Today’s kids are bombarded with choices when it comes to extracurricular activities. 

Their options range from martial arts to music and choir programs, competitive dancing to a multitude of sports (one for each season) to an explosion of educational and non-profit STEM clubs.

Many benefits come because of these extra activities, but the demand for children’s time has caused some researchers and child health experts to wonder if we are stressing our kids out by over planning their after-school time. 

On the other hand, we have a more sedentary culture with some kids who never get out, who prefer to spend all their leisure time indoors with video games and movies, surfing the web and texting their friends.

Some kids even balk at vacations and events such as Disneyland, preferring to stay home and battle it out on the next release of Destiny or some new gaming system.

The dichotomy of over planned kids against sedentary do-nothing kids is more striking than ever. It can make a parent wonder if youth development programs such as Scouting are worth pursuing with so many other things competing for their time in such a wide range of interests. To some, Scouting just seems broken. Just how beneficial is Scouting for today’s youth? Why would a parent wish to enroll their youth in this program, and what would motivate them when there are so many options?

The TUFTS Camp Study

That’s what a Tufts’ researcher, Richard Lerner, attempted to find out in his landmark study in the Philadelphia beginning in 2012. Lerner looked at the effects of Cub Scouting on youth by comparing them to non-Scout youth over a two and half year period. While many activities seemed beneficial or provided an outlet of fun, adventure, and friendship for kids, they wanted to see if programs such as Scouting had a lasting impact on values-development as compared to non-Scouts. Some of these values included:

  • Hopefulness
  • Obedience
  • Cheerfulness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Religious Reverence

The results of the study were rather striking as you can see by the graphics listed below:

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This study was reviewed at the Boy Scout Top Hands conference in the summer of 2015. While received well, there was a concern that the public wouldn’t be able to access or digest the results.

That’s when Dr. Ben Call of Pocatello, Idaho began considering the study and developing some tools to tell the story to different audiences. Being in a heavily religious population, Dr. Call was interested in the religious element of the study, results that hadn’t been emphasized during the release. In working with Dr. Lerner’s team, they expanded the results presentation to include some of the most telling evidence for the value of Scouting among religious communities.

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In this slide, religious reverence is defined as 1) a desire to pray and 2) enjoying reading stories from my religious faith. The big takeaway was the marked difference in the downward decline of religious reverence between Scouts and non-Scouts among religious institutions. There was also a slight increase for Scouts in religious reverence when they were sponsored by non-religious intuitions such as a civic club. If parents are comparing the kinds of activities that can attract their youth, Scouting may provide some great benefits (if done correctly), to the values they wish to instill in their youth, including building the testimonies of their faith.

One other benefit to note was the comparison between Scouting and Sports. While sports may provide great social value for youth, the study noted that it also had some negative side effects.

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When combined WITH Scouting, sports programs showed the greatest benefit for sports-oriented youth, with the ability counteract some of the negative side effects of doing sports only.

Feedback

Charles Dahlquist, the current BSA Council Commissioner and past LDS Stake YM President has also used this presentation to great effect. He states:

“So, why should I enroll my son in Scouting?”  The Tufts University study and this wonderful presentation provided by Dr. Ben Call and the BSA Grand Teton Council answer that question in a straightforward manner, — which also answers the questions parents may have about sports and how the benefits of involvement in Scouts AND sports benefit their sons.  The statistics related to the impact of Scouting in faith-based units in the area of spiritual development are particularly sobering and helpful.  I give the presentation “two thumbs up” and encourage all volunteers and professionals to view at least the shorter version – and, if you want more – the longer version.  It is critical for those involved in membership and fund raising within the BSA.” 

Conclusion

With so much at stake today, with all that vies for the attention of our kids, it may surprise some, but Scouting, when run properly with strong support from leaders, simply works! We must help parents in our communities understand that it’s more than just camping, silly songs, and merit badges. It is a proven and effective program that changes lives while sustaining religious reverence.

For more information on the study, videos and presentations can be viewed at www.tetonscouts.org/tuftsstudy.

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Peter Brown
he is Chief Financial Officer and Business Manager at Grand Teton Council, Boy Scouts of America. In other councils he has been Council Program Director, IT Director, Webmaster, and Camp Director for several camps and High Adventure Bases. He is a CPR instructor and marketing whiz.

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