Sometimes I think it’s easier for parents and leaders to understand how Boy Scouting can help their youth. After all, at Boy Scout age our young men are taking leadership roles and learning to navigate their priesthood responsibilities so they can grow into men of God. The Council’s six pillars for being prepared focus on how Scouting at that age can help these young men gain testimonies, learn to serve, prepare for missions, gain confidence, grow to be good men, husbands, and fathers, and commit to integrity.
But where does Cub Scouting fit in? Is the program for younger boys also playing an important role in youth development or is it just something to help boys release energy and have fun before the serious work of Scouting begins?
Cub Scouts and the Age of Accountability
Cub Scouting, like Boy Scouting, comes at a crucial point in a boy’s life. In Doctrine and Covenants 29:47 the Lord teaches that little children “cannot sin, for power is not given unto Satan to tempt little children, until they begin to become accountable before me.” Scripture and modern revelation have taught us that the age of accountability is eight years, the same age these boys start the Cub Scout program.
President Harold B. Lee said of the age of accountability:
Why is it that the Lord doesn’t permit Satan to tempt a little child until he comes to the age of accountability? It’s in order to give parents their golden opportunity to plant in the hearts of little children those vital things except for which, when that time of accountability comes, they may have waited too long.
Eight, then, is a pivotal age for the children in our keeping. They are suddenly faced with temptation and they must learn to navigate the pitfalls of a fallen world and everything it entails. For our young men, they are also only a few years away from being ordained to the priesthood with its accompanying responsibilities.
Before eight, it is the parents’ responsibility to prepare their children to make correct decisions and strive to live a Christlike life. Once they reach the age of accountability, parents and leaders can help them navigate temptation successfully and prepare for future responsibilities and challenges.
What Cub Scouting Does for Boys’ Character Development
I love Darryl Alder’s recent article, “Does Cub Scouting Really Work?”, on the Voice of Scouting. It gives an overview of a study conducted by Dr. Richard Lerner, the director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts that showed the effect of the Cub Scout program on positive youth development. The study team surveyed over 2,000 Cub Scouts and non-Scouts over a three-year period to track the development of positive character traits.
Initially, there was no difference between the two groups. As the Cub Scouts joined and progressed in the program however, they began to show a marked increase in positive character traits:
After 3 years of research, Cub Scouts reported significant increases in cheerfulness, helpfulness, kindness, obedience, trustworthiness, and hopeful future expectations, but there were no significant increases reported among non-Scouts. Cub Scouts, for example, are 20% more likely than non-Scouts to embrace other-oriented values, including “helping others” and “doing the right thing”
With Scouting’s focus on providing prosocial experiences, young people are able to build a foundation of positive character attributes that allow them to embrace opportunity, overcome obstacles, and be better prepared for life.
If we can help our boys learn to be cheerful, helpful, kind, obedient, and trustworthy, they will be much better able to withstand temptation and grow into men of God. Eight is a turning point in their lives, and this study shows that Cub Scouting, along with values taught at home, can help them be successful.
So Why Get Involved in your Child’s Pack?
Perhaps the most telling finding in the Tufts study for LDS parents and leaders is the importance of helping your child participate fully in a well-run Cub Scout program. The study found that Cub Scouts saw greater character growth than their non-Scout peers. Within the Cub Scout group, however, there were significant differences as well. Those who attended regularly, stayed in Scouting longer, reached out to include others, and most importantly, were fully engaged in the program, ended up more cheerful, helpful, and kind, and had higher future expectation and intentional self-regulation.
It’s not enough to send a child to den meeting every week and assume good character will happen. Parents and leaders have to work together to make sure the Cub Scout program is fully engaging the youth and functioning the way it should. Parents are vital in this process. The home is the most important classroom and proving ground in a child’s life. President Lee called on parents to do their part in training their children: “Oh, you mothers, you fathers, I plead for the return to a sense of the complete responsibility for those treasured souls. Except you prepare them for this day that is coming, who is going to?”
Cub Scouting can help a boy navigate those early years of accountability and reinforce lessons and character traits learned at home. Get involved in this process. Check out the BSA resources for parents, learn about the program, and find out what you can do to make sure Cub Scouting is doing everything it can for your children and the boys in your ward.
What Need Hath My Lord of Cub Scouting?
I was recently reading through Elder Mark E. Peterson’s 1948 talk, “What Need Hath My Lord of Scouting”. He relates the Scout program to the parable in Doctrine and Covenants section 101, in which a nobleman tells his servants to build a tower and set a watchman on it to protect his vineyard from his enemies. His servants set out to do as he asked, but decide that since it is a time of peace, there is no need for the tower. When the enemy comes, there is no watchman set to see them coming and the vineyard is destroyed. Elder Peterson explains,
There are so many of the Latter-day Saints today who say, “Well, what need hath my Lord of all this program?” And then like the workers in the vineyard in the story, they become slothful and they do not do the job, and they let the thing slide, and the first things they know the enemy is upon them and comes in and breaks down the work that has been done.
What need hath my Lord of this Scout program? My Lord hath need of the Scout program because it is one means whereby we can make the boys in this Church real Latter-day Saints.
You cannot divorce Church work from scouting. Church work and scouting are identical so far as the scouting program is concerned. When you are building scouting in your boys, you are building the work of God and helping to establish the kingdom here on the earth.
Cub Scouting is in the church because it can help boys develop Christlike attributes and prepare to receive the priesthood. Like the other youth programs, it is “one means whereby we can make the boys in this Church real Latter-day Saints.” Building these youth is one of our most important tasks in the church, and Cub Scouting, implemented well, can help us do that.
What impact have you seen Cub Scouting have on boys in your ward?
Author: Maria Milligan | Grant Writer, Utah National Parks Council, BSA.