Give your advice to a parent whose son wants to drop out of Scouting

If your son told you tomorrow that he’s thinking of leaving Scouting, what would you say?

For “Dave,” a concerned parent from an East Coast troop, that’s no hypothetical question.

The parent, whose name I changed to conceal his identity, writes:

My son is 15 and has been in Scouting since he was a Tiger Cub Scout, and over the past year, has been increasingly vocal about wanting to quit. He’s not “passionate” about the majority of Scouting activities and is finding our large troop with many younger scouts (some with emotional issues) “a waste of time.”

I am an active committee member and have been strongly encouraging him to stick with it, but it’s getting to the point where I don’t know what to say or do to keep him in.

We’ve explained the benefits of attaining Eagle Scout and that if he drops out, we won’t continue spending money on his non-Scouting interests (sports camps, going to watch pro games, music concerts, etc). I don’t like this approach but feel strongly about him getting to Eagle.

I think we have a very good Scoutmaster and assistant Scoutmasters and a diverse variety of activities.

He’s a tremendous boy who does well in school, plays sports and music, and has many friends. Any advice to help me keep him in Scouting?

Based on Dave’s e-mail, it looks like there’s still time to keep his son in the program. But how?

What would you do?

How would you respond if your son said he’d like to quit? What should Dave tell his son to convince him to stay? Have you successfully “saved” a Scout who considered dropping out? Offer your advice by leaving a comment below.

Dave will be reading your comments — as will others in a similar predicament.

117 thoughts on “Give your advice to a parent whose son wants to drop out of Scouting

  1. I, an Eagle Scout myself, believe that it is the son’s responsibility to choose whether or not he wishes to become an Eagle Scout. Scouting did not just give me a fancy title, it gave me friends that will last a lifetime. Sit and talk with your son Dave and listen to his side and try to figure out where scouting has impacted his life. When this is complete, maybe offer him another path that remains in scouting but does not have to deal with the younger scouts that he sees as immature. Try Venturing, Varsity, or Sea Scouting. If your son becomes that leader in his troop, Dave, maybe a nomination into the Order of the Arrow. These other paths offer many experiences that often times do not involve the younger scouts and are fun and offer the opportunity to meet people from around the Nation and maybe even offer your son the opportunity to experience other cultures.

    • Outstanding answer, an Eagle Scout myself and a true believer in the program and what is does for youth and ultimately builds our future leaders, never give up on a scout who may have lost there interest, instead suggest alternative programs such as James said. Although there is usually the goal to make it to Eagle, That is not the most important aspect of the program. The values, leadership skills, and responsibility are. In this case, he may just need to be challenged, as I did. A single challenge to become involved in other aspects and take on responsibility within the troop propelled me to the end. I am still actively involved in the troop and am often found doing volunteer work at our councils resident summer camp. Just because, I believe in the program, It works.

      • I agree with James and Matt. It sounds like older boy programs would be best at this point. He may well come back to the troop later. In addition, if your son is 1st Class or above, he can continue to work toward Eagle in the Sea Scout program (he still must complete his ranks by age 18 though). My son faded out of Scouting for about 6 months at one point and then came back stronger than ever. Sometimes you just need a break, but beware, it can be hard to get started again the longer the break!

  2. Try to find some young men in their 20’s that can relate what it has meant to them to have achieved the rank of eagle. Parents are often the least effective source of inspiration on this subject when a kid has “made up their mind”. A good example is someone that has gone in the service and got the automatic grade increase because of it.

  3. Wow! For the longest time I thought I was the only one with that problem! When My eldest son was about 15, he started withdrawing from scouting. He made Star, and was almost complete with Life requirements and he wanted to drop out. I was involved with the troop and local counsel. Most of his buddies had made Eagle. As much as I pushed and threatened him… He was just not into it. I do realize the honor it is to be an Eagle scout, to be counted with other great leaders, and I will say that it is a worthy goal to achieve! But lets face some facts. Not attaining Eagle will not make your son less of a man. I love my son regardless of what he has done and I respect him for the works and feats he has accomplished in life, on his own, with a proven work ethic. None of the scouts with Eagle badges from that troop can boast a better station in life than can my son.

    So, is it solely for the sake of finishing what was started that a father wants his son to get that Eagle badge? Remember that pride goeth before the fall! Is it perhaps dad wants that badge more than Jr.? What’s really important here? In my case, I think I discovered that my son doesn’t have to be a ME 2.0. All I ask is that he does his best.

