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EmberMike

What makes them stay with Scouting?

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There's one thing missing (I think) in the above lists of good points. Scouts must have friends or they will leave. I've seen an entire age leave because they just didn't mesh. Scouts need to make friends quick or by the time they're 13 or they seem to wander away. There's not much you can do about it. At the same time, good friends can probably tolerate a bad program.

 I think there's an awful lot to be said for this.

 

There is a very human desire to feel like you belong, and that sense is at its strongest in the teenage years. Scout age kids are always going to look for something where they feel like they are part of something that is bigger than they are. How do you go about nurturing that? If anyone can ever find the perfect formula and bottle it they would end up very wealthy indeed.

 

There are things you can do. As @@Stosh said above, a good program where they have ownership of it is very much something you can do. Other things you have less control over, like if they are actually friends with those in the troop. If they don't get on they don't get on and there's not a massive amount you can do about that.

 

And sometimes that bonding experience that makes them feel like they belong comes out of nowhere, for no apparent reason. It could just be random game that breaks out somewhere, or a stupid joke that everyone remembers, a terrible meal on camp that everyone laughs about later, but often they are things that if you tried to recreate them they just wouldn't work again.

 

One thing that my troop is lucky with is our age, founded 1909 (we think, some say 1911, but either way we're old!) we have a lot of history. We have lots of old trophies and photos hung up everywhere. It helps with that sense of them being part of something bigger.

 

A lot of this is intangible though, as above, if I ever figure out how to bottle it I'll be a very rich man!

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 I think there's an awful lot to be said for this.

 

There is a very human desire to feel like you belong, and that sense is at its strongest in the teenage years. Scout age kids are always going to look for something where they feel like they are part of something that is bigger than they are. How do you go about nurturing that? If anyone can ever find the perfect formula and bottle it they would end up very wealthy indeed.

 

I personally believe this is a natural result of a good patrol method program. When individual scouts are forced to work for a common goal, they learn the best and worst of each other and either accept them or never bond as a group.

 

Our program is mixed age patrols. While most new scouts join patrols with one or two friends, their previous Webelos group is broken up. That has never been an issue like many here assume. I believe the older scouts have learned how to quickly draw in the new scouts as part of the group. The older mentors make up for any insecurity of missing the old group. I remember this quite well of my youth experience.

 

I've told this story before, but the SE read a letter once at an Annual Council meeting of district leaders. In the letter, the mother told the SE how much she appreciated her sons troop because he was immediately accepted by his patrol. She wrote this letter three years later after he was elected the Patrol leader. She explained further that he was so awkward that he had no friends outside of the troop. They even had to threaten their son's school with litigation because the teachers treated him so harshly.

 

I could go on and on with her examples and accolades, but the point was that she knew of no other program where a group of boys with as many different personalities could be accepted as brothers. The SE didn't mention the troop number to the group, but I knew that mother and the situation because I was the SM at the time.

 

While I did know her son well, I knew very little of his life outside our troop until this letter. I remember he was challenging, but the patrol never complained. To give you an idea of his mental challenges, the scout at age 17 was in my Philmont crew and one of our challenges was that we had to constantly remind him to drink water and fill his water bottles. That is a pretty basic understanding for survival for most of us, but it was very challenging for this scout. I remember thinking that I appreciated his patrol a lot more.

 

If the patrol is given the right expectations (Aims and Methods) and given the room to make decisions and adjust their patrol experience from the decisions (patrol method), then individuals will either separate from each other or bond together as one. If the scouts learn to base their decisions from the Scout Oath and Law (selfless choices), then bonding becomes a natural conclusion. We had several challenging scouts in our troop, some with learning challenges, and a few with physical mental challenges. A deaf scouts was our first Eagle. Most of these scouts were accepted and aged out of the troop. This is why I am so passionate about the scout program.

 

Last I heard about the scout in the letter was that he was a nuclear engineer on a Navy submarine.

 

Barry

Edited by Eagledad
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all good answers above, and great contribution, thank you. my humble reply would be it depends on the scout personality, and from experience, one of my boys is activity and achievement driven, so what drives him is working on MB, working on service hours, getting things done, so as long as the troop offers the support and opportunities, he will keep doing what he doing until he is 18. My other son is more sociable, he enjoys camping and enjoys interacting with other scouts, he always gets an entourage within 15 min of meeting new people, so as long as these opportunities are there, I think he will stay interested. my kids are younger, I am not sure what will happen when they start highschool, probably a different ball game ... hope this helps ...

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There's one thing missing (I think) in the above lists of good points. Scouts must have friends or they will leave. I've seen an entire age leave because they just didn't mesh. Scouts need to make friends quick or by the time they're 13 or they seem to wander away. There's not much you can do about it. At the same time, good friends can probably tolerate a bad program.

