By Jarom Shaver
Mar 08, 2017

Does Scouting Keep Boys on Missions?

The answer is yes and no.

Of course, Scouting has much to offer to prospective missionaries. That’s obvious; the Church wouldn’t include it in their youth programs if it didn’t.

Many of our youth even achieve the high esteemed Eagle Scout rank. However, the real questions are, why are they achieving the Eagle Scout rank? Are we holding their hand as they go through Scouting or are we allowing boys to take on challenges as they develop within the Scouting program?

Brad Harris, past member of the LDS Young Men’s General Board, author of Trails to Testimony, and 22-year career professional with the Boy Scouts of America, has much to say on the topic.

Harris believes a paradigm shift is needed. Our focus in the LDS community must not be to just GET YOUR EAGLE. Instead, we must hone in on how Scouting is a tool to bring young men to Christ. If it’s simply about the Eagle rank, the answer to if Scouting keeps boys on missions is potentially a huge no. Scouting done right prepares young men for missions in ways that few other programs can. Harris has a few ideas on how. First is privation.

What is Privation and why is it Necessary?

Missionaries now come home early because they have not had much privation before their missions.

Privation is lack of the usual comforts or necessaries of life. According to Harris, many missionaries return home simply because they have addictions to video games that they can’t let go of. With the many comforts our youth have, it is imperative now more than ever to make sure our youth have mini-privations. As Scout leaders and parents, we should ask ourselves, “What am I doing to help them have mini-privations?”

Privation has been a part of missionary work since the beginning. Privation is referenced in Alma 26: 28-29:

28 And now behold, we have come, and been forth amongst them; and we have been patient in our sufferings, and we have suffered every privation; yea, we have traveled from house to house, relying upon the mercies of the world—not upon the mercies of the world alone but upon the mercies of God.

 29 And we have entered into their houses and taught them, and we have taught them in their streets; yea, and we have taught them upon their hills; and we have also entered into their temples and their synagogues and taught them; and we have been cast out, and mocked, and spit upon, and smote upon our cheeks; and we have been stoned, and taken and bound with strong cords, and cast into prison; and through the power and wisdom of God we have been delivered again.

Missionary work is hard. It has been hard since the sons of Mosiah were doing it, and it will continue to be hard. Ask anyone that has served a mission, and they will tell you that there were some days that felt like they were not going to end. Rejection, weather, language barrier, culture barrier, distance from family and many other trials make the mission difficult.

Youth need tough experiences before the mission. They need them, so that when they get on the mission it’s not the first time they encounter difficulty. As Scout leaders, we shouldn’t be the first one to always come to the rescue when a problem arises. If a youth forgets his sleeping bag for a camp out, a night on the rocky ground won’t kill them. These tough love experiences will pay dividends in the long run. 

Mimic Mission Life Before Their Mission

Harris has a list of things that young men should accomplish before they go on their missions. According to him, young men should have experienced the following:

  • Have been away from home for an extended period of time
  • Worked from sunup to sundown
  • Cooked their own meal
  • Shopped for groceries to make that meal
  • Gotten up early
  • Walked more than 10 miles in a day

The great thing about all of the things he lists is that each can be accomplished in the Scouting program. However, accomplishing it is not enough if we are doing the work for them or spoon-feeding them along the way. It’s ok for them to make mistakes and suffer a little as they do these hard things.

A survey was done in 2014 of 62 recently returned Elders ranking resources that helped prepare them for the rigors of their missions. Scouting ranked number one above seminary and mission prep class.

Scouting done right will help youth stay on missions. So, next time you want to jump in to save one of your Scouts, think twice. Does making your son get his Eagle before he gets his license make that much of a difference? It may pay in the long run to go against your natural inclination. 

Author: Jarom Shaver | Marketing Executive, Utah National Parks Council

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16 thoughts on “Does Scouting Keep Boys on Missions?

  1. AvatarSteve Faber


    Excellent article! Best one I’ve read in a long time. I love how you pulled out one very important, and I think an often overlooked word (I’ve sure overlooked it), “privation”, out of the scriptures and helped us adults make the connection(s) between scouting and gospel principles. I think this is a great reminder for as adults who need to consider our own privations and as you say, further question our own “natural inclinations”, especially when we get carried away with the mechanics and check-boxes in the scouting program.

    I’ve heard then Pres. Beck at Philmont say something to the effect of “rid the church of getting Eagle by age 14”. I think this article goes a long way in helping change our mindset in the LDS culture about what it means to become an Eagle. Becoming an Eagle is a worthy goal for young men who desire it, but becoming an Eagle is not the end goal. The important thing is the process of becoming an Eagle, but more importantly, the process of learning our Duty to God, which helps us come unto Christ and become who we’re supposed to be.

