he wanted to quit Scouting!

That stopped me in my tracks. This was a kid who told me as a Tiger that he was going to be an Eagle and pointed out the ring I was going to buy for him when he made it. He even spent his allowance to buy custom dog tags that said, “Future Eagle Scout.”

I realized when he threatened to quit that there was so much in his life he had no choice about, like school and church and band and chores and family obligations. Scouting was meant to be FUN. So I told him that if he really wanted to quit it would break my heart but he could do it. And if he really thought it was appropriate to wear jeans to that den meeting, it was his choice; not mine.

Almost instantly, as soon as he found out it was HIS choice, he went inside and changed pants. There was never another word said about quitting, and he earned his Eagle rank two years later. (BTW, he also earned the money needed to repair that wall he punched a hole in!) He is now an adult and still a registered leader in his troop.

There comes a time when a boy’s parents (and grandparents) have to start giving him power over his own life, in small ways at first. Choosing what pants to wear certainly counts as a baby step in the journey towards independence. Cheers! (CCR, Sugar Land, TX)

Dear Andy,

The letter from the concerned grandfather about his grandson not wanting to wear his uniform reminded me of my own time as a scout during the late 80s and early 90s.  It was definitely seen as un-cool to wear the scout uniform during that time.  I remember getting teased at school about being a scout when I first joined up and so I only wore it to scout meetings if I had to.  Usually this meant either changing at the church where we met or a quick dash from the parking lot.  I remember a couple fights with my mom over my clothes.  We did not have the money for expensive name brands but just because it was on sale and fit did not mean I had to wear it.  I remember friends having the same fight with their moms.  There was some real pressure during my early teens to not become the victim of teasing due to what I was wearing each day.  While BSA national may have thought the Oscar De La Renta uniform was hip, my fellow scouts and I saw it very differently.  We were required to wear them on outings but it was funny how nearly every scout would cover them up with sweat shirts or wind breakers in even warm weather and nearly all wore jeans even if they owned the scout pants, socks, etc.  A funny thing occurred as we got close to becoming Eagle Scouts.  The windbreakers and sweatshirts went away and we started to wear the uniform more frequently.  By the time several of us became Eagle Scouts, it did not bother us anymore that the world saw it as un-cool to be in scouting.  After that oval badge went on, you could not keep us from wearing that uniform during scouting activities.  Perhaps we were more mature and able to deal with the teasing at that point or maybe we were so proud of the accomplishment that we did not care anymore what others thought.  I do not know for sure what changed but something did change in our attitudes towards wearing the uniform.  I am glad the adults in our lives did not make it such a big issue that we rebelled against the program.  Many of us would have missed out on some of the most important experiences of our lives.  When I look back on my teen years, the two things I remember fondly are high school sports and my time in scouting.  Today, my sons and their friends have no problem wearing the uniform to scouting activities or in public.  They both wear it proudly but if one of them started to not want to wear it because it was no longer cool, I would not make an issue out of it knowing that what they would gain from participating in the program would be worth more than a fight over wearing a shirt.  I suspect that my own son would eventually come around to wearing it on his own as he grew and matured in scouting.  Thank you for your fine column.  I look forward to reading it. (Jason Orton)
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Dear Andy,

I’ve got a complicated dilemma. My parental duties and my Scout leader duties seem to be in conflict.

There’s a Scout in our troop, about 16 or 17 years old (let’s call him “Johnny”), who up until about a year ago was a problem child, bullying, disrespectful, etc. However, even though he was talked to repeatedly, nothing “official” was ever documented by the adult leaders in the troop.

Then, about a year ago he seemed to turn himself around and be more respectful, and even helpful. On one camping trip, with a tough hike to get there, Johnny even helped my own younger son carry his pack.

But then, a few months ago, while at a Scout meeting preparatory to next year’s Philmont trip, Johnny had the bright idea to forward an X-Rated video to another Scout—a 14 year-old. After the meeting, when younger Scout got home, he knew this wasn’t right, so he told his dad, who immediately told the troop leadership. Since an X-rated video and two minors were involved, the police were called in. Johnny was immediately suspended from the troop and we forwarded this incident to the district, then the council, then on to the BSA National Office.

Because of the “innocent until proven guilty,” the rest of the troop was not officially told; just the adult leadership. So other than probably the rumor mill, nobody officially knows this happened.