 

I agree. I've seen kids who have trouble making friends and appear to be outsiders stick with it for some time, but eventually they always leave. If they don't have friends in the troop, retention is extremely difficult, even with kids that otherwise would do really well in scouting. 

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It's been said several times already, but because it's so important I feel compelled to chime in.  Especially in the first year, if they find a friend in the troop, a buddy, someone they look forward to sharing at tent with, they will likely stay.  If not, most will stop coming.  At that age they are still children, and they want to have fun. If your son has some interest in Scouting, improve his chances of staying with the program by convincing one of his friends who also has an interest to join with him. Friends made in Scouting tend to be lifelong friends because of the shared experiences.

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Since the question was asked...what makes my guys stay in Scouting is because it for boys. It's the same reason my Venturers stay in Venturing, because it's coed. If the former were to change I know most of my Life Scouts would stay to make Eagle and leave. My younger guys would just play sports and the troop would fold.

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I couldn't agree more about the friend thing.  It's one of the many nuances that i was trying to get at earlier....and it's so nuanced that it's hard to even put a finger on which ones will work and which ones won't....

 ....

 

One thing that my troop is lucky with is our age, founded 1909 (we think, some say 1911, but either way we're old!) we have a lot of history. We have lots of old trophies and photos hung up everywhere. It helps with that sense of them being part of something bigger......

 

I think this is another very interesting almost "outside" variable.

 

I have often thought just how totally great it would be to have a scout hut.  A place where the unit could have total access and total control.  A place to hang up their pictures, trophies, treasures and finds, etc...

instead, I guess we are more like what I guess to be the situation that most troops are in.  We fight to get on the CO's schedule for room access, competing against many other groups and events for the space.  We're not even always in the same room.  We have nothing hung up or displayed, except the troops flags which get squirreled away in this corner or that closet....We are lucky to have a place to park our trailer and a few feet of shelf space in the CO's shed.

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Is it something else? The program? Leaders? Parents? Scouts and their friends? Just random luck that kids want to keep doing it? 

 

I think the single greatest factor is experiencing good program with a group of friends. I think it is more likely that they will stay in scouts if their friends are also there and I think they are more likely to stay if they find the program fun and interesting. Put the two together and I think you have a real winning hand.

 

One huge problem is, of course, that individual scouts will find different things fun and interesting. 

 

I also think it helps a great deal if the scout's personality and the troop's personality are a good match.  For example, there is a very large, very successful troop very close to our home. (Lots of "very" there, but it's the right word.) But it was highly regimented and not boy led. (At least within my definition.) Neither of my sons would have been happy in that troop. And fortunately neither would their friends have been.

 

And, of course, parents, leaders and such are integral parts of all this. It takes the package to make it work for any boy. But I think the best bet is the scout experiencing fun and interesting program with his friends.

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I have often thought just how totally great it would be to have a scout hut.  A place where the unit could have total access and total control.  A place to hang up their pictures, trophies, treasures and finds, etc...

instead, I guess we are more like what I guess to be the situation that most troops are in.  We fight to get on the CO's schedule for room access, competing against many other groups and events for the space.  We're not even always in the same room.  We have nothing hung up or displayed, except the troops flags which get squirreled away in this corner or that closet....We are lucky to have a place to park our trailer and a few feet of shelf space in the CO's shed.

 

We are fortunate that our CO has provided us with a "scout house". And it eases some of your concerns like storage space and such. But we still have many of the problems you do for our CO does not reserve it solely for our use. Sometimes they even kick us out of it for some special function the church is having. Even now we are having to fend off a dance program in there that will severely restrict its availability to us. My oldest son's troop's CO did the same exact thing to them. Don't get me wrong, it's an improvement over what you describe. But it's not a cure all.  I hope the commiseration helps some.

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Scout house: growing up we had the entire basement of a mansion next to the church. Entirely ours to renovate and maintain. Upstairs was for the senior center and youth group. To my knowledge, nobody else ever used it. Best part: SM lived two doors up.

 

I visited recently. It's a parking lot now. :(

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I'll attempt to keep this short, even though it is a complex subject with complex issues. It really depends on how you define strong leadership. Visibly strong adult leadership CAN be a negative, if it is quashing the boys ability to be strong leaders.

 

In my mind, it is a strong program lead by scouts. The scouts take charge and create, lead and maintain a program that they enjoy and will participate in regularly and for an extended period. Scouts will figure out what they like to do and do it. 

 

In many really strong units, there always seems to be 1 or 2 or 5 or so really good youth leaders that the others youth really latch on to and follow. It is fun to watch the young patrols look at the SPL and older scouts as if they are super heroes, emulating their every move.

