Keeping older Scouts active and involved is a perennial concern. Scoutmasters wring their hands over losing older Scouts and many troops do have a problem keeping them around. The standard response is amping up the ‘wow’ factor of the program but I have never been very fond of the “bread and circuses” approach to Scouting. (If you aren’t familiar with the metaphor ‘bread and circuses’ refers to placating real concerns with superficial means of appeasement like diversions or distractions without getting to the heart of the matter.)
We are under constant pressure at our summer camp to add yet another ‘older boy program’ to entice them back for another year. These programs come and go, they rarely do anything to increase attendance and they drain a lot of resources. I do believe older Scouts want to have a great time and do fun exciting things; but that’s true for any Scout, no matter what his age.
Simply turning up the ‘wow’ factor doesn’t keep older Scouts engaged, they are looking for much more than fun. What really get’s them interested? What really keeps them around. The answer is pretty simple and it’s kept our older Scouts involved well past the time you’d normally expect. When we are rechartering each year our “dropped Scout” survey usually includes two or three older Scouts because they have aged out, not because they have lost interest.
Here’s ten things we do to keep older Scouts engaged.
1. Our older Scouts run the Troop with real, independent responsibility for the welfare of the Troop’s program.
2. Adult leaders encourage and support them from a respectful distance.
3. The Adults accept that while mistakes are inevitable they are not punishable crimes. We work hard to be encouraging and understanding when mistakes happen.
4. We let them be who they are. Sometimes our older Scouts show up with purple hair, sporting a unique hat, or some ‘costume’ (you know what I mean the stuff they wear to show their rugged individualism so they look like every other rugged individual). If we respond at all it is with nothing mores than a slightly raised eyebrow. We accept that this is a stage many boys go through and we are not going to make a big deal out of it.
5. The glass is always half full – we accept that not see every older Scout will be at every single outing and meeting. Beyond that we encourage them to take part in other things because when the do they take what they have learned in Scouting to the broader community.
6. We encourage a healthy culture of positive peer pressure. We celebrate accomplishments and minimize failures.
7. Respect, real concern and care for the welfare of the younger Scouts is always our first priority. There is no cruelty, bullying or hazing.
8. We don’t nitpick the decisions made by our older Scouts or offer much in the way of unsolicited advice.
9. Older Scouts are given plenty of time to spend with each other. They are expected to work actively with the younger Scouts but also given plenty of time to spend with their peers.
10. We don’t pay much attention when a Scout doesn’t wear a uniform. If the choice is having him there without one or his dropping out because he’s forced to wear a uniform we’d rather have him there. Did that raise your eyebrows? Aren’t Scouts required to wear uniforms? Show me a rule or regulation from Scouting literature that says so and I’ll follow it.
There are many exhortations and encouragements to wear a uniform but no policy I have found requires it. I wear mine, as do most of the other adults and most of the other Scouts, and that’s good. Our senior patrol leader wears his, he always encourages others to follow his example but he is not going to use any negative reinforcement if they don’t. Once again if the choice is between keeping a boy involved without a uniform being worn all the time or loosing him because we make him wear it I’ll keep the Scout.
UPDATE – immediate objections to #10 came through within minutes! Here’s the rule for wearing a uniform, you’ll find it in the Uniform and Insignia Guide on page 5 under the heading “Official Policy”;
While wearing the uniform is not mandatory, it is highly encouraged. The leaders of Scouting— both volunteer and professional—promote the wearing of the correct complete uniform on all suitable occasions.