Mustang Leadership B.S.A.

"We're not just Horsing around!"

From "Ask Andy" - a letter to all parents (and leaders) of new scouts

Parents, your sons have been Cubs, as in Cub Scouts, and now, in Boy Scouting, they’re boys. Soon they’ll be young men, and in the not too distant future they’ll become the men of good character and responsible citizenship we all—you and I—are hoping they’ll become. In the animal kingdom, “cubs” are nurtured and guided by their parents, but they soon grow past this playful stage with not a care in the world and shed their “cub-like” ways. They mature, just as your sons have matured and become boys in their own right. Parents of cubs are ever-present, to teach them and keep them from harm. But these parents know by instinct that the day will soon come when they’ll leave the den as more mature individuals to whom you’ve given the skills to fend for themselves. They now meet life head-on, using the nurturing lessons learned when they were tiny and unknowing.

Scouting recognizes this normal maturation process, which is why Scouting provides a progressive continuum of age- and maturity-appropriate programs, of which Boy Scouting–with specific emphasis on the BOY part of that–is the next logical step.

At your son’s present age, their natural maturation will lead them to new relationships than when they were younger. No longer to they reach out for and cling to those proverbial “apron strings.” Instead, they seek the company of their peers–their fellow Scouts. This is completely natural; it’s the normal progression from dependence to independence, from being attached to their parents to seeking their own individuality and identity.

Boy Scouting is built to foster these natural urges–the urges to seek out one another, to become their own persons, to learn their place among their peers, and to grow into their own skin.

We adults who guide the Boy Scout program for the next seven years do so not with apron strings but with guidance-from-a-distance, so as to provide room for their growth. If we were to keep them wedded to our every word and action, we keep them small and dependent. By letting go, we give them the room to flex their own physical and intellectual muscles.

Where, up to now, we did everything we could to keep them safe and keep them from making mistakes, that paradigm shifts to providing “space” for these growing boys to learn on their own. Now, we make certain that the mistakes we know they’ll make will happen in a safe environment. We no longer rescue them before the mistake happens; we instead provide the safety net that keeps them from injury when mistakes occur.

The proverbial “Bubble Boy”—kept in a sterile environment and safe from all life has to offer—will suffer greatly when that bubble bursts and they shockingly find themselves in a world unknown to them. Our responsibility in Boy Scouting is to assure there are no Bubble Boys at all. Each boy in our care is captain of his own ship; master of his own destiny.

One quick example: In Cub Scouting, we parents managed our sons’ advancement, year-by-year and rank-by-rank from Tiger through Arrow of Light, one year at a time. In Boy Scouting advancement happens at the speed of the boy’s own initiative, based on his personal motivations. Where we used to keep all boys moving forward pretty much in lock-step, now the game of Scouting changes. The Eagle Scout rank, for instance, is available to all Boy Scouts. Some will climb the trail to Eagle in a matter of a few years; others will take longer–perhaps as many as the full seven years available–and still others will have minimum to no motivation in this area at all. All three scenarios are okay, because each boy–as his handbook tells him–has set his own goals and pace.

Isn’t this what we adults have done in life? Some of us may be proprietors of a single small store; others will have become corporate executive vice presidents of large retail chains. Some of us will be sole practitioner craftspeople; others will have built a new industry. Some will achieve fame early in our careers; others will have no interest in fame, or will be happy as it happens in the sunset of their lives. In all of these scenarios, the result has been based on our own, personal preference and life-decisions.

Our sons deserve the same opportunity. If we make all their decisions for them, if we spoon-feed them, they’ll never figure out what they personally want out of life, and may never stick their own fork into the meat of it!

Boy Scouting, in fact, is the ONLY place in our sons’ lives where we adults and parents aren’t programming and running their lives—they get to run their own lives!

Think about it. In school, the teacher—an adult—is in charge of what each student will learn, and the pace at which this learning will occur, in regimented rows of desks and a completely controlled environment. In sports, the coach is in charge of the training and the umpires and referees—adults all-are in charge of infractions and penalties. In churches and synagogues, the clergy—adults once more—are the authority figures, the ones in charge. Other examples include drama, music, and all performance arts: Who’s in change? Yet another adult. There is, in fact, no place our sons can be themselves, learn what they want at their own pace, and lead their own team except in Boy Scouting.

When your son decides to earn a merit badge, do you rush to sit down with him and lay out a plan for him so that he can complete all the requirements and earn it? If you do, ask yourself: Who actually just earned that merit badge–you or your son? Or—worse—do you tell him what to earn and when to earn it, and he becomes merely a task-follower with no goals of his own?

Or, when he’s about to go on a camping trip with his patrol friends; who packs his pack? If you do, and you forget to put in his flashlight, the result is that you get the blame, so that the only “life lesson” in that scenario is that parents can’t be trusted to get it right. But if your son does the packing and forgets his flashlight, the lesson learned is “Maybe next time I’ll make a list of what I need, and then follow it.” Which lesson do you want your son to learn?

Okay, I’ve made my point. The rest is up to you. You can keep your sons “small” and dependent and with tiny self-determination “muscles.” Or you can take a few steps back and let them grown the muscles that will lead them to happy, fulfilling, competent, self-confident lives. Your pick…

(reprinted from Ask Andy at

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