Everyone knows about Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. After all, they are the two largest youth-serving organizations in the United States, with more than 4 million youth members between the two. Even so, membership starts to drop off as they enter middle and high school, for a number of reasons. Sometimes it is a conflict with time-consuming activities, such as sports, other times it is a decreased interest, frequently it is the cool factor. It is simply not cool in many circles to be a Girl or Boy Scout. Parents have more influence over this than one might think; some parents even reinforce the idea that scouting is something only little kids do. This may be short-sighted as scouting in adolescence has many benefits.
Scouting fosters leadership skills
Progressing towards higher ranks in Boy Scouts requires a demonstration of leadership skills. Girl Scouting offers a number of leadership awards, and it is a requirement for the coveted Silver and Gold Awards. Both organizations offer opportunities for teens to lead other teens and sometimes adults, giving them hands-on experience. Leadership is a core focus in both programs, which is recognized and appreciated by colleges and employers.
Teens learn valuable life skills
Both organizations focus on learning new things and offer visible rewards in the form of badges after demonstrating mastery of certain skill sets. These commonly focus on skills that are useful in adult life, such as cooking, first aid, money management, and public speaking. Common activities such as camping or trip planning provide the opportunity to learn about self-reliance and communication in a social environment.
The programs allow teens to try new things
Few parents have experience with everything their children may have an interest in doing. Youth groups offer varied programs and an outlet to try new things. Scout leaders are encouraged to guide, rather than dictate the program; both programs are designed to be youth-led, so that the interests of the participants drives the agenda and dictates what activities they participate in. Teens can have the opportunity to participate in activities that their parents do not have the interest or resources to engage in as a family. These can be diverse, from theater and the arts, to attending sports event, to multi-day sailing or backpacking trips. There are also opportunities to join up with scouts from other areas of the country or world and expand horizons even more.
Risk-taking is encouraged, within limits
Many outdoor activities involve some level of risk. These “high-risk” activities are things that younger children lack the strength or maturity to engage in. Participating in things such as rock climbing and rappelling, whitewater rafting, zip lining or multi-day backpacking trips in the backcountry allow teenagers to test their limits and experience the rush associated with risky behavior, in a controlled setting.
Teens learn to cooperate
Especially as they get older, scout troops tend to be more diverse. It is rare that everyone in the group starts out as friends. No matter how they feel about the others in the group, they need to work together and get along. In many cases, they discover some common interests and learn to respect if not like people outside their personal social circle.
Teens gain confidence
Demonstrating leadership skills, mastering a new skill, working with those you may not like, all while still completing a task, serve to make for more confident kids. This confidence carries through in life. A teen who has gone through several interviews to earn a Gold Award, or the rank of Eagle Scout is better equipped to handle a rigorous job interview. Teens who are sure of themselves and their abilities are less likely to look to others for validation and possibly less likely to succumb to peer pressure. Youth who have traveled without their parents are more comfortable dealing with agents and navigating places such as train stations and airports.
There may be extra perks
Although it is not a good enough reason on its own to participate, many colleges look favorably on a student’s participation in scouting. If he or she has earned any awards, there are some scholarship opportunities open only to these individuals. (Like all other opportunities, there are a limited number, but with so few teens in the program, the competition may not be as competitive as it is for other scholarship dollars.) On the job front, there is anecdotal evidence that earning the top awards has given job seekers an edge, since it demonstrates dedication and perseverance.
For many teens who continue through their high school years, being a Scout is just fun. Though valuable life lessons are learned, it is done so in a way that is enjoyable. Friendships are formed, many that last a lifetime. That may be the best reason to continue.