Retention: Six reasons Scouts drop out and how you can prevent it

What’s the one thing the Scouting program can’t live without? Scouts.

The Boy Scouts of America offers the premier program for youth, but Scouts need the means and desire to stick around.

To help make that possible, I asked your fellow Scouters on Facebook this question:

What’s the biggest reason Scouts drop out of the program, and how can we as Scouters keep that from happening? 

So let’s explore both aspects by presenting six problems and your time-tested solutions.

PROBLEM 1: Sports and other after-school activities get in the way
SOLUTION: Be accommodating

“As a Scoutmaster, I have always encouraged balance. Scouting can work with/around band, orchestra, sports and other activities. We’re still around after the season is over!” (Ron S.)

PROBLEM 2: Your unit’s program has gotten stale
SOLUTION: Don’t do the same thing year after year

“[You need] a program that is boy-led and is dynamic with lots of variety and challenges. Doing a biking trip every summer is still okay, but go somewhere different each time. Don’t allow the program to become stale. If the program is strong, boys will want to do it.” (Janet J.)

PROBLEM 3: Lack of commitment from parents
SOLUTION: Get Mom and Dad invested from the start

“I see so many [Scouts] lose interest when their parents aren’t involved. My husband and I tell new parents that the success of their boy depends on them. When they see how much good the program is doing and the development of fine young men, they are more likely to get behind their boy and help them through the rough patches. When they make Scouts a priority then they succeed.” (Tricia B.)

PROBLEM 4: Poor fit between the Scout and his unit
SOLUTION: Help him find another pack or troop

“Leaders need to humble themselves, and if a family or boy need a change or the night is not a good fit, let them know about other troops or packs that might work out better. The important thing is that you are here for Scouting. ” (Eric T.)

PROBLEM 5: Scouting is too expensive
SOLUTION: Fill your year with money-earning projects and low-cost activities

“The best way to keep kids is have a fun, cheap program.” (Kay E.)

PROBLEM 6: It’s hard to reach today’s kids
SOLUTION: Get your leaders trained

“Training, training, training to empower our committee members, adult leaders, and everyone so they have the tools and resources to go to.” (Kim S.)
“Better training, more continuing education, cross-pollination of best practices are all ways to combat this.” (Skip T.)

Have any more problems or solutions? Leave a comment below.

39 thoughts on “Retention: Six reasons Scouts drop out and how you can prevent it

  1. Other problems are social politics among the adults and the kids become the victims of the fallout. I’ve seen this with so many units and even up to the council level. Other problems that cause kids to drop out is bullying that happens because they are scouts or in a very few cases by other scouts outside the actual unit where adults can or do monitor the behavior. In most instances however I have seen units torn apart over social politics far too many times where people have been forced to leave or left willingly and had a poor attitude about scouting programs forever after.

      • One son of mine had a great time as a Cub Scout. Looked forward to Boy Scouts. Two local troops, both with the same chartered organization. Both had, and still have, a “culture of bullying.” Leadership actually supported it — said it was important for the kids to learn to deal with it.

        I know it’s not the way it’s supposed to be, but now I have a kid who never wants anything to do with Scouting.

        • Wow…personally, I would be contacting the charter organization to “educate” them on the no-no’s of bullying…and ask them, point blank…”what are you going to do to stop this immediately” and then wait for an answer. No answer or an “I don’t know” or a “nothing” answer would result in my making a call to the council to have this CO and the 2 troops checked into, and maybe even have their charter revoked.

          This is spelled out in the Guide to Safe Scouting, and this kind of behavior is intolerable.

          If everyone wants to turn a blind-eye, then run it through National, and then watch the fireworks…

          Sorry things got spoiled for you and your son, Jim…hope it gets better

  2. A reason boys (older) drop out of Boy Scouts is because of the large age gap between new tenderfoots (11~12) and the older boys (15 and 16). In public schools, we separate the middle school youth from the high school youth and we need to do similar in Scouting. In all organized activities (sports, school ) we don’t mix 11 year olds with 15 and 16 yr olds, it should be the same with Scouting. One solution would be to cap the age of Boy Scouts to either 14 or 15. The youth would then have to join a Venturing unit if he is not finished with his Eagle requirements. We are also finding more Troops that limit leadership for the older youth(15-16), because they want to make room for the younger youth to have leadership opportunities. In essence, putting the older youth “out on the back porch.”

