Open for debate: Are boys who earn Eagle Scout at 13 or 14 too young?

What difference exists between a 13-year-old boy who earns the Eagle Scout award and one who gets there at 17½?

That was the subject of a fascinating discussion among your fellow Scouters on our Facebook page this week. Now, I’ll share some of the arguments I found most compelling.

But first, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of Scouts never make Eagle at all. Does that mean their time in Scouting didn’t have value? Of course not. Every minute spent in the program can enhance a boy’s development toward adulthood.

OK, it’s time for your fellow Scouters to weigh in. After reading their responses, share your thoughts by leaving a comment below this post.

Help from Mom and Dad?
“Yes, 13- and 14-year-olds [are] too young [and] don’t have the maturity or leadership. At that age it’s the parents getting it, not the youth.”
– Randy B.

Consider what’s next
“I don’t think ‘too young for Eagle’ is something that can be applied universally. Where I think the problem lies is what do you do at the unit level to keep them interested and involved with the program for the (hopefully) next three to four years.”
– Patrick C.

 Older, but not always more mature
“I’ve seen some very impressive 14-year-old Eagle Scouts and some less-than-impressive 17-year-old Eagle Scouts. It’s maturity, not age. Some boys have a natural skill in leadership and blossom much earlier than the other boys.”
– Michelle M.

Only yourself to blame
“Sorry, if you are questioning the validity of the project, Scouts vs. parents, brilliant or lame, then you as Scoutmaster, Eagle Mentor, Committee Chair, and District Advancement Chair, are not doing your job. You all sign off and approve the project. The Scout comes in and presents and ‘sells’ the project to you prior to approval. Once you approve it, you have no right to complain.”
 – Karl S. 

A journey, not a race
“In my opinion, an Eagle should not only complete the written requirements, but also internalize the purpose along the way. If one is concerned with meeting the requirements as quickly as possible they are not able to focus on ‘Why.’ Eagle becomes simply another award, as opposed to a recognition of personal growth.”
– Iain A.

Going by the book
“If the Scout demonstrates the skills necessary and completes the requirements then he is not too young. He has earned his achievement, and age has nothing to do with it.”
– Jason S.

“Paper Eagles”
“Yes, we call them ‘Paper Eagles’ because they do all the paperwork to get Eagle, but they are in Scouts such a short time, they don’t learn nearly as much.”
– Ryan C.

Speaking from experience
“I was a 13½-year-old Eagle. I resent the question. If the boy has completed the requirements, a bunch of adults, who likely didn’t do it themselves, should not be second-guessing the award.”
– Jeffrey L.

Don’t forget the Palms
“If Eagle were meant to be earned at the end of a boy’s Scouting career, why does the BSA offer Palms? Palms are there to encourage boys to remain in Scouting and to achieve something above and beyond Eagle, in effect living what they have learned.”
– Meredith F-W.

Lacking the basics
“There are no Eagles ready at 13 or even 14. There isn’t enough maturity and experience. We have boys that come back from NYLT [National Youth Leadership Training] each year livid about the kids from ‘Eagle mills’ that don’t have the basic skills to set up a tent or start a fire or cook a meal, let alone show any leadership.”
– Harry S.

A natural progression
“As a Scoutmaster and member of the Eagle Board of Review for our district, I would much rather see a younger boy earn his Eagle in a natural progression, rather than the 17.5-year-old who has been relatively inactive, then hears the clock ticking towards his 18th birthday, so he shows up and goes through enough motions to meet the requirements.”
– John C.

Case-by-case basis
“Some still seem ‘too young’ even at age 18. Others are ‘old enough’ at 14 and 15. In most cases it comes down to who reached Eagle, the Scouts or their parents/leaders. When it is the Scout who reaches Eagle, he is usually ready.”
– Patrick S.

227 thoughts on “Open for debate: Are boys who earn Eagle Scout at 13 or 14 too young?

