There is discipline and accountability in Scouting but Scoutmasters are not disciplinarians.
We are volunteers in the game of Scouting and our job is to mentor and train youth to lead themselves.
When there is a question of accountability – a Scout who is not doing what he is expected to do – Scouters can speak to them and encourage them to rise to the occasion. If they don’t it is not up to the Scouter nor the troop to discipline or punish the Scout.
Parents are responsible for correction and punishment, not Scouters.
If a Scout is not performing his leadership duties his fellow Scouts will want to elect a new leader.
We don’t deal in negative reinforcement.
- We don’t hold the threat of punishment over Scouts, that’s not our job.
- We don’t withhold advancement to teach them a lesson.
- The Scout oath and law are our rules of conduct.
- We don’t deal in demerits and suspensions and probations.
The only tools in our toolbox are positive reinforcement and constructive discipline. We can inspire, encourage, inform, exhort and support our Scouts. It’s the right tool for the job, and it works every time for any young person who wants to be a Scout.
What is Scouting Discipline and Accountability?
“Discipline is not gained by punishing a child for a bad habit, but by substituting a better occupation, that will absorb his attention, and gradually lead him to forget and abandon the old one.” – Baden-Powell
“If a boy is given sufficient positive reinforcement for appropriate behavior, positive behavior will usually continue.” – Scoutmaster’s Handbook
Here’s an excerpt from the Guide to Safe Scouting
Youth Member Behavior Guidelines
The Boy Scouts of America is a values-based youth development organization that helps young people learn positive attributes of character, citizenship, and personal fitness. The BSA has the expectation that all participants in the Scouting program will relate to each other in accord with the principles embodied in the Scout Oath and Scout Law.
One of the developmental tasks of childhood is to learn appropriate behavior. Children are not born with an innate sense of propriety and they need guidance and direction. The example set by positive adult role models is a powerful tool for shaping behavior and a tool that is stressed in Scouting.
Misbehavior by a single youth member in a Scouting unit may constitute a threat to the safety of the individual who misbehaves as well as to the safety of other unit members. Such misbehavior constitutes an unreasonable burden on a Scout unit and cannot be ignored.
All members of the Boy Scouts of America are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with the principles set forth in the Scout Oath and Scout Law. Physical violence, hazing, bullying, theft, verbal insults, and drugs and alcohol have no place in the Scouting program and may result in the revocation of a Scout’s membership in the unit.
If confronted by threats of violence or other forms of bullying from other youth members, Scouts should seek help from their unit leaders or parents.
Adult leaders of Scouting units are responsible for monitoring the behavior of youth members and interceding when necessary. Parents of youth members who misbehave should be informed and asked for assistance.
The BSA does not permit the use of corporal punishment by unit leaders when disciplining youth members.
The unit committee should review repetitive or serious incidents of misbehavior in consultation with the parents of the child to determine a course of corrective action including possible revocation of the youth’s membership in the unit.
If problem behavior persists, units may revoke a Scout’s membership in that unit. When a unit revokes a Scout’s membership, it should promptly notify the council of the action.
Tom Tom says
Gotta love your wise advise. Our SM Cor. has been dealing with behaviors teasing and even a case of “harassement”x2 and lately alot of swear words. We are trying a routine of quietly removing the boys that parents/leaders have talked to regarding there disruption/language/ect.. from the group and sitting them away reading some scoutting material until closing ceramony when they rejoin the group. We wish we had more parent involvment but some just make excuses for there childs behavior and we are hoping that this routine of quietly removing them and readdressing the situation quietly away including advising the parents will be helpful in correcting the so many behaviors we have. The PLC uses the BSA feature programing guide, but a few scouts can cause alot of disturbance amoung the many.
As always look forward to your input.
Larry Geiger says
Behavior should often be handled in a different venue. If we wait one, two or even three years to a SM Conference to nail the Scout on his behavior, then it’s way to late to do something about it. That’s a failure on the part of the adult leaders.
1. If a Scout’s behavior is out of line then it needs to be dealt with. Immediately.
2. If a Scout is ok with his peers and he has passed everthing to advance to Eagle and the SM is just now withholding advancement, then something is wrong with the SM.