    • I could not disagree more! Scouts is the one place where you can see 16-17 year old working well with 11-12 year olds. If your 16-17 y.o.’s are good role models, why would you want to shoo them away?

      • I agree with you, Mark…separating scouts because of age is, well, wrong. Isn’t that the purpose of scouting? Interaction? But no interaction between the teenagers and pre-teens?

        There are so many opportunities for older scouts and younger scouts, to work together and apart.

        And as for leadership and wanting the young ones to get experience…I think that’s an excuse…there are enough opportunities in a troop for everyone to be a leader in some sort, ranging from SPL to Chaplain Aide…there is something for everybody in scouting.

        • “Isn’t that the purpose of scouting? Interaction?”

          NO, interaction is NOT the purpose of scouting.

          Our purpose is to teach the scouts to be better individuals.

          Interaction may be HOW we achieve this, but its NOT the purpose.

          But keep in mind that we DO have separations. We separate Cub Scouts from Boy Scouts. Even within Cub Scouts, we separate them into 3 groups: Tigers, Cubs, and Webelos. If we separate Cubs from Boy Scouts (except for the assistant of Den Chiefs and join events), why is it horrible to consider separating middle school youth from high school youth??? We do it already with minimum age limites for high adventure bases and similiar.

        • Agreed SM Shaun. If your troop is large enough, you need not send scouts to a Venture Crew for high-adventure. You can use a Venture Patrol within your Troop. They can plan higher-adventure activities on their own, or in conjunction with Troop-wide activities. For example they could be white-water rafting for the day while the younger members of the troop are canoeing on a lake. Maybe climbing a cliff face while the rest of the troop hikes to the top of the hill, meeting up for lunch. Either way, coming back together at the end of the day for a hearty meal and campfire where the younger scouts will hear of those adventures, and maybe be retained by looking forward to taking part in them once they are ‘of age’.

        • One of the main reasons I love Boy Scouts is specifically because the older and younger boys are together. The older boys miraculously get the younger boys to do things that they might be too timid to try on their own, and the younger boys inspire a culture of gentleness and caring in the older boys. What better training to be leaders and fathers in this world than that?

    • To the naysayers, this is how scouting is done in many other countries, including our neighbors to the north in Canada. Beavers (Tigers)-7, Cubs is for 8-10, Scouting is for 11-14. Venturing for 15-18, Rovers 18-25(?). One of the requirements is that you have to provide service to a local unit the next age bracket down, so Cubs help the Beavers, Scouts help the Cubs, etc.

      Then again, I doubt we’ll ever see it implemented here.

    • Wow. I was floored, I had to read this post twice.

      I have a Boy Led Troop. My older boys are in positions of leadership and ENJOY using the EDGE METHOD to teach the younger boys how to do various scouting skills.

      Being mentors to the younger boys also teaches them valuable lessons in leadership and actually helps them excel along their Eagle Path.

      It is VERY important to split the troop into patrols, have at least 2 Assistant Senior Patrol Leaders for your Senior Patrol Leader AND have a Patrol Leaders Counsel where the BOYS can choose the direction of the troop, not the adult leaders.

      As adult leaders we are here to empower the older boys and mentor them on how to mentor others.

      EDGE= Educate, Demonstrate, Guide & Enable. This is scoutings basic essence throughout the entire program. Following this model with a Boy Led Troop (the way LBP designed it) will lead to a group of boys and young men who mature, learn and grow TOGETHER as a team, or lets say…. A TROOP.

