Spirit, Science, and Health

Spirit, Science, and Health

Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

by Thomas Plante, Ph.D.

Should all boys become boy scouts?

Reflections on 100 years of Boy Scouts in America

Published on August 1, 2010 byThomas G. Plante, Ph.D., ABPPinDo the Right Thing

As you might know, Boy Scouts in America turns 100 this month with a 45,000 scout jamboree celebration occurring in Virginia this weekend. My question is should all boys today become boy scouts?

I must admit that I was very skeptical when my son wanted to join cub scouts with some of his friends a number of years ago. I was never a boy scout myself and my wife and I thought that it was a right-wing, homophobic, para-military organization stuck in the 1950's. Plus you hear about pedophilia troubles with scouting as well as not letting boys who won't profess belief in God or who are homosexual in the organization. Five years later, my now 14-year-old son is fairly close to becoming an eagle scout and is currently completing a 75 mile backpacking trip with his troop in the high sierra mountains of Northern California. I could not be more pleased and proud.

Of course any scout troop can only be as good as the adult volunteer leadership and my son is in a remarkable troop with amazing adult leaders. It certainly has become the most important and best extra- curricular activity he has participated in thus far in his young life. Why am I so impressed? There are many reasons but perhaps what really impresses me is the boy scouts focus on ethics and values, service to the community, and developing practical and leadership skills for life. Unlike youth sports that are so popular today, scouts is about cooperation and not competition. There are no cuts in that all boys are welcome and you can participate as much or as little as you wish. You get out of the experience what you put into it. Ethics, service, and skill development are highlighted in multiple ways. So is fun.

My son is spending about a full month backpacking through the high sierras in California this summer without any distracting technology. He has to learn to help care for the younger scouts and manage without really any creature comforts. He has done many 50+ mile backpacking trips over the past 4 years. He loves it. He appreciates nature and the need for conservation and sustainability. He enjoys helping the younger scouts. He can happily be without creature comforts and technology for weeks at a time. And very importantly in today's culture, he can be at peace with silence. He has learned more about ethics and values in scouts than through sports, school, religious, and other activities and organizations.

And what about the pedophilia, homosexuality, and atheist issues? I don't know about other locations but I just haven't seen any evidence of these troubles or discrimination of any kind. These seem to be non-issues at least at my local level.

Sadly, fewer and fewer boys are joining boy scouts. Perhaps this trend is a big mistake. While scouts might not be for all boys, there are few organizations today that are able to teach character development, ethics, values, and leadership skills that is very low cost (practically free) and willing to take all comers. Although highly skeptical at first, I've become a very big fan of scouting. Assuming that the adult leadership is excellent, all boys should consider scouts as part of their extra-curricular activities. They can learn valuable life lessons and skills that are often hard to obtain in today's world.

In my view, young men learning to do the right thing is easier to do by active engagement in scouting.

So, Happy Birthday Boy Scouts of America! May you grow and prosper in your next 100 years.

Thank you for what you have given to our community and nation. Thank you for what you have given to my son.

Thomas G. Plante, Ph.D., ABPPis the Augustin Cardinal Bea, S.J. University Professor and professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and adjunct clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine. He has served as psychology department chair, acting dean of the school of education, counseling psychology, and pastoral ministries, and director of the spirituality and health institute at Santa Clara University. He recently served as vice-chair of the National Review Board for the Protection of Children and Youth for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and is past-president of the Society for the Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (Division 36) of the American Psychological Association.