 

In many strong troops, adult leadership seems almost non-existent. But it is not absent, just subtle and tailored. The adults guide and advise but take a back seat in the active leadership of the youth, letting the scouts do the leading. They help the older scouts be the super heroes by coaching them off to the side where it is less apparent to the other scouts. The good youth leaders will pass that guidance on to the younger ones.

 

To be sure it is cyclical, there will be times that there is more need for adults to step up, but the sooner they can step back into the background and let the boys run things the better. With the right mix of guidance and hands off the boys will create programs that they like and continue to participate in as they get older. From the outside it may even seem the adults are not really leading, but they almost certainly are doing a good job of leading.

 

Just my two cents, your mileage may vary.

Hopefully Helpful Tracks

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Friends. I joined because my friends did. I stayed in the troop because my friends did. I became an ASM to stay involved in the troop while my younger friends finished.

 

If my friends had quit when I was a youth, I would have too.

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When I was in Scouting as a youth, my whole patrol quit and we continued with "scouting" activities on our own.  Eventually we joined Civil Air Patrol as a group.  Often times it is the group, not the activity, that holds the key to successful maintenance of a group of boys at that age.

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My scouts stay in because it is fun and they get to choose what fun things they want to do.  The minute they have to stare at some old guy with a power point.....yawn

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I've written a books worth of stuff on this forum for this very subject. I will try and be brief to keep it short (yah right!).

 

At the Cub Level we must understand that while the program is for the boys, success depends on keeping the adults interested. If the adults (parents and leaders) are having fun and enjoying the program, there is a 99% likelihood of the boys reaching Webelos and crossing over to the Troops.

 

In my research, the primary reason for the membership drop at the cub level is adult burnout. Burnout is the loss of motivation and energy to provide a fun program. Five years is way way way too much to expect from volunteers.

 

At the troop level there are two areas of large membership losses.

 

The first is the first year scout. More scouts are lost in this age group than any other age group of scouts in all of the BSA. The reason I found is because the huge jump of a 10 year going from a adult guided lifestyle to a patrol method independent decision making lifestyle is terrifying. Imagine a boy who may have never camped in his life being told to pack up for a campout with a troop of strangers. These boys need some time to spool up the confidence that they are safe in the troop even while setting up a tent in the deep dark woods.

 

The other larger problem I found in my research are the loss of older scouts. I believe the success of the whole troop program is based from the success of the 14 and older part of the program. The over all problem with the 'majority' of troops is they tend to drive their program toward what I call is a First Class Advancement program. The vast majority of the troops activities are designed for scouts to advance up to a First Class level. Actually many troops drive it toward Eagle, but it is the same problem. 

 

A troop that develops activities for advancement works out OK for 10 to 13 year old scouts because they are basically followers and the activities that to them are new and fun. But scouts after puberty have a different natural instinct that drives them more toward taking care of their gang and controlling their future. They simply have the same instincts as adults. The problem with most troops is they don't know how to use that instinct because they still think of older scouts as adolescent boys. So the adults typically assign the older scout to only teach, what, FIRST CLASS SKILLS. Yep, the older scouts are repeating their first three years all over again. Older scouts want responsibility in developing boys into men, not babysitting scouts in classroom type settings.

 

The problem is we are told over and over to let the older scouts teach so they are doing adult responsibilities. But teaching in a class room type of environment isn't really an adult responsibility. It is just plain boring. So the older scouts drop out and the older scouts of the troop don't typically last longer than age 14.

 

Troop adults need to develop the program so that First Class skills are not developed in class room type setting, but instead through passive actions during adventure activities. The program needs to get away from advancement themes so that the scout develop more of their survival skills like backpacking, canoeing, camping, hiking, bicycle riding and on and on. You know, the fun stuff. The older scouts leading those activities don't feel trapped in the same ol same ol program of previous years and they aren't babysitters. The program needs to be developed so that younger scouts learn "everything" from the role models of older scouts. That may sound simple, but it goes against the nature of a protective parent. It takes as much practice for the adults to stand back as it does for scouts to step forward. But in short, it comes down to a fun program. And it's the older scouts who define fun, not the younger ones. Like the Cub program, if the older scouts are excited about the program, the younger ones will follow.

 

That is a very brief in my limited time description of my experience and research of how units succeed and fail. I can fill in the gaps if you would like more detail.

 

Barry

Great analysis...I just posted a reply (well, rant really...) on how our older and small Scout cohort disappeared to the Venture crew and left the younger Scouts (ages 12 and below primarily) high and dry and then one of them came back to get his Eagle at age 17 3/4 and accused the troop of being too adult-led!  Anyway, our troop  is maintaining--not growing, not decreasing.  We're sandwiched between two super-troops of about 100 Scouts each in our area so they tend to attract most Scouts into their orbits.

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