Troops should be boy-led. But that is easier said than done. The problem is always adults. I don’t want to rehash the message that is so consistently made elsewhere: if adults step forward, scouts will always step back. But I have some practical observations and suggestions that may help.
First, I recognize that the best boy-led troop will regress over time. It happens slowly: a troop meeting plan goes ary so an adult steps in at the last minute to do a presentation to fill time. Then at SPL election time there are no willing candidates so adults pressure a certain scout to do it. This happens several times in a row until the assumption is that adults choose the SPL rather than him being elected. Yadda, yadda, all of these creeping steps, over a matter of months, turn the troop into a babysitting exercise for the most zealous – and undisciplined – adults.
Righting the ship requires more than a simple reversing of the creep. It is best done in dramatic fashion – quickly and with a certain amount of brutality towards intrusive adults. Here are some suggestions. But don’t think you should pick and choose. Do them all at the same time! And add others that you think fit the mold.
- Prime your next SPL candidates to run on a platform of subversion of adult interference. I mean *literally* have them announce in their campaign speech that the troop has lost its way and that his term as SPL will correct it. No more adults at PLC meetings (besides the Scoutmaster and a second), total ban on adults leading topics at Troop meetings, 50 yard seperation of patrol camping areas from each other with adults at 100 yards from them, a 10:1 ratio of adults to scouts on outtings, a patrol campout where no parents camp with their sons, etc. Empower your SPL to command adults, not just make suggestions to them. The right, confidence SPL with a cynical streak to them can go a long way towards turning around an adult-led troop.
- Plan a hiking campout. I love these since scouts can only carry bare minimum equipment so there is less work. But more than that, a hiking campout brings a natural winnowing of adults who are fit or willing to hike a fair distance. You are then left with the only the most gregarious outdoor leaders attending and they tend to let the boys be.
- Focus on tan-shirt leaders. Parent interferance most often occurs by parents who aren’t properly trained. Assign only tan-shirt leaders to shadow patrol planning activities – they will more likely know the difference between shadowing and interferring.
- Review the rules of two-deep leadership and no one-on-one contact. Especially untrained leaders will confuse these rules to think that every meeting or activity muyst have two adult leaders right with scouts every waking moment. This is NOT true. I often permitted scouts to take long hikes without any adults present so long as two deep leadership was within a reasonable range of them and they had access to cell phones. The best way to have scouts plan their own way is to seperate the adults from them.
- Appoint patrol advisors. This is key – make sure your patrol advisors are of the proper mold to prevent intrusive adults from interfering. If you don’t appoint patrol advisors, other adults will naturally fill the void but often in an intrusive way. Adults who are Woodbadge trained are most appropriate for Patrol Advisors.
- Engage your committee chair to run interference with intrusive parents. The is NOT the Scoutmaster’s responsibility. They should be focused on mentoring the SPL and oversee the scouting program. My mantra as Scoutmaster, and advice to follow on Scoutmasters, is to totally ignore intrusive adults. Plan around them, subvert and obfuscate them.
- Plan some failures. I made a habit of making an excuse not to attend a troop meeting at the last minute at least once for each of the SPLs. This put them under pressure to run the meeting without me. And, because it was a last-minute bow-out, none of the adults knew what was planned, only the PLC did. So the PLC had to run the meeting. Sometimes they did well, other times they failed. But they got their chance to lead and were the better for it either way.
This b0y-led revival might cause some friction with parents who think that smooth-running, productive activities are the goal of Boy Scouts. They are wrong. And scouts isn’t about adults anyway.