Yesterday we looked at why otherwise intelligent Scouts sometimes make incredibly bad decisions. We understand that this has a lot to do with their developing brains.
How do we help them?
Asking adolescents to contemplate trade-offs between risks and benefits is ineffective because their decision making capabilities are underdeveloped. Stating the facts not only won’t help but may make them even less able to make good decisions because their decision making is skewed towards overestimating the benefits of an action. What seems rational and well reasoned to us does not have the same effect on them. Experience is a poor teacher for children and younger adolescents who tend to learn little from negative results.
Here are five things we can do to help our Scouts manage risk:
- Risks have less appeal if Scouts see direct benefit from alternative, safer courses of action.
- Promote positive images of healthy behaviors and negative images of unhealthy ones.
- Help them build confidence to recognize and reject risky behavior and to remove themselves from risky situations.
- Monitoring and supervision limit exposure to risky situations.
- Occupy their time with positive activities.
Rules and regulations for punishment (the most extreme example being ‘zero tolerance’ policies) prevent us from dealing with Scouts on an individual basis. Remember, too, that Scouts are much more motivated by the promise of rewards then they are discouraged by the threat of punishment. I have never seen much use in troops establishing codes of conduct or disciplinary rules and regulations. We have the Scout oath and law as our code and we must deal with Scouts individually based on their understanding of this code.
“It is risky to order a boy not to do something; it immediately opens to him the adventure of doing it.”
“The boy is not governed by don’t, but is led by do.”
The Scout Oath and Law are powerful tools for positive reinforcement. Describe what is expected, not what is prohibited. Negative reinforcement is a weak method, and it’s not consistent with Scouting values.