Scout leader training tends to focus on the practical and, I fear, often misses the big picture.
Most of the questions and comments I receive are about action oriented, practical matters. More often than not problems arise because people have missed the big picture rather than their lack of knowledge of some procedural process.
What is the big picture, the grand unified theory of Scouting? I have been working on theories but I still haven’t arrived at a conclusion. One thing I can tell you that would resolve about 80% of the difficulties that reach me for advice:
Scouting is an age-appropriate continuum of development, not a list of achievements to accomplish as quickly and efficiently as possible.
Often (especially during the Cub Scout years) parents or leaders peak at the next set of achievements and think ‘wow, my son or my Scouts can do that now!’. They push or drag their boy into the next stage of development before he’s had the chance to experience the last one.
Note that the program is designed to lead boys through these stages in clear steps throughout the Cub Scout years. When they reach Boy Scout age the steps are no longer time-related. Boy Scouts advance according to their own individual proclivities and abilities.
Parents often wildly over or under-estimate their son’s abilities and maturity; it is much more beneficial to allow boys to find their own level than to push them forward or pull them back.
Don’t rush Cub Scouts into things that they aren’t developmentally ready to accomplish or appreciate.
Don’t hold Boy Scouts back or drive them forward – let them find their own speed.
Larry Gieger’s comment on this post emphasizes the point:
It is difficult for parents to push or manipulate one of the most important elements of Scouting, which is boy leadership. The measurement of leadership is the respect, in the troop, of the rest of the Scouts. This is vitally important. It is also a concept often missed by new parents.
A new Scout grows by paying attention and listening to the older Scouts. He learns skills by paying attention to his leaders. The skills can translate into achievements, but that’s not the goal.
Once he learns the skills and then practices them (camping, cooking, hiking, canoeing, etc) he is ready to begin teaching and then leading. Most young men want the opportunity to pass on their skills, even shy guys. The camping setting is ideal for this type of teaching and learning. A new Scout is struggling to set up a tent. The older Scouts efficiently pitch their tent and then begin noticing what else is going on around them. They wander over and watch and comment on the new Scout’s tent and begin helping out. This can only happen effectively when the adults are far away, especially parents.
The scenario above is one where both sides are learning. The leaders are learning effective means of communication and leadership. The younger Scouts are learning that they can lean on these guys and depend on them and learn something, As soon as an adult enters the picture, the whole scenario changes. If an adult is helping, the tent may be erected efficiently, but the leadership component disappears.
For all you parents out there: Your son can only learn the most valuable lessons in Scouting when you are not present.