The Boy Scouts of America is a youth program based on character development and values-based leadership training with the mission to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes. The organization reaches over 2 million youth between the ages of 7 and 21 throughout the United States and its territories.1
Scouting gives youth the opportunity to try new things, provide service to others, build self-confidence, and reinforce ethical standards. Values learned by the code of conduct taught to Scouts as the 12 points of the Scout Law benefit them while in the program as well as helping them as they continue into adulthood. The 12 points are: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.2
Scouting had its beginnings in the early 1900s in England. Robert Stephenson Smyth Baden-Powell was a British Army officer stationed in India who wrote a small handbook, Aids to Scouting, when he realized that his men did not know basic first aid or the simplest knowledge of survival in the outdoors. His handbook emphasized resourcefulness, adaptability, and the qualities of leadership needed in frontier conditions. He returned from the Boer War a hero for protecting the small town of Mafeking for 217 days. Back in England he was amazed to find that the little handbook he had written for his troops had gotten into the hands of English boys who were using it to play the game of scouting.3
Baden-Powell could see the possibilities of training boys, and in July of 1907 he tested his ideas by taking 21 boys to Brownsea Island for a two-week camping experience. The boys learned about camping, observation, deduction, woodcraft, boating, lifesaving, patriotism, and chivalry. It was a great success, and in 1908 he published his book, Scouting for Boys. Baden-Powell soon set up a central Boy Scouts office, designed a uniform, and registered new Scouts. By the end of 1908 there were 60,000 members, and troops began springing up in the British Commonwealth countries around the world.4
Interest in working with boys to give them outdoor skills had appeared in the United States with two organizations which were similar to Baden-Powell’s organization, but were not connected. Ernest Thompson Seton had organized a group of boys called the Woodcraft Indians, and Daniel Carter Beard named his group the Sons of Daniel Boone. The founding of Boys Scouts of America came about after an American businessman, William D. Boyce, learned about Scouting while on a trip to England in 1909. He had gotten lost in a fog and a boy offered to help him to his destination. Refusing to take a tip for his good deed, the boy explained that he was a Boy Scout and that he could not accept payment for a Good Turn. Boyce subsequently visited with Baden-Powell and returned to America with the vision of incorporating the Boys Scouts of America, which he did on February 8, 1910. With a group of like-minded men who worked to set up the organization, Seton became the first Chief Scout of the BSA and Beard was made the national commissioner.
The original Boy Scout groups were designed for boys 12 years of age and older. Because of the strong interest in younger boys to be Scouts, Baden-Powell designed a program for younger boys in 1914 based on Rudyard Kipling’s, Jungle Book. The Wolf Cub program began in 1916. In America as early as 1920 the executives of BSA began considering the possibility of a program for younger boys as well. The Cub Scout program was formally launched in 1930. The Cub Scout program had the distinction of being centered in the home and neighborhood with den mothers, dens, and packs.5
Today the Boy Scouts of America has programs for boys 7 through 21 years of age. Boys can enter the Tiger Cubs program at 7 years of age or in the first grade. Cub Scouts are for boys in the second through fifth grades who are 8, 9, and 10 years old. Webelos Scouts is specifically designed for 10-year-old boys to prepare them to transition to Boys Scouts. These first three programs are family- and home-centered programs designed to encourage the development of ethical decision-making skills as well as emphasizing character development, citizenship training, and personal fitness.
