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How do you handle willful disobedience?

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Pretty much what the title says. A Scout is obedient, I know. Well, we have a few problems with that point apparently. A few of the Scouts found that intentionally disobeying a leader will not only result in the leader getting mad (which is funny to them) but also give up trying to get them to do work. For example, an SPL is discussing the importance of communication during a PLC. The troublemakers then pull out their cell phones and start texting. When the SPL reminds them cell phone use is prohibited during meeting times, they argue they're simply "improving their communications." Basically, a few smart-alecs are purposely causing problems and personal SM Conferences don't work.


I'll level with you - I am a Gen Y and know why they do it. Primarily for laughs, but also to avoid doing something a leader wants done. How do you combat this effectively?

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One thing that may or may not work: explain to them that there are consequences for their (in)action/(mis)behavior. Positive outcomes may be rewarded (extra free time, a special treat, exemption from KP, whatever the reward may be) and negative outcomes are often their own punishment, though extra duties may be assigned (missing an activity, extra KP, exclusion from a treat for those that did perform, etc.).


For example: if theyre asked to do something on a camping trip before the group leaves the campsite to go do an activity and they dont do it, then explain that the group wont go to the activity until the job is done. If that means everyone misses out on the activity because they didnt do what they were asked to do, so be it. It only took once in my troop (granted, it was many, many moons ago and kids seem to be more sophisticated these days), but that solved the problem until the next group of smart-alecs came along, and they got the same treatment.


This is especially useful if the activity that is missed is something highly anticipated and/or the main reason for going on the trip. Their peers will give them a much harder time for causing them to miss out on something fun than the adults ever could. When the boys get home, explaining to mom/dad why they didnt do what they went to do could also be an eye-opener. It can also teach the boys about the value of pitching in, even if its not my job.



For the example you cited, maybe having a basket at the door of the meeting room for everyone to drop their electronic devices in (they can retrieve them when the meeting is over), or having everyone show that the device is off before the meeting starts will work. If they argue that Mom/Dad may need to contact them, Mom/Dad should know their son is at the meeting and probably won't be interrupting with texts/calls. If its a real emergency, they can call one of the adults.

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Everyone likes to see how far they can push an issue. Many times these attempts can be used as useful teaching events.


In the case described. The SPL needs to stop the meeting until all are back on task. A simple comment such as, "We need everyone focused on this activity to do it right." That places the onus of the problem on the person disrupting rather than on an irate leader. Peer pressure to have them cut it out will be more effective than trying to disrupt a single leader.


LNT means that even the cigarette butts left by the former campers get picked up and tossed. The boys all refused so I set out to do it myself. As driver no one was leaving until the job was done. It took me an extra half hour to get it done. When the boys complained, I "did the math" showing that if 5 other boys would have helped the half hour job would have been done in 5 minutes.


Peers quickly realize that disobedience towards each other often times means extra hassle for everyone and will quickly squelch the problem. In all the years as SM of a troop, I never used "sign's up" to quiet the boys. When I needed to talk with them, I simply got up and went to the front of the group. I would not interrupt them to tell them not to interrupt me. So I would wait. Eventually the boys figured out that when I stood and came to the front, they quickly finished their discussions and gave me their attention. I also would stand if I was not in front of the group when I addressed them. When I talked to the boys in a discussion I addressed all my comments to the person leading the discussion. I would think that the leader who was leading the discussion of a group, would take out his cell phone turn it off and lay it on the table next to him, that those in the group would take a hint and do the same. Lead by example.


Often times respect given is respect received. It doesn't take very long for the boys to realize this and police themselves in these issues.



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Dealing with class clowns seeking to be in the spotlight all the time isn't too difficult for most adults. We generally have the self confidence and sense of humor to deal with the clowns and keep moving. Youth leaders, who may be new to the role, not accustomed to lead and/or speaking in front of a group, and -- most significantly -- don't have the confidence to try and bring discipline to a group of their own peers is another matter.


For one, we train our scouts how to deal with disruptions, like walking over and standing next to the trouble maker while continuing their talk. Or engaging the guy in the discussion, to pull him back in.


We have had a couple over the years who go out of their way to undermine the youth leaders. My observation is while they want to be the center of attention, they lack the ability and courage to put themselves outfront at leaders. And sometimes they're just lazy and don't want to put forth the effort. Letting guys like this get the laughs at the expense of the fellow who is working hard to try and lead a program, it really undermines their efforts.


