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patrol leader woes

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Help me out here. My son, 12 years old, was elected to be a patrol leader, went through troop leader training, and has been serving as PL for about 3 months. He is in a mixed-age patrol. 4 of the boys in his patrol are the same age and have mostly been together in dens since 1st/2nd grade. The other 3 boys in the patrol range from 1-3 years older.


Here's the thing. Being a leader at 12 is tough and my son is struggling. He wants to step down now, 2 months before his term is done. The boys who are the same age tend not to listen very well to one of their own so my son ends up spending a lot of time just trying to get them to sit down and focus on the task at hand at meetings. The older boys grumble about "wasting time" and "baby sitting" but they don't want to be leaders themselves, either. One of their parents told me the other night that his son knew it was really hard to be PL, which is why he didn't run. One of the others has asked to be moved to a patrol made up of all high-school-aged boys. The APL, also one of the 12 year olds, vocally disagrees with just about anything my son tries to do as PL, undercutting him and making his job that much harder - favorite phrase - "that's stupid." (The APL is apparently still upset that he didn't get elected PL - he's trying to make Star and needs time in a POR - but he also misses about half of the meetings due to sports scheduling conflicts, which might have something to do with why he didn't get elected to start with.)


My son takes it seriously, he really tries to do a good job. But he is getting very discouraged. I'm watching all of this develop from the back of the room, and listening to my very frustrated son in the car on the way home from meetings, and trying to decide whether/how it is appropriate for me to help out here in any way other than as a sympathetic ear.


I've suggested he talk with our SM but the SM isn't much help here to be honest. He's much too busy and tends not to have a lot of practical advice, and my son doesn't have a strong relationship with him. At the last PLC the SM told my son, without offering any other suggestions to improve the situation, that he could step down as PL if he wanted to.


I know there's a certain amount of frustration that goes with learning how to lead but quitting and perceiving one's self to have failed as a leader is not the route I want to see my son travel except as a last resort. I also think that if you are chosen for a leadership position that you have a responsibility to do your best to fulfill it for the entire time, barring extraordinary circumstances. So I kind of get the sense that he has been set up here and not given much help. Down the road, why on earth would he want to take on a POR again, considering this?


So help me out. What's practical in terms of advice to a struggling 12 year old PL? Is backing out of the position midway through a reasonable option in this case, in your view? How can I offer advice or support in ways that might help, without being overly involved as a parent or without stepping over the bounds into SM territory?









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You didn't mention how much, if any, help has been solicited from and/or supplied by the SPL. Have your boy ask his SPL for help, if he hasn't yet.


In many instances like this, a boy's best resource can be another boy who has had experience in the leadership position in question. Any JASMs, Instructors, TGs, in your troop that were a PL at one time that he could talk to about his difficulties?


I'm dissappointed in the support the SM seems to be provided. If he has a leader that is struggling, he should use that as an teaching opportunity for the SPL, ASPL and JASMs and advise them to get involved in assisting the boy.

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MarkSs reply is right on and exactly what I was going to say.


This is a difficult age for boys to take on this kind of responsibility and I think made worse because most of his patrol is the same age. I doubt really that your son is the problem as a leader, but instead the patrol dynamics is the problem. It may be mixed age but if most of the scouts are only 12, likely the patrol isnt very mature.


I think this is one of those situations where along with guiding your son as a leader, there needs to be some coaching and guiding of the patrol as a whole. Just getting someone to sit down with the group and ask what is going on will give the boys a chance to explain their side, but almost more importantly give the mentor opportunities to coach these guys on the importance of follow ship, team work and understanding the task of the patrol leader.


Its not that it will fix the problem because positive patrol dynamics takes a long time to develop. But it may ease the problems enough so that your son can finish the next couple months. Meanwhile, a search for a good patrol mentor is in order. I say mentor because Ive seen some older scouts do a good job at that role.


Hope this helps, I understand the struggle when the SM isnt much of a help. That is his job after all.