Boy Scouts is designed for boys aged 11 through 17 offering a vigorous outdoor program and peer group leadership with the counsel of an adult Scoutmaster. There are two programs for ages 14 through 21 (or 13 if they have completed the eighth grade) that allow young women to join as well. Sea Scouts builds character through high adventure with instruction and practice in water safety, boating skills, outdoor activities, social interactions, service experiences, and knowledge of America’s maritime heritage. Venturing is designed to provide positive experiences through meaningful youth-run activities that help them pursue their special interests, grow by teaching others, and develop leadership skills.6
The Boy Scouts program has a ranking system that allows the members to advance through the ranks after acquiring a number of specific skills. The ranks are Tenderfoot, Second Class, First Class, Star, Life, and Eagle. To advance through the ranks a Scout must pass specific tests that are organized by requirements and merit badges. To earn the highest advancement rank in Scouting, a Boy Scout must fulfill requirements in the areas of leadership, service, and outdoor skills. There are 136 merit badges available, and to qualify for Eagle Scout, a Scout must earn 21 of them. There are 13 required badges for Eagle Scout that include First Aid, Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, Citizenship in the World, Communication, Cooking, Personal Fitness, Personal Management, Camping, and Family Life. In addition, a Scout has a choice between Emergency Preparedness and Lifesaving, Cycling, Hiking, and Swimming, and Environmental Science and Sustainability.7
The Boy Scouts program offers many outdoor activities to its Scouts. There are camping opportunities that include weeklong summer camps, weekend overnight camping trips, and camporees that combine several troops for competitive events. Ten-day national jamborees are hosted every four or five years where more than 40,000 Scouts and leaders across the country participate in outdoor activities.8
The BSA operates national high-adventure bases and programs for more rugged experiences for older Scouts and Venturers. The programs at the Paul R. Christen National High Adventure Base at the Summit Bechtel Reserve in West Virginia offer rafting and kayaking; climbing, zip, and ropes courses; shooting sports; and mountain biking, skateboarding, and BMX. Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico has 34 staffed camps and 55 trail camps for high country camping and trekking. The Florida Sea Base in Florida and the Bahamas offers Scouts and Sea Scouts ocean adventures from a variety of water activities from scuba diving to sailing “tall ships.” The Northern Tier in northern Minnesota and Canada has offered wilderness canoe trips since 1923. Local councils also operate high-adventure bases with backpacking, canoeing, mountain biking, horse packing, mountain climbing, ski touring, rafting, kayaking, and other outdoor activities.9
Scouting is designed to be like an extension of the family instilling values into the youth through service projects and Good Turns helping them discover their place in the community. The character-building emphasis of the Boy Scouts is designed to help youth guard against negative peer pressure and steer them toward positive choices as they navigate their teen years.10 Their Scout Oath is: “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.”11
On May 2, 2018, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it will change the name of the organization to Scouts BSA to welcome older girls to join their clubs in February of 2019.12
- 1. “BSA at a Glance.” Boy Scouts of America. < http://scoutingnewsroom.org/about-the-bsa/at-a-glance/ > 14 June 2016.
- 2. “Benefits.” Boy Scouts of America. < http://www.scouting.org/Parent/Benefits.aspx > 14 June 2016.
- 3. “History of Cub Scouting.” Boy Scouts of America. < http://www.scouting.org/scoutsource/CubScouts/Parents/About/history.aspx > 14 June 2016.
- 4. “1908. Boy Scouts movement begins.” History.com < http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/boy-scouts-movement-begins > 14 June 2016.
- 5. Op. cit., “History of Cub Scouting.”
- 6. “Programs.” Boy Scouts of America. < http://scoutingnewsroom.org/about-the-bsa/fact-sheets/overview-of-boy-scouts-of-america/ > 14 June 2016.
- 7. “Eagle Scouts.” Boy Scouts of America. < http://scoutingnewsroom.org/about-the-bsa/fact-sheets/eagle-scouts/ > 14 June 2016.
- 8. “Types of Outdoor Activities.” Boy Scouts of America. < http://www.scouting.org/Parent/AdventureOfScouting/TypesOfOutdoorActivities.aspx > 14 June 2016.
- 9. “High Adventure.” Boy Scouts of America. < http://scoutingnewsroom.org/about-the-bsa/fact-sheets/outdoor-adventures/ > 14 June 2016.
- 10. “What to Expect.” Boy Scouts of America. < http://www.scouting.org/Parent/Benefits/WhattoExpect.aspx > 14 June 2016.
- 11. Op. cit., “BSA at a Glance.”
- 12. Salam, Maya. "Boy Scouts Will Drop the 'Boy' in Its Namesake Program, as It Welcomes Girls Next Year." The New York Times. 02 May 2018. < https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/02/us/boy-scouts-girls.html > 03 May 2018.