    I think this process, along with privation and pre-mission experiences as you’ve outlined, helps these future missionaries make connections from scouting experiences to gospel principles that provide them staying-power and grit in the mission field.

  2. Darryl AlderDarryl Alder

    Steve and Jarom I could not agree more. Without Scouting I could not have endured the cold, the food the rejection of 26,000 German doors. It seemed like long suffering, but in the end a few doors opened and the Spirit came in. It was hard, harder than my time in the army, but it was the most gratifying thing I had done in 21 years of living

  3. AvatarGiannina Della Rocca

    I really like this article , because it reminds me the message of president Monson “Strengths of Scouting”.
    In which he mentioned the following to the young men…
    “Live what you’ve learned and will continue to learn. Help others to hike the trails, to keep steadfast in the paths of truth, of honor, of duty, that all of you can soar together on eagles’ wings. You are part of a mighty army of youth, even a royal army, and every organization, to be successful, has an honored tradition to uphold. May you uphold Scouting’s tradition, for it can be as a lighthouse beacon in the world of stormy seas, it can be a motivation to prepare for your role in life”.

  4. Susan CheeverSusan Cheever

    Thank you Jarom. That was thoughtful and well written. As a parent, it is hardest to quietly watch as my children learn valuable lessons from the natural consequences of putting forth insufficient effort. Self esteem is a natural result of real success born of the boy’s best effort.

  5. Lee FerrinLee Ferrin

    Participating in scouting is a wonderful way to mimic mission life, but I have found that one of the best ways to provide that experience is through working as staff at a scout camp. And here in Utah we have so many camp locations to choose from, both to attend and to staff! I would encourage every young man and young woman to take the opportunity to live away from home, working hard at a selfless and service-oriented objective, with peers that share and supervisors that uphold their values; all of which can be found at our local scout camps.

  6. AvatarElder John Q. Public

    Overall, this is simplistic and general. The church already puts a damper on kids getting their Eagle by making them wait longer than non-LDS troops to enter Scouting. Since parents are already racing against the clock to get their boys to Eagle before hormones and extracurricular activities take over, it seems strange to fault the parents for spending time with their youth to help them accomplish a fine goal.

    Also, there are few statistics proffered to say how many missionaries, male or female, return prematurely because of videogame deprivation; there is no indication of whether Scouting, which offers a badge and belt loop for video games can help ameliorate what is likely the least of the difficulties facing missionaries.

    Not all missions are created equal. Does Scouting help the elders called to serve in Utah, who at times must face the ardor associated with having to balance the demands of both lunch AND dinner appointments? We can only hope! A few years ago, the church “raised the bar” to send a better cadre of Elders. The obese in our ward were prohibited from leaving until they dropped weight. Some who had serious transgressions were delayed further. With now a lower age for elders, are we seeing an unannounced trend that should cause a question about the church’s participation in Scouting (beyond that it seems no longer necessary to be a real boy to enroll)?

    The goal of preparing our children should perhaps span well beyond the early requirements of the Duty to God award, continuing through the entire YM/YW years. Focus on privations is one thing, but finishing something one starts, if one continues in Alma, is equally important.
    For blessed is he that endureth to the end.” – Alma 38: 2

    1. Scott MajorScott Major

      “Elder John Q. Public” – It is clear to me that you have had a negative experience with Scouting and that is a shame. It can do so much for so many. It is like bringing horse to water, you can’t make it drink. It is pearls before swine to many. You may want to google the Harris Study conducted about Scouting in the USA. That independent study shows how valuable scouting can be and how it can give potential missionaries the tools they need to be successful.
      As a side note and purely personal, I think that anyone who wants to call condemnation upon others and won’t use their real name is a coward. The worst kind of internet troll is the one who hides in anonymity. In my opinion, your arguments lose most if not all validity when you can’t put your own name to them.

  7. AvatarElder John Q. Public

    It is clear to ME that you have never read the Federalist Papers or the “name withheld” portions of the Ensign, or perhaps you have, but you reject all assertions of any document submitted without a name. Posting anonymously nor disagreeing with a premise severally does a troll make.

    Further, ad hominem attacks are generally what people resort to when they do not understand or cannot counter an opposing position. Scott, it bears stating only once: “Reading is fundamental.” Notice in the third paragraph of my submission above that I state that parent participation and getting the Eagle rank is “a fine goal.” Noble, worthwhile, admirable, yes, any of those words would work as synonyms. I also bemoaned the fact that LDS troops don’t get boys participating soon enough. To most native English readers, these passages would suggest approval of the Scouting program.