  1. I would like to state that I know a kid that earned his eagle at 13. I live in Alaska, and for any boy who plans to spend time in the backcountry, the skills are essential. Today, he is 15 and is out in the wild quite a bit and I think he was worthy of that eagle award. I plan to earn my eagle this year at 13, and I do fully think I have finished the requirements fully.

    • It is a worthy goal, but not a race. Enjoy the journey. Do it because you are challenging yourself and improving your skills. If that for you is age 13 years of age congratulations. Many of the skills taught in scouting are those activities needed to survive in the wild as well as on high adventure. Make sure you help the next scout and also as you are being observant of how you can use your skills to improve the world around you. The scout we had that earned Eagle at 12.5 continues to be active in supporting younger scouts, has 75+ merit badges, 8 palms and is just preparing to earn his Silver Hornaday award. Opportunities in scouting have become limitless.

  2. Hello I am a life scout at the age of thirteen and i am working on my eagle scout project and I am a very mature person and i am a great leader and i have a position to show for it (assistant senior patrol leader) i feel that if you say that a 13 year old person is not old enough or mature enough you should meet them first. Thank you and I am in Troop 406 of LaPlace Louisiana our facebook page is Stjohn boy scouts.

    • As an Eagle Mentor/Coach I help the Life scout understand the process of doing the Eagle Project. For so many scouts earning the rank of Eagle is made out to be so daunting and half the parents are running scared. Compared to a construction project the Mentor could be considered the superintendent who is overseeing the overall project. All I do is ask questions and coach them sequence their projects. Sometimes I provide advice on where to find suitable projects. I especially encourage scouts to do something they have never done before. One of the scouts had worked with wood and plastic previously so he chose to build a portable amphitheater of steel so he had to show real leadership not just do everything himself.

  3. As a parent of a 13 year old that has 36 merit badges completed NYLT for scouts and NYLT training for OA , is the Oa rep for his troop and the OA rep for his council and has had his eagle review board and waiting for the Eagle Board he is ready!! He Has Never missed a meeting or a Campout since becoming a scout . HE has been to to Summer camp every year and attended an OA Camporee as a cub Scout and two as A Scout plus three summer camps We have eagle scouts that are 16 teen and 17 teen that basically due nothing

    • So great to hear about motivated scouts. Congratulations, a son doesn’t get there by himself. It takes supportive parenting! I am ever more convinced that young men will progress based on their desire and support.

      I love to see scouts proving the cynics wrong! We had a 9 panel board participate as a 9 palm eagle defended his Silver Hornaday project. He spoke for 30 minutes without an “and” or an “um” and was so thorough that the entire panel had 5 questions. He is 14.5 years old with 75+ merit badges, who has provided leadership for over 2,000 hours of community service -1,000 of which are his own. He has completed 6 major scouting projects since he was a Webelos Scout and it was HE who chose to go down the road not anyone else.

      Two years ago he came back from camp having nearly drowned and asked for help. A scout from a troop 30 minutes away offered to help and they swam together 60 hours under the direction of a swim coach. Two week ago these two competed against each other on opposing swim teams. When one of our incoming scouts does their swim test both of these Eagles swim at their sides the entire time. This is the part of scouting that we as leaders cannot replace and only be thankful we have the privilege of watching.

      • Question : I thought you could only get three palms and that was it you said he was getting his 9th or did i misunderstand you

        • The scout earns the bronze, the gold then the silver, then he retains the silver and earns the bronze, the gold and then a second silver and so on. This scout is wearing 3 silvers = 9 palms.

          I have asked the facilitator to connect us via email, if you send the same request then maybe he will enable the connection.

        • A palm is earned for every five merit badges beyond those required for Eagle. A bronze palm equals five merit badges, a gold palm is ten merit badges, and a silver palm equals fifteen merit badges. You wear the palms in a configuration that equals the number of merit badges you’ve earned. For example, if you had thirty extra merit badges you would wear a bronze, gold, and silver.