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OGE the APL's rank is only an issue because the APL has made a point of wanting to be PL to fulfill rank advancement requirements. When he was not chosen by his patrol and my son was instead, he was mad about it because being APL isn't one of the POR options for that purpose. My son chose this boy for APL because none of the other boys in the patrol wanted to be APL (or PL either). I don't know if it occurred to my son that there might be lingering bad feelings - they've known each other for years and have always gotten along pretty well. That in itself is a lesson in leadership I suppose.


I know that my son brought up his situation at the PLC and the SPL was there. But I don't think he has sought out the SPL's advice one on one. I'll suggest that to him.



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You've received some good advice (as you always will from Mark, OGE & Barry).


This is truly a test of leadership for your son. This is what makes Scouting so special. He won't get this type of experience in any other youth activity that I'm aware of. Here are some random thoughts....


Recently I had a scout tell me he was leaving the troop. He's closing in on 17, not likely to make Eagle, and is not enjoying it as much as he used to. I asked him why and he said it was because of the immaturity of the leaders. I looked him square in the eye and told him I agreed that our leaders were young and lacked experience, and that it was a shame that our older guys didn't step up to the plate and lead the troop when asked. He didn't have a response to this.


Seeking a mentor is a great idea and hopefully he can find someone to help. If not a scout, perhaps an ASM or active Committee Member can provide some assistance. Sometimes just having an adult sit in the back of the room to observe can make a big difference. The patrol will usually behave better and the observer can get insight into where your son needs to work on his skills.


If there was another boy willing to be APL, I'd suggest your son talk to the current APL about possibly removing him from the position and putting the other boy in. But that doesn't sound like an option.


The coaching I'd provide the APL (if I were his SM) is that if he wants a POR in the future, he needs to perform at his best in his current role. Otherwise he might find himself without a position again the next time around.


My advice to your son would be for him to lead! Take charge of his patrol. Not in a bossy, arrogant way, but in a "you picked me as PL so let's go" type of way. Take charge of what needs to be done. If the boys don't want to help with the menu, tell them that he'll pick his favorites for them to eat. Positive energy and a "we're in this together" attitude will help him get things done. If the APL tells him his idea is stupid, tell him to stay home, because those going are ready to have a great time.


Good luck to your son. A couple of victories (good outings, meetings, etc.) and he'll have them on his side.

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Many, many years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth a young Beavah slipped while climbing a tree, and found himself danglin' from one hand high enough up to be pretty scared. Grandpa Beavah, who was standin' below in easy reach, didn't help. He didn't rescue me. He didn't offer advice. He just kept watchin' and said "You can do it." I was probably only about 6 at the time, but I still remember that.


For you, Lisa'mom, I think you listen, sympathize, and tell your son how proud you are of him for taking on and stickin' with such a tough task. Refrain from givin' advice, because most advice from Mom tends to be heard as criticism and lack of trust. Talk to him about his strengths and talents. Praise him a bit more to neighbors and relatives in his hearing. Let him see your admiration and confidence in him.


That should be enough to get him to keep pluggin' and seeking out solutions on his own, using his other resources.


Then, maybe, just a quiet word on the side to whatever leader, youth or adult, your son has made a "connection" with, to let him/her know what's up. It doesn't have to be the SM, in fact, it's usually best if it's whoever your son likes/looks up to/listens to.


But the "big job" for you as parent is to provide the stable reservoir of unconditional pride, support, and admiration that every child needs as he begins to engage with the rough-and-tumble of the wider world. Leave the advice to his other resources, and his own devices. That way the (eventual) victory is entirely his, while the smiles are secretly all yours.



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A quick follow-up. I mentioned to one of the ASMs that my son seems to hold in high esteem that he was thinking about resigning as PL so this other boy could take over. The ASM found some time to have a little chat with my son and whatever he said worked well because my son came back from his camp out last weekend and said "Mr. X said he thinks I'm doing a good job. I guess I'll stick with it." Amazing how powerful a couple of quiet words can be!



Thanks for the input!

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  • 4 weeks later...

I guess I would have a few questions for the original poster because I see more of a problem here than just one patrol leader.


Each patrol should have a functioning adult advisor.

Each troop should have a functioning Troop Guide

Each troop should have a functioning SPL and ASPL


It sounds as if there is very little if any of these positions there for any young PL to rely on for assistance.