  4. I don’t worry about boys making eagle, I worry about them becoming leaders.

    If the boy has achieved that, let him move to whatever interests him. But the interests better exist before he leaves.

    If there aren’t any, go the other route. My sons troop has a cc who complains all the time that he works “for himself” by staffing NYLT, day camp, resident camp for cub scouting, going to jamboree, etc. We aren’t rich, but we sacrifice for him to go to the things he needs to achieve. He also is active in band and jazz band and in honors classes now that he’s in school. The further he gets into school, the more meetings and outings he misses. They plan big trips every other year but we don’t go because he has the other events and they also expensive. Did I mention we aren’t rich?

    He’s proving that doing everything only for the unit isn’t what matters as much as living the 12 in all aspects of your life. If he achieves Eagle, all the better, but while I am encouraging it it doesn’t determine everything in scouting for him, nor should it. I remember a youth when I was a boy had been tenderfoot for several years, and was just about to got osecond class. But he was happy and having fun. And we, as a patrol, encouraged, but didn’t push him.

    Should it be any different for any other boy?

  5. A few years back I attended the 50th anniversary celebration of the troop in which I had been active while a Scout. While meeting and sharing stories with old friends, I encountered a young man (OK, we had both been young at one point) who had just missed earning his Eagle Scout rank. He started the conversation by apologizing. He apologized because I had once been his Patrol Leader and SPL, and he felt that he had let me down by not completing his Eagle Scout rank advancement. I stated that the process was a journey, and he had been an active and integral part of the journey for many Scouts and Scouters. My friend stated that he felt ashamed now when he told people where he first learned about his values. He said that people would assume that he was an Eagle Scout by the way that he spoke about the influence of Scouting on his life. My friend would always correct the listener, stating that he had not quite earned the Eagle Scout award.
    He still carries the guilt of missing the advancement 25 years after we aged out of being Scouts.
    You truly get to be the master of your own destiny in life. You decide what to do, who to do it with, and what you learn from each experience. I think my friend learned the lessons that Scouting had to teach him, but he did not earn the rank that is instantly recognizable by the general public as a mark of distinction. He performed well, and was a great mentor for younger Scouts, but cannot claim that he is an Eagle Scout. Ask your son “What do You want to do instead of Scouts?” If they have learned what they can from Scouting, and they have a constructive idea for how they will spend their time (instead of Scouting) then support them, but advise them that Scouting is always available to them.
    Whatever your son’s reason, listen to him. Work with him. Help him understand that you want what is best for him.
    Scouting is fun, with a purpose. Scouting is not the only place where a youth can learn leadership, self-reliance, solid values, and a vast array of life skills. However, adults who were active Scouts (Eagle Scouts or no) have proven that they are more likely to take on leadership, be active in their community, and be active with youth programs such as Scouting. However you slice it: time involved, monetary cost, or opportunities lost because of participation in Scouting; Scouting tends to provide the most to gain for the amount of resources required. Those who participate in the program who go on to earn its highest honor receive motivation and a pedigree that can last well into their adult years.
    The choice belongs to your son: a life with a nagging regret of what could have been, or weathering the current storm in order to enrich his Scouting experience. The choice is his, as will be the rewards.

  6. I can’t speak to what other parent do, but with our children, we discuss the nature of a commitment. When they “join” anything, sports, scouts, etc. our requirement is they honor their commitment. Our son started Scouts as a second year Webelos. We had the discussion that if he started, he had to finish the year out as a Webelos. Then when he crossed over, the discussion happened again, what were his goals, what was his plan… if it was to hang out and have fun… then we would have invested our time accordingly, but our son’s goal was to become an Eagle Scout. We covered the amount of responsibility and commitment he would have to have and he agreed. We make no excuses in our house about them “only being children, and they can’t be expected to commit at that age.” We say why not, when are you old enough to commit to a goal and see it through? So in our case, when our son starts grumbling about going to a meeting, or not wanting to participate (which doesn’t happen often) our response is, “finish up your Eagle requirements…. then you can move on…. ” But, if you don’t have those conversations, and have a conscious decision to commit, your options are few, because if they truly don’t want to be there, and don’t have a purpose and a goal… they will move on, whether they are still physically there or not…

    • I think this is a fine idea, but how do you teach them to re-evaluate goals then? Things in life that are outside of our control can change the way we look at, and value our goals.