We spend a lot of time trying to redirect these guys and get them into productive roles. If you can find a place where they can shine and contribute, that's great. But if that doesn't work, you ultimately are left dealing with their poor behavior. The first step is to take away the payoff, that is their time in the spotlight. Ask them to please step outside the meeting and wait for you. Unfortunately, I tend to be forgetful and sometimes its 15 or 20 minutes before I remember them. But once you've tried all the crowd control tricks, you send them home.


We don't punish kids. We dont' make boys do KP or similar jobs as a punishment. We clean and do other chores because that's part of our responsibilities. And what does that say to the fellow who cleaned up breakfast becasue it was his job? Or to the guy who was supposed to clean up but the knuckle head took his job?


My rule is if you want to be a Scout, you have to act like a Scout. Consequently, if your behavior is un-scoutlike, you go home. It's not a big production, just call mom and go home. Next week we start over. Usually it's the ride home where the behavior is changed.

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Some good ways have been discussed. I know that the SPL in my troop during meetings would use the scout sign to get everyone's attention. If that didn't work, comments like " I got all nite," and "We are now running into your game time," would stop the behavior. In fact I have never screamed "Sign Up," like I hear a lot of other leaders do until this past year at day camp. Peer pressure works.


Having them understand the consequences of their actions works wonders.


Sometimes a word of praise will get them to keep up the good work. And sometimes a simple 'I'm really disappointed in your actions," will cut to the quick.



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We use both Twocubdad and stoshes styles of controlling bad behavior. One thing I taught our PLC is to always deal with behavior as a team. If one scout is talking while the SPL is talking, the SPL simply ask the PL to take care of it. But if it goes farther than that, you will see another PL or ASPL quietly walk over to help the PL. If that doesn't work, they will escort the scout out of the room or to the SM and let him deal with it how ever he wants. Rarely gets to that point.


Our PLCs are taught to just remove the problem and deal with it later. Don't let the problem interupt the schedule, deal with the problem later or hand it off.


I guided the scouts to never yell, instead just walk over or delegate someone close by to deal with the problem quietly. Save the Scout Sign to get the group attention. Don't use it to deal with bad behavior because it looses its respect in that regard.


BUT, every once in a while you get a scout who just isn't going to take no for answer. I had a couple of scouts who got pleasure using their wit to get adults riled up. I learned a little too slowly that there comes a point when its a parents problem. No threats just hand the phone to the scout to call ask mom to pick them up. Whether at a meeting or campout, hand it off to the parent. In most cases when the problem reaches that point, the boy does not want to be there. It took one scout to threaten another scout with a knife (his best friend) for me to finally get that I can't fix all behaviors. I look back and cringe at all the times I kept trying to get through to the scout when I should have realized quicker it wasn't going to happen.


I had the same exact situation as the OP wrote above. The SPL kicked the Quartermaster out in the hall where I was sitting. A little wiser, the scout and I went for a walk. It was a quiet discussion about his behavior, but it only took a few minutes for both us to agree that it was time for him to leave. I got a call that night from mom, turns out she had taken her son off medications and we were dealing with the side affects.


You can learn a lot from us here on the forum, but in the real world dealing with behavior really takes practice. Nobody starts out doing it very well. Do the best you can this time and learn from the experience to do better next time. And let the scouts deal with it as far as they can before the adults have to get involved so that they also can use the experience to improve. Eventually the SM won't hear about most of the behavior problems because the scouts have grown quite good at it.




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Yah, I think yeh have to not focus on "obedience". That's a four letter word for kids that's only associated with dimwitted and dull adult lectures.


Instead, yeh have to work with your youth leaders and youth on relationships. If da SPL is a friend and a fellow they trust and think highly of then there's not much of an issue. A brief laugh and an "OK, come on guys" is enough for da cell phone thing. So is your SPL that sorta fellow? If not, help him to build those positive relationships. And perhaps take a look at what's up with your elections. ;)


I think, too, yeh have to let kid meetings be different than adult meetings, eh? There's going to be a bit more fun, a bit less focus, and a lot more energy. Accept that as being OK. Channel it, work with it, enjoy it. Don't discipline it. Also help da SPL with developing a workable agenda. An SPL "discussing" the importance od communication is an SPL behaving like a lecturing adult toward his peers. Of course they're goin' to chafe at that. An SPL bringing up a problem with communication and asking them for help with ideas is goin' to get a better response.


