Growing up today can be confusing for youth of any age. There is a long list of things competing for their attention, and with sports, band, and school clubs, it’s little wonder why Scouting might take a back seat, especially if it’s not fun, adventurous and fulfilling for the young boy. Tom Harrington, the BSA’s Western Region Director, wants us to understand how Cub Scouting can make a difference in a boy’s life, in his character, and in how he will grow into adulthood, but only if the program is truly engaging.

Harrington was instrumental in getting Scouting included in the largest study ever in America for the age group that matches Cub Scouts. It is part of a broader study of Positive Youth Development led by a team with Dr. Richard Lerner, the director of the Institute for Applied Research in Youth Development at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, at its helm. This study is funded by a five million dollar grant from the Templeton Foundation to Tufts University.

Dr Lerner 2
Dr. Richard Lerner, Tufts University

In August, Dr. Lerner reported the team’s findings at BSA’s Top Hands Meeting in Dallas. He called his research the Character and Merit Project (CAMP).  His team measured 11 character attributes over three years in 3,000 Cub Scouts and 1,000 other boys in the Cradle of Liberty Council based in Philadelphia. These youth were among those most at risk and underprivileged in the Philadelphia area. Researchers wanted to see the impact of our programs on character and positive youth development in that age group.

Lerner stated: “At the beginning, there were no significant differences in character attributes between Scouts and non-Scouts.” As the study went on, however, results showed a 20 point improvement in those who participated in Cub Scouting for only a few months as opposed to similar boys who participated in youth sports programs over the same period. The more a boy was engaged in Scouting the better the gains in character.Scouting works

Lerner explained that the study shows that Scouting matches perfectly with the overall developmental needs of children in five areas: Caring, Connection, Competence, Confidence, and Character. He referred to these collectively as the 5-Cs:

  • Caring—Scouts are taught to be a friend to all and to do a good turn daily, to be helpful and give service without being asked.
  • Connection—Scouts are first part of a unit, that is part of a community, in our country and the world brotherhood of Scouting. As they become part of each of these communities, their connections grow.
  • Competence—From Tiger skills to Wolf and on the trail to Eagle, basic skills move to advanced proficiency and competencies for life.
  • Confidence—Scouts start small but do age-appropriate “hard things.” They are engaged in new activities and adventures where they can test their abilities and grow in confidence.
  • Character—The CAMP study shows a solid improvement among Cub Scout boys in traits like helpfulness, trustworthiness, reverence in life, and hopefulness toward the future; essentially mapping these traits to the Scout Law or character for life.

He went on to share a summary of his findings from the CAMP study of Cub Scouting’s impact on character development:

Change in Character

Attending meetings regularly matters for character development.

More time in Scouting, better outcomes for character development.

Engaging Scouts in the program is the key to character development.

Although higher intensity (frequency of attendance) and duration (length of time registered) are important, engagement (interest, effort, and enjoyment in participation) is associated most with character development!

Further highly-engaged youth participating in highly-engaged Packs reported the highest character attributes!

He explained how researchers collected quantitative data from more than 3,000 Scouts and a comparison group of 1,000 youth between the ages of six and 10 years.  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”

Notable findings for Leaders and Parents

  • Attendance Matters:  Scouts who attend meetings regularly report higher trustworthiness, helpfulness, kindness, thriftiness, hopeful future expectation and self-regulation, better grades, and a better connection with nature vs. Scouts who “sometimes” or “rarely” attend.
  • Tenure Matters: More time in Scouting means better outcomes for character development. Increased tenure results in higher levels of trustworthiness, intentional self-regulation, hopeful future expectation, and better grades
  • Scoutreach Matters: reaching out to youth of other ethnicities, faith or income status makes all the difference in the character development of all participating youth.  These youth reported having higher religious reverence, cheerfulness, intentional self-regulation, kindness, thriftiness, hopeful future expectation, trustworthiness, and helpfulness than less-engaged Scouts.
  • Engagement Matters Most: Engaging Scouts in the program is the key to character development. Scouts who are more engaged in the program are more cheerful, helpful, and kind, and have higher future expectation and intentional self-regulation.

Each and every day we get to see the positive influence Scouting makes in young people’s lives,” said Michael Surbaugh, Chief Scout Executive, Boy Scouts of America. “And while we weren’t surprised by the study’s results, it is great to be able to quantify the impact of the program and show parents the value of participation.

Effective Leaders Implicitly Understand Positive Youth Development

In addition to collecting data from youth in the study, researchers surveyed parents, Scouters and other adult leaders and council executives to gain a deeper understanding of how the BSA program influences character.  Lerner reported: “Council, District, Pack and Scoutreach leaders identified core processes through which they positively influence youth: facilitating supportive youth/adult relationships and providing opportunities for Scouts to develop and apply various life and leadership skills across contexts.”

He also explained how the different facets of the program helps build character, life skills, and positive goals among Cub Scouts. Essentially his message was that youth today that join Cub Scouting will be better prepared citizens with moral fiber and capacity. He said that he believes his research in Positive Youth Development has reaffirmed the importance of Scouting.

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. You can learn more about the study at

Have you seen Cub Scouting make a difference in the life of a boy?


  1. Avatar
    Tennys Bird says:

    I knew that Scouting worked and now this study proves it! I already knew it worked because I have seen firsthand the effects it has had in my home. My sons participated fully in the Scouting program and have grown up to be amazing contributors in society. They give service and help others without being asked, they are trustworthy, kind and obedient. Not only has Scouting had a positive effect on my sons but it has also been a positive influence on my husband and myself. As leaders the things we have taught have been more firmly established in our lives. The Scouting program when done correctly influences lives for the better!

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