Listener Allan Green (no relation) asks three questions when youth don’t lead:
1. Youth leaders elected, but reluctant to lead. I have had 2 successive SPL’s who would not prepare, would not work, canceled most TLC meetings, and who did not treat their fellow scouts very well. The last one was rarely seen at summer camp this past summer, preferring to hang with friends in other camp sites or at the lake. I felt like firing him since he did not seem to care about his leadership role. But I let him hang on until the August troop elections.
Reluctance on the part of Scouts to lead isn’t always what it seems. It is more likely that the boy lacks any frame of reference for his job. If he’s had no model to follow it’s not likely he’ll have much of an idea what to do. It can be that he’s afraid to fail or uncertain of his abilities. It can be that he doesn’t want to associate with the Scoutmaster or younger Scouts. Any of these things can be expressed by outright belligerence or, as you describe, by running away at every opportunity.
This is always frustrating. I’ll suggest that the problem lays not so much in the boy’s response as in our approach. Read on.
2. Small troop. Out troop is small with 6 to 8 scouts. We basically act as one patrol, since we average 6 scouts at meetings and 4 on camping trips. Our new SPL will be acting the part of the Patrol Leader until we can recruit more scouts into the troop and form two working patrols. This will not alter the youth leadership principle, but the patrol method is always described in terms of multiple patrols. How will this work for a troop?
Don’t get bogged down in job descriptions, definitions and procedures. Let the Scouts lend some definition as to who does what. I’d say that while you have a Troop administratively (in the eyes of the registrar and officialdom) you actually have patrol in reality. One approach would be operating as a patrol even though it is called a troop. The SPL is really a Patrol Leader, does he need someone to look after records and paperwork? How about equipment? He can appoint a Quartermaster and a Scribe.
If the demographics in your area suggest that you can build the Troop through recruiting (perhaps you are in a smaller rural community and have really already got the all the boys who are interested in being Scouts) than recruiting becomes the focus. (I’ll not go into great detail on recruiting here – see this post.)
3. What are the limits of constraints we adults must lay on youth leaders. I have always reserved the right to veto activities and choices made by the boys that either are not safe, are not allowed by the BSA, or are contrary to the aims and methods of scouting. I think that, if left to themselves the scouts would vote to play paint ball rather than camp, abandon the uniform, and treat the scoutmaster like a Webelos den leader, to do all the planning and leading.
You and I don’t restrain our Scouts, veto their ideas, or reserve the right to do anything. The program defines all of these things, not us. You aren’t the arbiter of what they can and can’t do – we all agree to play by the rules that define the game. Scouts understand the basic fairness of this.
Instead of putting yourself on trial as the one who makes decisions and is the arbiter of what Scouting is and what it isn’t educate your scouts to make these determinations themselves. Get them a copy of the Guide to Safe Scouting; encourage them to understand things as well as you do. Get on their side and instead of giving answers lead them towards finding the answers for themselves. They’ll catch on and start to redirect their aspirations.
I want to challenge your assumptions on their attitude. Boys are Scouts because they want to do the things Scouts do. They start out with a kind of fuzzy idea of exactly what that means. We’d like them to share our vision of Scouting but that’s not always the case. Our job, then, is to find out what they are thinking, what their expectations are.
One way to do this is to talk to them individually without any pretense put on the conversation. What I mean is just do a little quiet investigating and questioning. Don’t make an announcement; don’t place these conversations in the context of a Scoutmaster’s conference or anything like that – just have an informal conversation with individual Scouts. Trying this with a group of Scouts is going to put them on the defensive and you aren’t going to find out much.
What do they really like about Scouting? Why do the like it? What would they like to do? What would they like to change? Just get answers without commenting or replying on them. Don’t dismiss anything they say as unrealistic or outrageous, don’t judge anything they say at all – just listen. I’ll guarantee that this will be a valuable way towards understanding what’s going on.
Once you have a good understanding of what Scouts expect you can start to work with them to refine and realize those expectations. Some of what they say will be outside of the realm of possibility but much of it will be spot on.
I am also going to challenge your tone in the friendliest, most understanding way possible because I have been there myself. You’re frustrated and probably a little (or a lot) angry. You’ve done the training, caught the vision and encountered a good deal of resistance towards your efforts to make the vision a reality. Any of us who have been at this for a while feel the same way on a pretty regular basis so this is not a character flaw or a moral weakness; it is part and parcel of being a Scoutmaster. We are all in this together.
Scouts sense frustration and anger in adults and react by distancing themselves as far from it as possible. Our anger and frustration has to be resolved – it only gets in the way.
One way to defuse these frustrations is to approach the program with fresh eyes. Our challenge is not to mold and develop Scouts, that’s not our aim. Our aim is to create and maintain the conditions that will allow them to shape and mold themselves.