For the rest, use natural consequences as much as possible. I wouldn't blah blah blah da way Eagle JCS describes, I'd just do it. Group doesn't leave. Group misses the activity. It's not like the adult runnin' his mouth adds anything to the lesson. Then da SPL leads the debrief and the guys troubleshoot. Positive peer pressure is a wonderful thing, if yeh make a space for it.



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At the very basic level, the jokers are looking for attention. They don't care if it's negative or positive. Blowing up at them isn't going to help - they're deliberately trying to get a rise out of whoever's in charge, and get attention from their peers. I'll bet they do the same kinds of stunts at school as well. The SPL should ignore them and move on, and then hold them accountable at the end - assigning them specific duties based on the discussion, or asking them to send out their notes of the PLC to everyone else. Make it clear without saying so that that's juvenile behavior.


On the subject of groups not paying attention, like Stosh describes, you might want to also look at the physical setup of your troop and patrol meeting space. My old troop used to meet in a church classroom. For troop time, we all sat on rows of folding metal chairs, facing the speaker, SPL, SM, etc. That structure made it easy for small clusters of boys to sit together, whisper, joke and clown around. It was very aggravating and not conducive to paying attention.


One setup that immediately nullifies the opportunity for that type of behavior is a large circle or horseshoe. Everyone is in the "front row," so to speak, and no one can hide their cell phone behind someone else.

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As others have said the last thing you want to do is get mad, that's exactly what the jokers want. I do use the arm in the air routine to get silence and if indivduals are not quiet (especially if a PL has already told them) they get invited to leave the room and sit out of what ever was meant to happen next.


In more extreme situations I have called parents to get them to collect their child (Only done it 3 times in 15 years!). Once a parent has suffered the embarassment of having to come down to our HQ to collect their child because of their behaviour it's pretty rare for it to ever happen again.


There are more long term measures as well. We have a number of events that the scouts can go on but only where they have completed other things. For example there is a sailing course each spring run at county level but before they can go they have to have certain rope skills. If you can't tie certain knots you wont be going because the instructors don't have time to teach you, and the scouts know it. If they want to do their expedition challenge their navigation and first aid skills have to reach a certain standard. A couple of my scouts recently found that one out the hard way when I refused to let them do it but most listen up when they realise what is on offer.

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A lot of good responses - thank you all. I'd just like to expand upon what we have been doing.


I guess I should have mentioned one of our famed troublemakers does it under a very simple pretense - he lost the SPL election. So because of his disdain for authority and the current SPL specifically, he continues to be a problem. Doubled with the fact that his personality is VERY sarcastic and smart-alec, hyperactivity and immaturity isn't a good combination. One time, he actually cussed out the SPL in troop formation and was sent to the SM. We didn't send him home, although his mom was briefed on the incident with the advice that "he needs to get over the fact he lost." So far, he is less of a problem but other Scouts have fallen under the influence of this individual.


Making them run laps around the church isn't helping, especially since some of them are track stars. Push ups are seen as wrongful punishment, so we don't use them. Doing extra dishes doesn't do any good since it doesn't really teach them a lesson. We were hoping that we could match the punishment more closely to the crime. Whilst making them wait to do something fun (or postponing it altogether) are excellent ideas, this can be a problem at meetings still. We seldom have an adult leader lecture them on why their willful disobedience is wrong. Sometimes we had "special" SM conferences to ask the Scouts why they were doing what they did and how they would react if THEY were the SPL. This was a suggestion from Andy McCommish and mileage varies with each Scout. Sometimes they stopped, sometimes it went out through the other ear. Maybe the SPL talking about communications isn't the best thing, though. Hopefully (since our troop is relatively young) the Scouts will grow up to the point where they "stomp" on the troublemakers so the adults don't feel compelled to say something.


Again, thanks for all the suggestions. Keep em coming!

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Oh, and I'd like to add we try to avoid sending kids home. It was our belief that we want them involved in the programme, not to send them home when they acted up. Of course, this hasn't stopped us. In fact, one campout this year, we sent three home on the same night. One dry-humped a new Scout (for whatever reason), one accidentally burned another because he ignored fire safety rules, and the one subtly advocating willful disobedience apparently kept calling the PLC leadership names like faggot. Again, this was the first time in 35 years that happened. I hope I don't have to kick them out, let alone a situation escalating to the point where I'd need to consider that.

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Again, this was the first time in 35 years that happened.


Yah, hmmm....