This troop needs more assistance than just help for a young PL.


By the way, my SPL is Star rank and aged 13 and he does very well with the older boys. He's constantly being trained along with every member of the patrol he leads. He is not in charge of the troop, he's in charge of the leadership staff. In the above example, the SPL is not doing his job with his PL staff. The Guide of the young patrol is not helping either.


Having the training and being functional are two entirely different things.



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Hi jblake,


To respond to a couple of your point, the troop does have adult advisors for each patrol, though some are more hands off than others. The ASM who took some time to talk with my son is also the advisor for that patrol.


The troop has troop guides but I don't think the position has been used very effectively. In part this has to do with the personalities of a couple of the guides and in part I think they haven't gotten much support or guidance from our SM. But that's another story.


The troop has a functional SPL and two ASPLs. My perception, though, is that there is not as much interaction between these scouts and the PLs, or guidance offered either, as there could be. Again I think it goes back to the expectations and guidance offered by the SM, who tends to be very hands off in these matters.


In the last month (since I originally posted this thread) I've seen some improvements in that my son has figured out that there are a couple of boys in his patrol who he can count on, and he is learning to use their support to help get things done. Also he's gotten some quiet encouragement from the one ASM/patrol advisor. So at least he isn't quitting his position. On the other hand, he has vowed never to run again for PL either - something I hope he'll eventually change his mind about, with a little added maturity (and maybe a new SM down the road). In the meantime, someone also suggested to him that next time the patrols hold elections, he ought to consider voting for his most vocal critic, the current APL, (who is none the less not very helpful) and let that boy discover how difficult the job can be. This seems to hold a certain appeal to my son!



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Then again, maybe when he runs for SPL, ASPL or Troop Guide, he'll have a keen sense of the short comings of those previous to him and he'll do a fantastic job. A little confidence with working with an advisor will go a long way too. If one doesn't get help, they are entitled to demand some for the sake of the troop.

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  • 2 weeks later...

What the heck is a Patrol Adult Advisor and why would every patrol need one? I didn't recall and couldn't find any reference to the position in either of my Scoutmaster or Troop Committee training materials, handbooks, or guides. It doesn't even show up in the org charts nor did I find a position patch.


Our troop has an Asst. Scoutmaster for New Patrols who works with the Troop Guide for the new Patrol and advises Den Chiefs.(This message has been edited by MarkS)

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Patrol Advisor is one of the leadership positions offered by ScoutMaster 2005 Software. It is not a user-defined field.


And no, not every patrol needs one, but if they ask for someone to work with them on a regular basis, it's a position possibility.


Our troop took in 15 new boys last year. That meant either 2 assistant scoutmasters were assigned to keep an eye on them or they stood in line waiting for "someone" to help through their growing pains. Two Guides, two instructors, two PL, (new boys) and 2 APL (new boys). Ok, 15 new boys and no adult supervision over the lot. 2 advisors (and I mean advisors) would be nice to turn to if needed.


15 scouts, 2 youth leaders and 2 patrols with no assigned adult leadership. Kinda makes one wonder if anything will get done.

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In my son's troop patrol advisors are ASMs who are available to help specific patrols. They tend to be more available to the younger patrols and more hands off as the boys gain experience. This was something the troop started to do about 15 months ago. My son crossed over, along with almost 20 other webelos, about 2 years ago. The troop had had very few cross overs who stayed for more than 6 months in the previous two-three years so it was an older troop without recent experience with young scouts. After losing a LOT of our new crossovers in the chaos that ensued, the troop began trying the "patrol advisor" idea.


Personally I am glad they did. My son's patrol advisor is the adult he is closest to in the troop. This man, not the SM, is the one my son turns to when he has thorny questions or needs a quiet chat or a little encouragement. He's a major reason my son is still sticking out his role as PL now, and also why my son didn't quit scouting last year. It is a big troop (around 40, bigger right after cross over) and the SM is a very hands-off guy who my son is not close to. So I see this patrol advisor role as providing another opportunity for boys to avail themselves of the adult associations method. It might not be appropriate for all troops; it has been a big help in ours.

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