By Darryl Alder
Aug 21, 2015

Does Scouting Do What it Claims?

Growing up today can be confusing for any age youth, but this morning at BSA’s Top Hands Conference Tom Harrington invited two experts to educate us more fully on the matter.

Dr Lerner 2The first was Dr. Richard Lerner, who is the the director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. He briefly shared his research: Character and Merit Project (CAMP).  He reported, “After three years, Scouts reported significant increases in cheerfulness, helpfulness, kindness, obedience, trustworthiness, and hopeful future expectation. In our control group of non-Scouts, there were no significant increases, and in some cases (e.g., religious reverence) there was an observed decrease, which was quite striking.”


Scouting works

This study by the Institute was funded through the John Templeton Foundation. They have been working with the Cradle of Liberty Council based in Philadelphia to study the impact of our programs on character and positive youth development. He said that the study shows that Scouting matches perfectly with the overall developmental needs of children in five areas: Caring, Connection, Competence, Confidence, and Character. He referred to these collectively as the 5-C’s:

  • Caring—Scouts are taught to be a friend to all and to do a good turn daily, to be helpful and give service without being asked.
  • Connection—Scouts are first part of a unit, that is part of a community, in our country and the world brotherhood of Scouting. As they become part of each of these communities, their connections grow.
  • Competence—From Tiger skills to Wolf and on the trail to Eagle, basic skills move to advanced proficiency and competencies for life.
  • Confidence—Scouts start small but do age appropriate “hard things.” The are are engaged in new activities and adventures where they can test their abilities and grow in confidence.
  • Character—He told us the CAMP study shows a solid improvement among Cub Scout boys in traits like helpfulness, trustworthiness, reverence in life, and hopefulness toward the future; essentially mapping these traits to the Scout Law or character for life.

In addition, the study found a direct correlation between the amount of time boys spent in Scouting and the positive impact realized—those who spent more years in the program reported higher character attributes. Scouts who were more engaged also reported higher character attributes. And those who attended regular meetings reported higher character attributes compared to those with lower attendance.

He went on to share a summary of his findings from the CAMP study of Cub Scouting’s impact on character development, explaining how they collected quantitative data from more than 2,500 Scouts and a comparison group youth between the ages of six and 10 years.  Results showed a 20 point improvement those who participate in Cub Scouting for only months as opposed to similar boys who participated in youth sports programs over the same period. These youth were among those most at risk and underprivileged in the Philadelphia area.

They also collected data from parents, Scouters and other adult leaders and council executives to gain a deeper understanding of how the BSA program influences character. He also explained how the different facets of the program helps build character, life skills, and positive goals among Cub Scouts.

Essentially his message was that youth today that join Cub Scouting will be better prepared citizens with moral fiber and capacity. He said that he believes his research in Positive Youth Development has reaffirmed the importance of Scouting.

Dr. Ken GinsburgThe second speaker was Dr. Ken Ginsburg. He is a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and a Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He spoke about building resilience in youth and Scouting’s role in this process. His focus was on the principles of positive youth development and resilience in order to guide youth toward healthy behaviors and wise decisions.

He explained that programs like Scouting will have a positive effect on youth if they have are intensive in a youth’s life and if the youth stays for the duration of the program. But even more important is the engagement of youth in the program itself.

Then he asked: “Are young people problems to be solved, or problem solvers?” Empowering youth by looking at consequences helps build resilience, but lecture diminishes their value. “Young people will be more resilient if the important adults in their lives believe in them unconditionally and hold them to high expectations.”


With this slide he explained how youth look for models to live by from TV, peers and others. When they feel they are not in the norm, they experience stress. The discomfort from stress can find a false relief in drugs, teen pregnancy, self destructive behaviors. But these always lead to more stress. However, if youth learn positive coping strategies, like the ones that Scouting offers them, they will find relief.

He closed by saying:  “Young people live up or down to the expectations we set for them.”

Together these speakers made it clear that Scouting today is relevant and an important developmental tool for youth. And yes it does deliver character, citizenship and fitness to a new generation, just as it always has. But even better for our Council, is that it clearly meets the need of our LDS partners with the Pillars research shows they need. With caring adults who have testimonies of Christ, chances are good that youth will connect to these leaders and strengthen thier their own witnesses. As youth give service they will become more caring by nature. The hard things we do in Scouting build confidence and resilience in our youth. The nature of what we do build traits like helpfulness, trustworthiness, reverence in life, and hopefulness toward the future; essentially mapping these traits to integrity or character for life and life’s skills. Of course, all these combine to make a confident and caring young man ready to serve a mission.

I think it’s clear that Scouting does what it says it does. What do you think?


Darryl head BW


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