It's so very hard to troubleshoot this stuff from afar, eh? But generally speakin', lots of bad behavior at once isn't often coincidence. Tends to be a bit of a unit culture kind of thing. An instigator perhaps, causin' other kids to act out, a sense that da expectations aren't firm enough or are inconsistent, so yeh have to test the limits, etc. Might be worth reflecting about.


I don't often agree with da Ask Andy ninny, so it won't be any surprise that I don't agree here. ;) What he's proposin' is just another adult lecture in a SM conference wrapper. Bah. Humbug! I think yeh have to stop thinkin' in terms of "punishment" and lectures and such. External control. Yeh have to start thinkin' in terms of relationships and teamwork and such. Self control.


Scoutmaster conferences only work if there is a deep and personal relationship there, eh? A Scoutmaster conference that really tries to get a lad to change the way he looks at the world is askin' the boy for an enormous leap of faith. Only way that works is if that faith is already there. If the SM has stored up a big supply of respect and admiration and positive vibe in the lad's head to draw on. If that isn't there, then yeh have to begin by building it. Drawin' on peer pressure and the team only works if a lad feels he's respected as part of the team, and thinks of himself as part of the team.


So yeh begin by finding what's good about a boy, not what's bad. What's that ADHD fellow have that's special? Find it. Talk about it in public. To him. Tell him the good you see in him, and smack yourself upside da head any time yeh even think of describin' a kid as a sarcastic smart-alec. Find him tasks to do that are worthy of his ability and talents. Not make-work. Not run around da building. Man jobs, because yeh see him as a fellow man. He'll eventually listen to a fellow man who is cool. Lecture him like a child and he'll act like a child.


Now sometimes particular kids crawl up our nose in a special way, eh? I like young rascals myself, but I know adults where they just get under their skin. There's other kids that just annoy me. I have a hard time handlin' the whiners. So that's why the Great Scoutmaster made different scouters, eh? If yeh can't be with a kid without get annoyed about his bein' sarcastic, then yeh leave that boy to an ASM who doesn't have that disability ;) Find an adult to work with him who does see the good, and only the good.


Same way with the team. A lad who feels a respected part of the team will learn to support da captain. So what opportunity and condition can you and da SPL arrange that makes use of each lad's talents and strengths? Titles don't matter so much. Respect and responsibility matter a lot. That's why the SPL has to ask for their help and ideas about communication, not lecture them on it. If he values them, they will value him. Self control, not external control.


Maybe none of this fits. Maybe all of it does. Hard to tell from afar. Take what yeh need, discard the rest, and ask more questions!




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" Willful disobedience"!

Not exactly sure what generation I belong to?

Think it might be the tail end of the boomer's.

Still, willful disobedience sounds like something the nuns at Holy Cross might have come up with when I was at school a very long time ago.

So step one is lighten up a little.

Step two is to look at what happened through the eyes of the people who were doing it.

Many of us forget what it was to be a boy and act like a boy.

Lads of Scout age really don't act up when they are doing something that they like and enjoy.

Working with the PLC plan the things you do looking for fun and enjoyable ways to cover what needs covered.

Then train the PLC how to do it.

Boys are not by nature sitting animals.

The studies that show how long the attention span of a boy and a group of boys seem to be all over the place.

I'm a fairly good presenter, and have had lots of training in how to train and teach, but I'll bet that I'd have a hard time holding a group of Scout age boys attention for much more than ten minutes.

Look for games that show how things work and then have a discussion with everyone involved participating in the discussion. But at the same time have the leader guide them to where they are supposed to be.

If the clown in the group just wants to act like one?

Teach the presenters (Youth and adult.) Not to get mad or rise to the bait. But stop.

Just stop, don't do or say anything.

Allow what can seem like a very long time to pass. In fact it only takes a minute or two. Allow the group to wonder what the hecks going on? Very often the other members of the group will turn on the clown and tell him to go lie down or cut it out. (This even works with hardened convicts!).

When the group has settled ask them for their permission to continue.

The real trick is in not allowing them to become bored in the first place.



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I admit I have chomped at the bait and hard. I have really lost my temper and yelled. I had a group of "rascals" harass my special needs son and camp and had a papa grizzly reaction. At times like that I know I am not SM material.


I really admire you guys that can achieve a level of zen-like control.


What I have learned is that every-time I yell I feel I take a big withdrawal in the trust department. It takes a long time to build back up. I do not know how you guys do it.

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