      Respectfully Submitted and Yours in Scouting……

      • When Scouting methods are applied, Scouting works… If older boy’s are being put out on the back porch the unit isn’t boy run, cause those older boy’s would be jumping off the porch for their next adventure in scouting. Seth, I aplaude your dedication to using the methods of scouting to provide a quality program and not expecting National to change the program to fit a troop…

    • In our troop, a cornerstone of our approach has been to encourage the older boys to lead the younger ones. This is built into the program, and we have found that, in practice, the troop benefits by having older, more mature Scouts take the reins of boy leadership. It is NOT easy for them — they often complain about inattention, wild behavior and lack of respect from the younger Scouts. We try to inculcate an idea of “pay it forward, pay it back.” That is, younger Scouts owe the older ones respect and cooperation, and in return, the older Scouts owe the younger ones leadership and mentoring. This is a real challenge for many boys in this day and age, when our society largely caters to passive, “entertain me” attitudes among young people. But if they can meet the challenge of leading younger boys, we feel that this is great preparation for later life.

      A key corollary to this approach is that we have developed a high adventure program within our troop for the older boys. They can look forward in high school to going to Philmont, Sea Base and regional (council) high adventure bases, giving them a chance to undertake greater challenges and hang out with their age peers. For things like hiking and backpacking, we often assemble an ad hoc venture patrol that will go farther and higher than the younger boys. We will often start out with the entire troop together, then the venture patrol will veer off on a more extended hike, etc. This establishes the older boys as leaders in terms of their outdoor skills and capabilities, giving them more credibility in mentoring the younger boys. And it gives the younger boys something to work toward and stay in Scouting for.

      I would not pretend that this works out perfectly. We still get boys tailing off in attendance for reasons of school and sports, and we still have younger boys who ignore their boy leaders. But we have managed to sustain and grow our membership over the past few years, and this approach seems to offer the best chance of success.

  3. All the above are true and we as Scouters need to do a better job of selling the program to the parents. As my Council’s Webelos-to Scouts Transition Chairman, I have seen a lot of Packs thathave no relationship with Troops. Scoutmasters asume that the Webelos are automatically going to come to their Troop. If there is no interaction between Pack and Troop, the boy will slip thru the cracks and will never continue on. Also, parent’s do not know how the process works. This is where the Commissioners need to be involved.

    • This is why we need to recruit more Commissioners. One job in Scouting is Unit Service = Commissioners. Commissioners solve problems for units, make these connections, provide training for leaders, start new units, and more.

      Scotty Drye, Assistant District Commissioner

  4. One of the greatest impacts for losing Boy Scouts from traditional Scout Troops is that when Scouts reach age 13-14 and enter high school, they are suddenly faced with a new set of competing teen interests (sports, band, girls, cars, etc.) and sometimes peer pressure from non-Scouts reflects negatively on their being a “Boy Scout” which may no longer be considered “cool.” Some may be “burned out” on advancement and younger Scout programs and activities and want more challenging and interesting opportunities.

    The largest membership attrition from traditional Boy Scout Troops typically occurs at about this age and upon entering high school, so it is very important to get the teenagers involved in Venturing, Sea Scouts, and Exploring to keep their involvement in Scouting strong.

    These programs are age appropriate and designed specifically for young men and women ages 13 (and completed eighth grade) through 20. Venturing is the fastest growing program in Scouting and promoting it to Boy Scouts, by helping them to find a Crew or organizing a crew or ship associated with the Troop is an excellent way to retain their membership in the Scouting Family.

    LFL Exploring offers career orientation experiential training in many fields such as law enforcement, health careers, business, science, aviation, law, government and much more which helps teens find out about possible career choices and thus to prepare for those choices before they graduate from high school. Some teens join both Venturing and Exploring units concurrently which appeal to their interests.

    In my experience, of more than 20 years with an Explorer Post and later a Venturing Crew and Sea Scout Ship associated with the Troop, nearly all of the Scouts who turned 14 and entered high school remained active in the Crew and Ship, and many chose to still help with leadership positions in the Troop, but enjoyed the benefits of membership and age appropriate activities in a coed Venturing Crew and Sea Scout Ship. Venturers plan and conduct their own activities of interest to the members with guidance from advisors when requested or for health and safety oversight.

