Even since the early years of Scouting, retaining older youth provides a challenge.
There are many reasons why boys decide to quit Scouting. Many want to be with their peers and, for the most part, Boy Scout troops lack a good peer environment for high-school-aged boys. Other boys may get bored with the program around the age of 14 or 15 and decide to quit to pursue other activities. In addition, some boys will “Eagle out,” or drop out of Scouting after achieving their Eagle Scout Award. These are a few circumstances which cause boys to leave Scouting. However, in a research thesis submitted to the California Inland Empire Council, Craig Murray discusses how to resolve this problem.
Murray has been involved with Scouting for the majority of his life and has observed Scouting environments where Scouts were motivated to stay involved. He has also seen situations where they did not want to stay involved. From his experience, he found that retention is greatest when older Scouts can retain peer relationships.
Older boys are most likely to remain involved in Scouting as they grow older, as long as they have created strong peer relationships.
So, through his research, he discovered that older boys are most likely to remain involved in Scouting as they grow older, as long as they have created strong peer relationships. However, there are many other ways to help retain older boys in the Scouting program. These include Venturing Crews, Rover programs, and increased efforts from adult leaders.
Venture Programs: The best resource for older boys
Although the LDS church will only participate in Varsity and Venturing programs until December 2017, these programs are still available for all boys (and girls) to participate in.
Ken Bower, the previous Western Region Venturing Advisor, put together four ways to help retain older Scouts. They are:
- Venture Patrol: A special Patrol, consisting of boys over thirteen which meet other qualifications established by the troop. Special outings conducted by the Venture Patrol fulfills the desires of older boys and keeps them active in the troop.
- The “partnered” Venturing Crew: The troop “spins off” a new Unit, to charter as a Venturing Crew.
- The “neighborhood” Venturing Crew: The troop finds a local crew which has a program attractive to the older boys, and encourages many of them to join the crew in addition to being active in the troop.
- The “special interest” Venturing Crew: In the broader geographical area, there are likely to be several crews with specific interest programs that Scouts can join. Climbing, music, soccer, historical reenactment, sailing, drama, and shooting are some examples.
Our business is building boys
There are many places to gain inspiration for retaining boys! For example, large businesses understand the important ways in which they can retain their employees. These methods aren’t based on salaries or benefits but on peer relationships. Listed below are these business tactics, along with their application to Scouting.
- Encourage continuing development – Learning to lead your peers has great value. Programs like venturing encourage boys to develop into leaders.
- Extend recognition and praise – The Scouting program does a good job of extending recognition. Through gaining praise, Scouts will feel even more value in their accomplishments.
- Genuinely care about your employees (or Scouts!) – If a leader is focused solely on retaining a boy in his troop, this does not show care for the boy as he grows into a young man. There are great troops which provide growth, but in general, a boy needs to join a senior Scout unit or continue with the OA in order to grow. As adults, we need to foster this development and transition.
- Offer quality feedback – Again, Scouting does a good job in this area. There is no question that everyone appreciates receiving quality feedback.
- Nurture friendships at the office (in the troop) – Like I said previously, peer friendship is one of the most important things to teenagers. This can best be accomplished by having boys be in units with peers of their same age.
- Allow them to make a difference – Include boys in the decision making. This allows young adults to practice exploring and implementing alternatives, right or wrong. In fact, making mistakes is how many of us learn. Leading their peers enhances their decision-making abilities. Many Crews decide to get involved in training, environmental, or community support of some type. Whatever the type of involvement, they often do make a difference.
“What do you think will help the most?”
In 2011, Craig Murray put together a survey and gave it to various adult leaders. He asked the question, “Assume you are responsible for retaining the youth in your unit. What action do you think would help the most?” From this question, there were three main ideas that stood out for retaining Scouts. They are:
- Involve the boys in the selection of activities.
- High adventure activities are important to include in a good outings program.
- Bonding (most likely with peers) is important as well as trusting relationships between adults and young adults.
In the end, these are the three best ways to provide a positive Scouting experience that will encourage boys to continue through the program. Boys that remain in Scouting throughout their young adulthood turn into lifelong Scouters. This will benefit the growth of Scouting, as it can only improve if we develop our current generation of Scouts into adults who, because of their enjoyment in Scouting, want to promote the program.
Author: Madison Austin | Marketing Associate, Utah National Parks Council