Advancement, Parents & Pressure

Reprinted from

I’m an Assistant Scoutmaster and was recently contacted by a dad of a Scout who, after one year, is still at Scout rank.  It seems that his dad is looking for shortcuts, as many other Scouts have bypassed him and our recently added Webelos are already achieving their Scout rank.

Specifically dad asks: “Can I use a requirement for one merit badge to fulfill some requirements for others?  For instance, Citizenship In the Community requires a presentation and Public Speaking also requires a presentation.  Can I fulfill both requirements with one presentation?”

I don’t see where it says I can’t.  Perhaps a little guidance in this matter?

So the first thing I notice is dad is asking the question not the Scout. In fact, the dad phrases the whole question as if he is earning the merit badge.  But how should I answer this dad?  I looked in the Guide for Advancement and couldn’t find anything either.  I guess I could check back with the individual merit badge books.

Dads and moms can get a little overheated when it comes to their son’s advancement in Scouting.  Sometimes they can be gently dissuaded from this by a quiet reminder of who does what and why – sometimes not.  An important thing to remember is that a Scout should never be made to suffer for things beyond his control, and the attitudes and actions of his parents are usually beyond his control.

First off, let me state two things that may change your approach a bit:

  • Scouts cannot fall behind or be bypassed in advancement.  Scouts do things when they want, when they are ready.  Sometimes faster than others, sometimes slower, sometimes not at all.  Any one of those three is perfectly acceptable.  His fellow Scouts may be advancing faster but that is not a necessarily a reflection on his intelligence, interest, or engagement.
  • The fulfillment of merit badge requirements is a matter for merit badge counselors and not Scoutmasters or Assistant Scoutmasters.  What you need to know is how the process works rather than the answers to badge-specific questions.

So can a Scout use the same activity to satisfy two similar requirements?   You won’t find too many definitive statements or rules about this because, given the number of instances where a single activity could fulfill multiple requirements, it would be a very long rule indeed.  That’s why this matter (very wisely) is left for the merit badge counselor to determine on a case by case basis.  The Scout asks the merit badge counselor, and the counselor determines if the activity satisfies the requirement.  The question also comes up with using merit badge activities to satisfy rank requirements or vice-versa.  It’s up to the counselor or the person signing the requirement in the book to determine if a single activity satisfied multiple requirements.

Here’s an excellent statement about the  prime consideration of advancement  expressed in the Guide to Advancement 2011 you can share with this dad: Personal Growth Is Prime Consideration
Scouting skills—what a young person learns to do—are important, but not as important as the growth achieved through participating in a unit program. The concern is for total, well-rounded development. Age-appropriate surmountable hurdles are placed before members, and as they face them they learn about themselves and gain confidence. Success is achieved when we fulfill the BSA Mission Statement and when we accomplish the aims of Scouting: character development, citizenship training, and mental and physical fitness. We know we are on the right track when we see youth accepting responsibility, demonstrating self-reliance, and caring for themselves and others; when they learn to weave Scouting ideals into their lives; and when we can see they will be positive contributors to our American society.

Though certainly goal-oriented, advancement is not a competition.  Rather, it is a joint effort involving the leaders, the members, other volunteers such as merit badge counselors or Venturing consultants, and the family.  Though much is done individually at their own pace, youth often work together in groups to focus on achievements and electives at Cub Scout den meetings, for example, or participate in a Boy Scout campout or Sea Scout cruise.  As they do this, we must recognize each young person’s unique combination of strengths and weaknesses.  As watchful leaders, either adult or youth, we lend assistance as called for and encourage members to help each other according to their abilities.

Dad want’s to help, and that’s good.  He’s anxious about his son, and that’s pretty common.  Most Scouts go through a period of inactivity advancement wise – it’s no big deal but parents don’t always know that.  It’s difficult to redirect their efforts sometimes but most Scouts survive them.

I’d also have a  conference with the Scout.  Ask him what he hopes to do advancement wise, if he’s happy, etc.  I have had a lot of Scouts who just aren’t interested in advancement for a year or two who later go on to become Eagle Scouts – when they get it in their minds that it’s something they want to do, they can’t be stopped.

I’ve worked with many parents who I would consider to be overly involved in their son’s Scouting.  They usually calm down a bit if I can talk to them about the nature of Scout advancement, but sometimes I don’t get anywhere.  We are charged to work with our Scouts as they come to us.  We can’t change what happens at home.