        • Actually Summit Scouter, you are correct that a bronze represents 5, gold represents 10, and silver represents 15, but I believe that
          if a Scout had earned an additional 30 merit badges he would wear 2 silver only. There is no configuration where a Scout wears a bronze, a gold, and a silver. He can have any number of silver at the same time but can only have one bronze or one gold in combination with the silver.
          There is also a 3 month time requirement for each palm.
          At the current number of merit badges, which I believe is 134, there are 22 palms possible. If a Scout earned all of the merit badges and met the time requirement he would have 7 silver and one bronze palms, which is the most that can be worn at one time. The time requirement to earn all of the palms would be 5 years and 6 months if my calculations are correct.
          Of course, if a Scout has earned some merit badges that have been discontinued,and/or additional merit badges are added, he could actually earn more than 22 palms if he had the time.

        • Thanks Kimble. I ASSumed you could wear them in any mathematical combination that reached the correct total. Does the Insignia Guide address this?

        • Your welcome Summit Scouter. No worries with ASSuming, we all do it and none of us are experts on everything! 🙂 I think it is covered in the Insignia Guide.
          Personally, I really don’t care what combination a Scout wears his Palms, I am just glad when the Scout is motivated enough to earn them!!

  4. The requirements to become an Eagle are there for a reason and if accomplished should be awarded to that individual regardless of their age.Maybe the bar should be raised but honestly if one is 13 and acquiring the rank of Eagle or 17 the success in doing so should be seen as an honor to Scouting. We had seven scouts to become Eagles at one time with ages ranging from 13 to 16. The youngest were as aggressive in leadership positions in the troop and followed the examples of the older scouts. Young scouts look to the more mature scouts. When they took the lead we stuck with them regardless of the age difference. That is why after three years in the scouts achieving the requirements to become an Eagle Scout along with going to the summer and winter camps along with 50 mile hikes,going to Philmont,going to the National Jamboree and becoming a member of OA all at the age of 13 I made the decision to leave scouting. I accomplished my goal to become an Eagle Scout and feel it was a mature decision

  5. George, sorry to hear you left Scouting. For the record, age has little to do with when a Scout should achieve the rank of Eagle. Completing the requirements, and being mature enough to give back to your Troop and community are just as important, or even more important than checking off items in a book. Think of the older Scouts that helped you along the way, and then think of the young Scouts in your Troop that do not have you there to guide them on that trail. I hope you return to Scouting soon.

  6. The opinion of it is too young is definitely the stupidest thing i have ever heard, i am a 14 year old eagle scout, and I definitely know that the only reason boys get their eagle when their 17 as opposed to 14 is because they simply get busy, and that they just don’t try that fast. For me it was easy, and my parents definitely did not help me.
    It is simply how fast they want to put in the work.

  7. I achieved Eagle Scout before age 14. As did my 3 younger brothers. We all continued on in Scouting and Exploring until we were 18. After earning Eagle Scout, rather than focusing our time on earning awards, we spent our time leading, teaching, and mentoring other Scouts. I served 3 years on Camp Staff as well as leadership roles in the Order of the Arrow Chapter and Lodge. Post Eagle Scout Scouting should be about giving back. I don’t think that principle is taught well and some lose interest in Scouting after they have been trained to serve.

    My father only achieved the rank of Star. He says he did not have a good Scouting experience as a boy. With four sons he decided to make sure the infrastructure was in place for his sons to have a good experience. He didn’t drive us to achieve the rank of Eagle before age 14. But he did help us plan farther than we could see at the time. He did volunteer at the troop, district, and council level to make sure a strong program with trained adult leaders existed. His 4 sons have all served in unit leader roles for years. My father and 3 of us have been to Wood Badge.

    My own son is a Life Scout and is on track to achieve Eagle Scout before he is 14. I am convinced that, if the Scouting program is run properly, most young men mature through the progression in Scouting ranks faster than they otherwise would. Of course, they will continue to grow as they serve others and lead, whether in official positions, or because others look up to them.

  8. I frankly couldn’t care less about when a scout earns Eagle, but when THE DATE of that accomplishment becomes involved, that’s when I have a problem. The rank of Eagle takes a lot of work and it shouldn’t matter how old you are when you achieve it.