“We have PL’s and boys who commonly ignore the SPL”
That sounds like most every group of Scouts. Do the adults really understand what is going on or do they think that a Scout Troop will look like a well oiled Marine regiment?
“and disrespect the adults often”.
Major flag for me. Obviously an outsider would have to actually see what is going on here but:
1. If actual adult disrespect is happening and it wasn’t dealt with immediately, then the adult leadership has a problem.
2. Again, if the adults don’t understand Scouting and don’t understand the program, then a lot of things going on might look like “disrespect” or something else.
3. I would be particularly concerned about that “often” word. What, exactly, does that mean in this context.
No Scouting unit, actually no youth program, could survive more than a few meetings or activities where the young people “disrespect the adults often”. It would collapse upon itself in short order. Seriously, your unit sounds like a scary place headed for disaster.
Matt Price says
Unfortunately, sometimes you have to use the old method of shaming in order to get the attention of a wise toosh who refuses to follow even the Scout law.
We have PL’s and boys who commonly ignore the SPL, and disrespect the adults often.
But, it comes time that they are ready to go forward with Rank and the Scoutmaster Conference, that is the time, not in a Board of Review, to set the goals of the Scout and have them come back after they show improvement with Scout Spirit.
What is written is that they don’t fail a Scoutmaster Conference. But a Scoutmaster can set expectations on their behavior and have them return before they go to the Board of Review.
They are shocked when I don’t systematically sign off a Scoutmaster Conference when we start talking about their behavior. In fact, I have one that is very disrespectful and is going for his Eagle. So, because he completes the MB and Project Requirements does not mean that he is ready to go forward and represent the world as an Eagle Scout.
The requirements are there for the Scout to Achieve, not be rubber stamped. And I make them come back if I feel they have not achieved the level to which the requirement states.
Clarke Green says
I certainly do not agree with you here. Scoutmasters are not the gatekeepers of advancement letting those they think worthy pass through.
No, we do not ever shame boys into good behavior.
No, we do not either rubber stamp nor refuse to sign requirements because we don’t think they have been met.
We are not the guardians and judges of behavior or the advancement system, nor do we set standards of behavior.
What we do instead is collaborate with Scouts, discuss and reflect with them on the standards that existed before any of us became Scoutmasters, the Scout oath and law. If a wise Scoutmaster does this properly a Scout’s behavior improves a because he imposes a higher standard of behavior on himself.
If a Scout hasn’t completed a requirement to the satisfaction of the person approving it they discuss how it can be fulfilled (in 99% of cases the person approving it ought to be a youth leader) and collaborate together on making that happen.
“Respect” can mean many things and boys generally respect those who treat them fairly, who have their best interests at heart. If I am treated with disrespect I had better look at myself first.
A Scoutmaster’s conference is our opportunity to lead a Scout to reflect on their own standards and aspirations, to adopt the standards of the Scout oath and Law as his own, not to impose our judgement on him.
Mike Lodes says
Excellent posting! I was actually at summer camp, explaining to an ASM that we weren’t drill sergeants, when you posted this and found great reassurance that I wasn’t off base.
Clarke Green says
Glad to be of assistance Mike. We aren’t policemen, drill sergeants, nannies, probation officers, commanders, employers, or prison wardens either.
Al Best says
More along Larry Geiger’s point regarding “We don’t deal in demerits and suspensions and probations.”…
I just redid my Youth Protection training. In it you will see that there is a role, first, for parents to respond appropriately to missbehavior. Then, with adult supervision, for the PLC to recommend what the consequences may be. And finally, it’s up to the Troop Committee to determine what the Scout needs to do to stay with the program. And many times the process is successful; sometimes not.
In my experience, it’s often helpful to involve an experienced Commissioner and even to give a heads up to the Scout Exec.
But, at bottom, following our values — Help Other People At All Times– leads us to ask “what’s best for the Scout?” And the answer is positive reinforcement and constructive discipline. And sometimes this can be done in the face of illegal activities or egregious behavior.
Stay positive and hopeful. I always remember Shawn, an 11 year old tenderfoot that I wanted to strangle who turned out to be, at 16, an Eagle Scout and excellent SPL.