    Where you should take issue is with the article’s assertion that getting an Eagle quickly is a less worthy goal, and that attaining the rank is of lesser importance, evoking the old adage, as someone who benefited from Scouts, that “winners never quit.” Or maybe you could argue that video game addiction and Scouting sharing fraternity in this article somewhat muddied the argumentation. Or, you could point out that too much emphasis on physical deprivation could be a slippery slope to encourage others to participate in “extreme trekking,” where youth are deprived of water in high heat, something that has in the past led to dehydration and death.

    You could have addressed all these issues (and still can), but rest assured that you missed the point of what I wrote. To use the contrapositive of what you wrote, your argument is no stronger because you used what you claim is your real name and included a goofy picture on your profile (please, N.B. that I never said ad hominem wasn’t fun).

  8. AvatarChang Yu

    Many parents are too lenient. House rules should include not playing video games too often. If parents’ rules aren’t followed, kids aren’t just dishonouring some basic church teachings, but also breaking the law, and can cause them to get evicted, or to become involved with, and maybe even sent to, “children’s aid society”. In China, not studying enough could lead to getting physically disciplined in front of the class, as some parents requested, despite schools having posted rules prohibiting injury from teachers. Some rich and lazy students that wore makeup sat at the back to read novels, so they were considered rebellious and nonconforming. (I was nudged for pointing my foot towards someone, which was considered flirtatious.)
    Maybe they should go through basic policing training to also cultivate team-spirit and patriotism. I think some young people generated damaging in-fighting because of bouts of jealousy.
    I grew up knowing about some foods that can react to create toxins, etc. I wish they don’t let their body or mind be too uncomfortable; unless they want to be partially injured. Sleeping on fresh concrete had someone paralyzed.
    It’s never good to be away from home when unnecessary! If some new recruits missed home, they’d be taken out to a remote place for a “talk”, only to be beaten up! Sunup to sundown then applied only to healthy farm work. Learn WHIMIS for housework, as I recently had many tumours removed, possibly from chemical exposure. Besides training spiritual strongmen, leaders should also consider norms of the world (e.g., it might be too humiliating for a teenager to often do extra chores).

  9. AvatarJo Public ;)

    The article closes with, “Does making your son get his Eagle before he gets his license make that much of a difference? It may pay in the long run to go against your natural inclination.” The author seems to impugn the motive of all parents of early eagles.
    If it is allowed by the rules of scouting to earn the rank, then earning it should be celebrated not disparaged because it is too early to get the “real” benefits. I think the real benefits help a boy no matter when he earns eagle.

    1. AvatarJo Mama :P

      Totally agree, Jo. The parents aren’t the ones who have to pass a board of review; it’s the boys. It is insulting to the boys who get the eagle “early” that the article insinuates that it has to be because of the parents. Sorry my kid was motivated. I think the longer a boy stays in Scouting, the more he learns to serve and grows. An artificial damper on advancement just serves to demoralize the boys and helps them wash out, which can’t be, I hope, what the article is pushing for.

    2. Jarom ShaverJarom Shaver Post author

      To Mr. Jo Public and Elder John Q. Thanks for reading the article and commenting. We really appreciate that. However, if you read the article carefully, you would notice never once did I say getting the Eagle Scout rank early is a major problem. One of the main purposes of this article is to help parents realize that forcing the Eagle rank on your children, or not letting them suffer in their pathway to Eagle is doing little good to help keep them on missions. The Scouting experience is hard at times, as it should be. Parents and Scoutmasters shouldn’t always jump in to save the day when a problem arises. If a child wants to earn his eagle earlier, more power to him. We would just hope that they get a true Scouting experience that will last with them forever. Not a spoon fed experience, like stated in the article.

  10. AvatarElder John Q. Public

    Hi Jarom,

    I was hoping you would weigh in on the article to determine your reason for writing it. Thank you for the original and for clarifying. If you want further feedback, by all means, keep reading. If you want to dismiss it as the ravings of a prideful/pedantic Internet crank, that’s alright, too. If you still have law school aspirations, there are key writing elements to hone that will help you be more successful, such as citation and lines of argumentation, which are vital.

    Citation is of utmost importance. It is what distinguishes who is saying what. It keeps you above accusations of plagiarism. At first, especially given marketing background, it was difficult to discern from the article if the thrust was simply shilling for the Bradley Harris book. It was equally difficult to determine where your voice began and where Hariss’ stopped.