    Boasting about your Eagle rank in general is wrong to begin with, and you may not deserve it then. But when a 13-year-old Eagle goes to his 18-year-old counterpart and claims that he was better off, it’s not acceptable for so many reasons. Age is not a factor in the legislature, in the military. Scouting’s rank system exists so that age doesn’t have to come up. Arrowmen are arrowmen, SPLs are SPLs, Eagles are Eagles. Let it be.

  9. There is no age requirement to become an Eagle. So there should be no debate. Yet it persists. And I find it baffling…

    Some thoughts:

    Interesting how folks refer to ‘paper eagles’ almost exclusively as being 13 year olds… What about the kids who became inactive at 14 and all of a sudden show up at 17 1/2 looking to finish their Eagle. And somehow it has become noble to help these scouts while diminishing the 13/14 year olds?

    Some kids play ‘select’ sports – we have had a number of scouts who bring that level of enthusiasm to scouting.

    I would much rather have a young man complete his Eagle and then hang around and be useful – always impressive to see a troop with 3-4 Eagles helping out.

    People need to stop associating an Eagle with perfection. We need to stop knocking them off their perch – the quickest way to lose a scout once he receives his eagle is to say ‘you should know better, you’re an Eagle’. Rather, we need to help them soar even higher. Whether that be OA, Venturing, Summer Camp Staff, National Outdoor Award, High Adventure, etc. There is a whole world out there beyond Eagle.

    Folks often asked us how our troop had so many ‘young’ guys who were Life… The implication was that we were ‘easy’. We solved that problem when our 7/8 grade scouts out performed their older scouts at Camporee events. When you have a solid Trail to First Class program that ignites their imagination and reinforces their skills, how could you expect anything but a group of high performing scouts?

    • THANK YOU for the great commentary. I agree that there should be no debate, but I also understand the concern about parental interference.

      I congratulate those who have lots of Life Scouts. This indicates that a number of young men have been busy. In my troop we have a three tiered patrol program. One patrol works on tenderfoot – 1st Class, the second patrol works on Eagle required merit badges and a third patrol that works on other elective merit badges. The second patrol typically has to do a bit of work outside of scout meetings but they have an opportunity to completed the basic required merit badges in a year or so. There is nothing easy about this system and our counselors have high expectations. There are no gi’mes in Troop 38! The system works for us.

      Earning the rank of Eagle is a personal journey and the pinnacle of a significant amount of personal growth. We have found that there is next strange phenomenon that happens with young Eagles because the leaders and other adults ask if they next intend to earn all the merit badges. My son had been working really hard on finishing (for years) the merit badges and was becoming frustrated because he had so much work that he really didn’t want to do – when I asked him a simple question. “Is this your goal?” To which he responded, “NO.” He wanted to help other scouts and do high adventure.

      I think that the bigger question is what to do with our young Eagles. In many cases they are too young for high adventure and they are coming off a track of high accomplishment. We have implemented the position of Troop Guide where the more accomplished scout helps younger scouts, webelos and even Cub Scouts. Likewise BSA has the Hornaday Program of which my son has just completed his Silver(#4), NOAA and STEM. Likewise there are Varsity and Venturing programs. Our challenge has become that we end up in a Lone Wolf scenario where scouts are forced to work alone because no one else is that interested in advancement at that level.

      Might I also make a suggestion?

      If you have a young Eagle add value to the Board of Reviews. These are high accomplished individuals who are not just going to pass off the next palm, they are seeking further direction and guidance. In my son’s last board he presented to a panel that included a fire firefighter and scouter who was not a direct report, a manager for a software company and a retired U.S. Marine. He walks into his board of reviews with a types overview of his scouting activities, goals, plans and service for 3 months and made a presentation. Then the questions got interesting and life mentoring began. He now has 4 year goals, college considerations and high adventure options. It is so important that we continue to build our boys and not stop at Eagle, because that is where opportunity starts.

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