Clarke Green says
I failed to differentiate between routine misbehavior and actions that merit immediate removal from participating in the activity (I will not attempt to describe what kind of action merits this for fear someone will think there’s a rule about it – you’ll know.)
The reaction you describe is just as I have said – refer him to his parents for discipline and punishment. A Scout’s way back to actively participating after serious misbehavior may be one or more of the steps youth protection suggests; a discussion with the patrol leader’s council who can recommend what happens next to the troop committee.
Walter Underwood says
The Guide to Safe Scouting does have a list of behaviors that “have no place in the Scouting program…” under “Youth Behavior Guidelines”. It is worth revisiting.
Clarke Green says
Good reference Walter – specific and helpful to clarifying the issue.
Tom Tom says
We had two boys fight and had the spl a spl and the boys pl hold a judicial court of honor. Is this appropriate and what about the boy that continually does not listen to his pl or spl? I am trying to let the boys handle it but they are frustrated and want to remove him from the patrol. I said we do not kick boys out. But unsure what direction to take.
The spl also uses a routine on trips were after three warnings and a discussion with the sm he boy is given an extra DIY like cleaning All the dishes for a meal ect…
Looking for input on this
Clarke Green says
If it’s a behavioral problem he’s referred to his parents for discipline and punishment.
I would advise against ‘judicial courts of honor’ something you will not find described in Scouting literature and youth leaders giving three warnings and assigning extra duties – again this is not the Scouting way.
When positive enforcement does not work for my youth leadership the Scout is referred to me. I’ll tell him that unless his behavior changes the only way left for us to deal with this is through his parents. In 99% of the cases this is sufficient incentive.
The most important issue is maintaining an atmosphere of positive reinforcement – inspire, encourage, inform, exhort and support. I would strongly recommend against a system of negative reinforcement like warnings and punishments.
Tom Tom says
I understand and I am never afraid of attempting something new and different for it might work out for the better. What about a Patrol wanting to “remove” members due to unresolved conflict. I think I might have it nipped for a 5 patrol is potentially going to start with one of these boys.
Thanks for the recommendation this is a topic and I think ALL troops have to deal with and it is one that merits a blog of input and THANK YOU! for bringing it up.
Clarke Green says
You’d have to better define ‘unresolved conflict’ to get a specific answer. If two Scouts aren’t getting along and the positive encouragement of youth leadership has no effect I’d counsel them a bit, ask lots of questions, listen carefully and help them sort it out. I’d emphasize thatthey are Scouts, that we follow the oath and law and that should be enough for them to sort out the conflict.
Ferrell Gilmer says
We were at summer camp recently and had to send a boy home. During one of the first year classes (Tenderfoot to Second Class) he got mad at another scout in our troop and pulled out his closed knife and brandished it toward the scout and made threatening comments and gestures. He then grabbed the scout in a choke hold with his forearm and held him until the instructors separated them. We spoke with both scouts, separately, and advised the aggressor that that type of behavior is not tolerated, we will not tolerate it and putting hands on another scout – especially a choke hold – was something that cannot be over looked. We advised him he was not being removed from the troop, but only being sent home from camp. I understand what the article is saying, but there are times when certain actions require serious consequences and this was one of those times. We have informed the scout and his parents that any future behaviors like what occurred at summer camp will result in his dismissal from the troop. The scout we sent home was at the meeting this past Monday night and was interacting with the boys like nothing ever happened.
Clarke Green says
There will be actions, like the one you describe, that cause us to remove a Scout from active participation. He was referred to his parents for discipline, you did not discipline him yourself (other than removing him from the activity which is more procedural than punishment).
Larry Geiger says
“We don’t deal in demerits and suspensions and probations.”
Sometimes this is necessary. Sometimes a Scout must leave for illegal or other egregious behavior. This is not, as Clarke says, our normal way of dealing with something, but occasionally necessary. Sometimes a Scout comes back and sometimes not.
I especially like the last two quotes. A positive direction and activity is always better than “punishing” a negative one. After all, that’s our goal: Self directed positive decisions, in the absence of parents, teachers and scout leaders.