    See the Venturing videos:

    The first is available at the top of the page; click on “What Venturers Do” which links to the two minute video produced by Venturers for Recruiting called “Hangin’ Out”

    The second video is at the bottom of the page; click on “If you are or were a Boy Scout-Watch This” which links to the video “Life Beyond Eagle–Venturing Works with your Troop”

    The third video is also at the bottom of the page; click on “Sea Scouting Video” which links to the video “Sea Scouts–Chart a Course for Life”

    There are also other video resources and examples of Venturing and Sea Scout Literature for your reference.

    Scoutmasters and others who may mistakenly view Venturing as “stealing boys” from their units, fail to realize that the young men would probably leave the troop regardless. By offering them an exciting option of Venturing and Sea Scouts, they are much more likely to actually remain in Scouting and may very well remain active in a meaningful role with the Troop because they can move on to a more challenging leadership and mentoring resource as a Venturer or Sea Scout teaching younger Scouts. Younger Scouts in turn are inspired by the older youth and look forward to becoming old enough to join Venturing and Sea Scouts, so it is a win-win situation.

    Venturing is the the most effective age-appropriate program for young men and women. In my experience with a crew and ship operated in conjunction with a troop for more than 20 years,Venturing/Sea Scouts was highly successful in keeping young men in Scouting. Some chose to remain active with and help the troop, but for those who did not, they generally remained active with the Crew and Ship often until they went off to college or other pursuits. Some even remained active while in college and would come back and help on Crew and Ship activities which was very helpful and appreciated by the younger crew members.

    Most of our Crew/Ship members told me they would have left the troop if it had not been for Venturing and Sea Scouts, which gave them a whole new opportunity to do challenging activities with young men and women of their own age, where they plan and conduct their own programs.

    Moreover, they were happy to contribute their talents and knowledge to the younger Scouts in the Troop as mentors and guides. Even some of our female Venturers would help out and teach first aid, wilderness survival and much more at Scout Troop meetings and campouts, particularly since they earned credit toward the Venturing awards of bronze, gold, silver and ranger when they taught various skills to others. The first Venturer to earn the Silver and Ranger Awards in our Council was a female and often outperformed her male colleagues in various competitions and skills.

    One of the reasons that the age requirement was lowered from 14 to 13 (and completed eighth grade) was to recruit young men and women into Venturing before they enter high school whenever possible.

    Crews and Ships can be concurrently sponsored by a Troop Committee and annual membership registration fees need only be paid once. For example, Venturers/Sea Scouts are primarily registered in the Crew/Ship and multipled in the Troop for those who wish to remain as Scouts. Adult Crew Advisors and Sea Scout Ship Skippers/Mates can also be primary in the Crew/Ship and multipled in the Troop. Committee members can serve concurrently for both the Crew/Ship and Troop.

    Scouts who have earned First Class rank may continue toward their Eagle Award in a Venturing Crew or Sea Scout Ship even if they choose not to remain active with the Troop.

    Venturers may earn the Bronze, Gold, Silver, Ranger, Trust, and Quest Awards, and Sea Scouts may earn Apprentice, Ordinary, Able, and Quartermaster awards all of which have great appeal to teens. Venturers and Sea Scouts often are not primarily motivated to earn awards, but rather enjoy the excitement of challenging and interesting crew and ship activities; however by a technique called “stealth advancement” an advisor will keep track of the activities that the youth participate in and document their involvement which concurrently applies toward completion of various award requirements. Then at appropriate times, the advisor informs the youth that they have qualified for most if not all of the requirements through their activity participation and need only participate in a review process by the Crew or Ship youth members to receive the awards which has been known to be very successful in rewarding the youth participation and inspires further progress.

    See Dr. Craig Murray’s excellent resource on Venturing for more details on the program

    • This sounds more like an advertisement about joining a Crew as opposed to retaining scouts.

      • We are retaining scouts: as Venturers in Venturing Crews (or Sea Scouts in Ships). They are still in Scouting. That should be more important then totally loosing them.

        • The problem though is removing the older-scout influence on the younger ones. If there are no 15+ scouts in the Troop, the younger scouts will see that as the norm and not the exception, making the next age group harder to retain. See my Venture Patrol post above.

      • With respect, my previous post is most certainly a “commercial” for Venturing and Sea Scouts, and specifically addresses the most effective way to retain older Scouts in Scouting and consequently for the Troop, as was explained in great detail!