We think that the national office may ultimately give the whole thing back to the troop to deal with as we see fit, and this is where some issues have arisen…

Half of the adult leaders in the troop want to see Johnny booted out. However, this is the same group of leaders who never documented anything, before, so that this would “officially” be Johnny’s first offense, and it’s kind of hypocritical to boot a Scout out for one thing, given that probably many Scouts have done something stupid before and are still in the troop.

The other half wants to give Johnny a last second chance, with a “one more strike and you’re out for good” warning. They’ve pointed out the issues I mentioned above, especially the potentially legal issues that would arise given that there’s no official record of Johnny’s past behavioral issues. Besides, in light of some of Johnny’s aggressive past, they’d rather be able to keep an eye on him, rather than kicking him out and then have him show up at some event to start trouble (revenge). (I know it may seem like overreacting, but with all of the school shootings that have gone on for more trivial matters, we wouldn’t want to be the reason Johnny snaps.) They also feel that Johnny may actually benefit from the Scouting program—that this is especially what he needs.

Then you have me in the middle. I have no official say in the matter, since I’m an ASM and not a committee member. On one hand, as a parent, I’m kind of wary of Johnny being around my younger son, particularly since another parent mentioned to me that Johnny’s apparent helpfulness towards my son, on that hike, may have been “grooming.” But as a part of the troop’s adult leadership, I feel an obligation to give Johnny a second chance. But then, I don’t want my younger son to be in harm’s way if a “second chance” for Johnny turns out to be a mistake. Thanks for any advice or insights you may have. (ASM & Scout Dad)

Let’s begin here: In Scouting, there’s no “three strikes rule” or anything like it. Every incident stands for itself. So as far as “Johnny” is concerned, if all that his past shenanigans produced was an occasional “talking-to,” then those incidents are past and done with.

Second, there are several things that are either missing or difficult to understand. For instance, there’s no mention of what happened when you all involved local law enforcement. There’s also no mention of your council Scout Executive’s response to the incident you reported. Further in this arena, if no one at the council or national BSA level has responded, and several months have elapsed, it strikes me as odd that there’s no mention of any direct follow-up by any adults associated with the troop. There also appears to be no mention of this incident to your sponsor—the troop’s chartered organization—or its head. Moreover, what further action do you expect to accomplish, now that Johnny was, in fact, immediately suspended from the troop (which, I assume, includes all troop meetings and other activities), and this has been maintained for the past several months with no mention of his possible return after some pre-designated time-period. Finally, there’s no mention of Johnny’s parents… Were they informed? Has there been a conference with Johnny and his parents present? If not, what got in the way of this?

With those points out of the way, let’s take a look at what the BSA has to say about all aberrant behavior incidents… The first person to take action is, of course, the Scoutmaster. It’s fundamentally up to the Scoutmaster to deal with an incident like this; not the troop committee (check your SCOUTMASTER HANDBOOK). The Scoutmaster can, of course, consult with the committee, and perhaps a joint decision agreed upon by the Scoutmaster and Committee Chair may be needed in certain instances, but it’s not “put to a vote” within the troop committee to the exclusion of the Scoutmaster (and any ASMs who might have witnessed or otherwise been involved in a specific incident).

So, what sort of decision regarding Johnny and what he did should be made? Well, we know that, in Scouting, we don’t ever “punish” a Scout; this is anathema to our principles as embodied in the Scout Law (which is all about HOW TO ACT, in positive terms, and not about “eternal damnation if you mess up.”) In Scouting—as in most of life—actions produce consequences. That’s the operative word and thinking here: What is an appropriate consequence for Johnny’s action (instead of “how should we punish him”)?

Here’s a possible consequence:

Johnny stays active in the troop (he obviously needs Scouting’s “moral compass”). While active, he agrees to take on the following responsibilities: (1) He’ll help every Scout in the troop who has not yet earned his “Cyber Chip” card to do so in the next two months. (2) In the following (third) month, he’ll teach his fellow Scouts how to avoid being duped into opening inappropriate attachments and links on their smartphones and in email messages. (3) He’ll do these by first training his patrol, and then overseeing their training of the Scouts in the troop’s other patrols.

Of course, other consequences can be developed, and it’s best to do this by sitting down with Johnny and helping him develop his own plan, rather than spoon-feeding or, worse, stuffing a plan down his throat. This idea here is for Johnny himself to take responsibility for his action and create a plan to restore good “cyber-sense.” Where “punishing” him will make him “smaller,” doing it this way helps him grow.

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. 495 – 7/12/2016 – 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.

Read Andy's full biography

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