  7. You are not wrong to insist that your son stay in scouting. Just as you are not wrong to insist that he stay in school or get a job or go to college. This is your job as a parent: to guide your child in the path that he should go until he is old enough to choose his own path. I knew a boy whose enthusiasm for scouting waned at this age. His father insisted that he earn the eagle award before he could have his drivers license. The young man failed to earn the award by his 16th birthday even though all his friends had. He was the only 16-year-old left in the troop, but he was the only 16-year-old without a license, so he buckled down, made some hard choices and got it done. I plan on using the same incentive for my sone. He is stubborn enough to test me, but if he doesn’t drive ’til he’s 18, that will be okay with me. Driving is dangerous.

  8. He prob. wants to drop b/c of the lift of the ban of Gays, If I was still in scouting i would walk out too. I dont know why in the world that the Delegates would vote this way.

  9. Almost 10% of the kids in the small scout troop I belonged to as a boy made Eagle.

    The kid who got the most out of it was a First Class Scout who was still involved and having a good time in his mid teens.

    I really like Karen W and Tom Petrick’s answer’s, though.

  10. I am my troop’s Committee Chair, my husband is an ASM, my oldest son is an Eagle, my father is an ASM, my mother is the committee secretary, and my brother is an Eagle. My youngest son wants nothing to do with scouting. He’s a first class scout. Part of the problem is that he’s living in his brother’s shadow. Part of the problem is that the troop has grown quite a bit and has gotten much louder and rowdy (triple the number of youth and yes – it gets louder and rowdier). We keep him involved in activities with a close group of friends outside of the troop. He is going to Jamboree this summer.

    We are going to revisit the issue of scouting after Jamboree. I think we are at the point of finding him another troop – smaller, quieter, calmer – one that fits him a little better. I know this sounds weird, but a friend has a Jewish troop that he really likes. They meet on Sundays every other week.

    Talk with your son – really drill down to what the problem is. My first suggestions would be a venture patrol with an older age and rank requirement. It’s very, very hard on the older scouts to be constantly expected to do all the leadership and never just be scouts. They need activities that are geared towards their skill level and that they don’t have to constantly be the leaders/teachers. Venturing is definitely an option if you have a good strong active crew. Also, district training teams, OA, NYLT staff, etc. are oppurtunities for him to shine away from the troop and away from the younger scouts.

    Please know that yours is not a unique problem. Some units do a better job than others – holding on to their older scouts.

    But, at the end of the day – they have to want it a whole lot more than we do.

  11. As an outsider “not in scouting”, I can give you a different perspective. We allowed our children to try many activities (scouts included). Each came with the commitment that you start what you finish. They were not to quit, whine or complain. When that season completed we reevaluated what they wanted to do and why. How do we know what their true passions and talents will be unless we let them try new things. As valuable as some things may be to us, it may not be the same for them. If you have a good kid and they want to try new things, why not? I have seen kids that the parents slot into a specific sport or activity because mom or dad did it or because mom or dad thinks that is where they should be. Sadly, I have seen how miserable some of these kids are and have seen how this hurts the relationship with the parents. Sounds like you probably have a pretty good kid. Maybe finding out why he feels this way is a good place to start. I personally don’t agree with forcing it, judging them negatively for wanting something different or punishing. Good luck. I am sure things will work out well.

  12. I am proud to say that our son has just received approval to do his Eagle Scout project. It has been quite the pull to get him this far, and at 16, he finally understands the overall value of becoming an Eagle Scout. We have withheld his testing for his driver’s license until his Eagle project is completed. This has been a great motivator. We have explained that this is a once in a lifetime opportunity that he needs to see to the end inorder to appreciate the future pay-off. That said, I encourage your son to take on a leadership role within the troop and to mentor those he finds immature – he was their age once and can better understand their their need for goal setting, etc. We encourage our troop members to really apply themselves to learning their survival skills because it will be the local Boy Scout(s) that the neighbors will be calling on to help with tying the knott that secures the protection tarps and outdoor cooking skills should a disaster disrupt their neighborhood and lifestyle. Our nation needs more accomplished scouts – continue your encouragement.

  13. I am a parent of a UK Scout son who wishes to leave. I support his decision entirely, not because he has lost interest but because as a young adult he has to start taking responsibility for his decisions as early as possible in life. He may live to regret the decision but that will only serve to make him think harder about future choices I believe. I am ex army so fully understand the ideals behind commitment but at the end of the day it wouldn’t be fair on the rest of his group if his lack of commitment were to interfere with their progress. No parent should EVER force their children to continue leisure time activities simply because of the emotional and financial commitment of the parents and to punish your kids because they don’t understand or agree with YOUR enthusiasm for a subject is simply not the right way forward to raising a child.

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