        In my experience of many years, it is very difficult to retain older Scouts in a Troop without having an age-appropriate program that keeps their interest at a higher priority than the competing non-Scouting interests available to them.

        Contrary to some viewpoints, older Scouts do not have an “obligation” to remain in the Troop just to serve the younger Scouts. They primarily joined the program for what it would do for them, and they deserve to be provided with a program that continues to support their development and progress by effectively serving their interests and preferences. If that is not provided, they will move on and find other ways to meet those needs.

        If they have Venturing, they are far more likely to remain in Scouting and actually enjoy mentoring younger Scouts as it is a part of their requirements for earning Venturing awards and is something they choose to do rather than being required to do.

        If a Troop charters a Venturing Crew and/or Sea Scout Ship for their older Scouts, they provide those opportunities that appeal to teens and thus keep them in Scouting. The payoff is that the teens are far more likely to still be available and willing to provide leadership and mentoring to the younger Scouts.

        Venturing is exceptionally effective and is generally superior even to Venture Patrols which do not have the greater opportunities, flexibility, and venues that Venturing and Sea Scout programs can provide for teens.

        Troops that don’t provide those opportunities are far more likely to suffer the loss of substantial numbers of older Scouts to competing non-Scout interests. There are a few Troops that have viable older Scout programs that do retain their teenage members, but only because they make a great effort to serve their interests and needs.

        Why not provide the youth with a program that is specifically designed to meet the interests of teens and associate it with the Troop? It is an investment in the youth that will pay off in excellent older Scout retention through Venturing, and consequently their availability to lead, mentor and teach the younger Scouts.

        Baden Powell recognized the need to provide viable older Scout programs very early in the founding of Scouting, and thus Sea Scouts were organized shortly after Scouting was founded. He also addressed the importance of involving young women in the Girl Guide program which was directed by his wife, Lady Olave Baden-Powell.

        Venturing does not “steal” older Scouts, it keeps them in Scouting as opposed to losing them entirely. Try it, and you will see just how effective it can be. Talk to other Troops that have started associated Venturing Crews and Sea Scout Ships for the same reason.

  5. Sometimes Leaders follow a very structured meeting format. Guide lines are good but to make them Doctrin is Bad.Update the meetings to include high tech presentations and software interactions with Teams building Camradere. Active team spirit is what Scouting is all about. PS I was a Cub,Scout and den Leader

  6. High Tech like GPS,Survival skills,Disaster Preparedness,Life Saving First Aid,Emergency Communications,Local Disaster Teams are a few topics that may generate a desire to stay and be needed.

  7. In my old troop (about 50 scouts strong), we retained many of the older boys. (aged 14-18) We put all of the ex-SPL’s into the Leadership Corp. The L.C. acted like an older boys patrol. Their job was to advise the new patrol leaders and do SM approved leadership projects. After being in the L.C. a year or so, they should have planned 2-3 leadership projects on their own. The would finally work on their Eagle Scout Project and make comments like, “This was easy, I’ve seem to have done something like this before.”
    The L.C. would plan their own events and work independantly. They basically did the training with the younger boys, advise the boys leadrship, helped run stations at district events with a SM from another troop and help train up new adult leaders. They also worked with the OA and with the sponsoring organization on projects. We also farmed them out to smaller troops to help out when requested. Some even joined another troop and had dual memberships.
    In ending, we also had a great number of ‘young Men” that went off to college, military, and the workforce that continued their ties with the troop. They eventually became SM’s, husbands, Officers, and good citizens. They eventually come back to scouting with their sons and daughters.

    Seth is correct in how he runs a troop.

    How to retain boys? Train them up and let them go. Keep them busy. If you train them to lead, they will lead.

  8. I would suggest that number 6, “It’s hard to reach today’s kids,” is so vague as to be meaningless. Is the concern that “today’s kids” really aren’t interested in things like hiking, camping, and canoeing and so they drop out? Is the concern that the youth don’t put the same value on building their character that we adults do, so they drop out? Is the concern that the youth don’t understand the importance of uniforms, ranks, patrol flags, salutes, handshakes, and the other outward signs of Scouting, and so they drop out?