    Introduction to Harris’ ideas begins in the fifth graf. Does your voice start again with the graf “The great thing about all these things?” No need to answer, this is rhetorical. In your response in the comments, you stated “never once [sic] “never” should suffice; “once” is redundant] did I say getting the Scout rank early is a problem.” This is true with an explicit reading. The first comment on the article raises a “President Beck” who apparently advocated ridding the church “of getting the Eagle by age 14.” Yet implicitly, your piece asks if a boy getting his “Eagle before he gets his license…make[s] that much of a difference.” As 14 comes before 16, the driving age in most states, it would seem the first comment makes the inference that you do, that before 16 is bad. Given the driving age in Idaho, maybe aeries of 13-year-old Eagles abound. At any rate, before 16 is appreciably earlier than 18.

    Several logical inferences can come to the reader.
    a) Harris seems to argue that Scouting is but a tool and the Eagle doesn’t matter. Objections to this, obviously, will flow from incorporating his comments by reference in your post. If you disagree with him, state this. Otherwise, leave him out.
    b) The younger the Scout, the worse it is because coercion was somehow used on Scouts who attain the Eagle before approximately 16. And as was pointed out by J. Public, the last sentence sounds as though there was disapproval on your part of either getting it early [or in light of your comment] perhaps using the license as heavy “suasion” to encourage a son to get the rank.

    There are other distracting portions as well.
    The reader faces an internal logical problem. Harris, in fine, says: A paradigm shift is necessary. The focus must not be on getting the Eagle. Privations are necessary; he enumerates several of them. Is Harris arguing for MORE privations as part of Scouts? Does he advocate changing the program to make it harder?
    M. Shaver then asserts “The great thing about all of these things…is that each can be accomplished in the Scouting program.” If they can be accomplished through the extant program, why then would a change in the Scouting program or in paradigm be necessary? Is it privations with a dash of more godliness on the side? Is it accomplishment with less parental invovlement? It’s difficult to imagine that a parent could compel a child to walk 10 miles [not that this is necessary in all missions] and somehow do this for the child. The Cooking badge requires planning a menu, shopping, and cooking. Personal Finance requires budgeting. Much of this requires effort demonstrated by the child, evaluated by unrelated adults, at events not supervised by the child’s parents. The question is that if these (min)privations build character, the harder they will likely be to encourage kids to do them, requiring coercion or incentive beyond what is normally required in the regular Scout program. If these experiences are, “in sese” good to experience, would it matter if they were done under protest or as part of Scouts?

    Even with your clarification, the post seems to meander: “experience good, force is bad, willing suffering is necessary and fun, builds character, unless it’s forced, in which case maybe the experience gained is not good or something. Harris likes privations and I somewhat agree, but it’s available already, so I kind of disagree with him.”

    This leads us to the argumentation by idiom section. Vague and overbroad phrases in the article need clarifying because they also distract from the main points of the piece. What does “hand holding” look like? Is withholding certain privileges until a goal is met “coming the rescue” or does that count as “spoon feeding?” Doing the work for them seems fairly easy to understand, but what differentiates a “true Scouting experience” as opposed to say, a false Scouting experience? What constitutes “many missionaries” coming home because of incurable video game addiction?
    holding their hand
    Scouting done right
    come to the rescue
    doing the work for them or spoon-feeding (aren’t these synonymous?)
    jump in to save one of your Scouts
    major problem
    Jump in to save the day
    true Scouting experience
    Not a spoon fed experience

    Again, I thank you for your post. I have spent way too much time on it and maybe I am leaning toward the “troll.” Best of luck in your future and may you do something more productive with your life than law school! It is suffering and the market is tight when you graduate. You’re happy you did it, but you’re even happier that it’s over.

  11. AvatarElder John Q. Public

    I just want to say that after this weekend, I feel a need to repent and say that I’m sorry for causing confusion or hurt to anyone. I think that the Scouting Program is awesome and well worth the time and money investment for anyone to participate in.
    Scouting really can prepare each young man to serve a mission. It can bring them closer to the Gospel and help them be better.
    I do want to use my name but I feel too ashamed of the things I have already said. It does not represent my character or put me in the best light and for that reason, I will try my best to do differently in the future.

    1. AvatarElder John Q. Public

      Nice try. Behold, the days of my repentance have past. You can try using your real name when you try to hijack someone else’s screen shot.

      Otherwise, my remarks represent my character and I stand by my impassioned pleas for clarity in prose, well-supported assertions, and a preservation of the Scout program without changing its character with new inventions.

      If you would like an apology, le voici: I’m sorry if you were so easily offended.


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