  9. I really agree with #5, but our council insists on the Money earning Form to be turned in “for approval.”
    They actually held up approving a pancake breakfast, as a hostage, for an unrelated issue to our troop. It all worked out, but our committee is fed up with council micro-managing. And with that issue, council is insisting we use online registration for events, and charging them in advance to somebody’s credit card. We are hard steering away from any council or district event that forces that issue, and it will have everlasting effects on FOS in the future.

    • Submission of the Unit Money Earning Form to the chartering organization and the council to be signed/approved by them both before the event is a BSA National requirement. That’s covered/discussed in all of the basic (position-specific) course curricula.

  10. For our small town troop the retention issue is not keeping the boy’s interested in scouting. The issue is their home life. In the past year we have literally lost half of our membership due to families that are here one day and gone the next. Financial melt downs, drugs, arrests, and more are the rule not the exception. Guys who are at a scout meeting one day, but the next the family has moved out during the night, without a single word about leaving. It has come to the point that we have a core of boy’s who are the troop, and even these guys understand that we have 6 months to work with most of the boy’s who come into the troop before something goes wrong in their family life and the are gone forever. Scouting can not fix all these issues, but even if we have 1 hour in a boy’s life we have the opportunity to plant something solid into their lives, and if you ask the boy’s in our troop they will tell you we have an obligation to do this (they just may use different words LOL).

  11. Boys join scouting because of a lack of adventure in their life… and they leave Scouting for the same reason! Make sure you have a good program that is planned by the boys

  12. This post originally started by listing some of the main reasons boys left a troop. Through all the discussions, it appears that all the above mentioned reasons are still valid.

    If your troop is losing members, maybe you need to rethink your program…

    Venturing Crews are growing membership. Troops are generally losing membership.

    BTW – a Venturing Crew is not the same as a ‘venture patrol” NOT by a long shot..

    –Just my $2. worth as a former Cubmaster, former troop scoutleader and now Crew adviser and District leader..

  13. Only one reason. Put the Scouts in charge. They must own their Troop. From 11 years old to 17 years old. If they don’t own it, then they move on at about 14 years old.

    If your Troop is led by the Scouts, then only the young men who don’t want to be Scouts will leave. Nothing that you can do about that.

  14. In our case it is a matter of “Boy Run & Boy Led” but no coaching on leadership occurs for the maturing scout resulting in the younger and middle scouts feel like they are being bossed around. It is sad too, since the leaders are their own little group and refuse to listen to other newer parents suggestions.

  15. My son and I joined cub scouts for the past 6 months, but recently dropped it. The primary reason is due to our expectations not matching up with current scouting reality. SImply put, we thought scouting was about, well, scouting. Camping, hiking, learning about survival skills, tracking, fishing, outdoor skills. Apparently, that is only about 5% of the activities these days. We spent 90% of the time doing stuff I would never have equated to scouting. And it’s all about the activities with no time allocated for the kids to just have fun. We went on one outdoor weekend – semi-camping experience, that was the highlight of our time there. But even with that, there was not a single moment where the kids were allowed free time to just chill and enjoy nature. The weekend opened with a night hike through the woods. My son’s trying to listen for owls and animal noises, looking for tracks, observing the stars, whereas everyone else acted like it was a forced military hike to be done at the fastest pace possible and constantly yelling to my son and I to keep up. That was sort of representative of our experience as a whole . . . too occupied with achieving check marks on a log, belt loops, and badges to enjoy it all. I knew parents have removed the innocent and easy fun out of most recreational sporting leagues out there. But when did scouting get hijacked away from it’s original purpose? And why is it so expensive? Shouldn’t scouting be accessible to all income levels? Now I need to find someplace that’s interested in hiking, camping, fishing, and nature without having to walk through grocery stores to learn about budgeting money.

  16. “Morally straight” We lost half our troop when the national organization forgot that the scouts are based on the judeo-christian ethic and they allowed openly gay scouts. Several adult leaders and their kids, over half our local troop, left because this rule promotes biblically amoral behavoir. My troop is not alone in this. Several other troops from our area have similar losses.

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