Anyone involved in Scouting can tell you a story about the time they accidentally flipped their canoe, became lost navigating a new trail, or ruined their patrol breakfast when cooking pancakes for the first time. In fact, it’s not uncommon for someone recounting these misadventures, usually with a wink, to say that they, “build character.” Well, in Philadelphia, we’re taking a close look at just what it means when we say that Scouting builds character, and how we can use this knowledge to continue to improve the nation’s premier youth development organization as it enters its second century.
Over the past three years, the Cradle of Liberty Council has been afforded the unique opportunity to measure the impact that Scouting has on character development in our youth like never before. Through a grant by the John Templeton Foundation, we have partnered with the youth development experts at Tufts University to pioneer a new way to measure character in Cub Scout-aged youth as well as to evaluate what aspects of the Scouting program have an impact on these traits. At the conclusion of the study, we’ll be able to address important questions like whether participants in Cub Scouts have higher levels of character than their non-Scouting peers, what parts of the Scouting program best promote character development, and of course, is Cub Scouting an exemplary character development program?
The principal investigator for our research study is Dr. Rich Lerner: the author of over 500 scholarly publications and editor or author of over 70 books on youth development, as well as the recipient of this year’s “Lifetime Contribution to Developmental Psychology Award” by the American Psychological Association. Through working with Dr. Lerner, we have come to understand that positive youth development relies on the interaction between a young person’s individual strengths, and those resources that exist around them which utilize these strengths (such as through the opportunities Scouting provides to be a leader or perform service, to form positive connections with adults, and to develop life skills like problem-solving, goal-setting, and teamwork).
That’s a lot to take in, but it’s important to understand how we can provide as impactful a program as possible for our Scouts! Not to mention, we need to give our leaders the training and resources they need to deliver on the promise of Scouting.
Now, you may be wondering just what we mean when we say, “positive youth development,” in Scouting! Briefly, we describe it as: compassion for others and the natural world, competence in academic, social, or cognitive skills, confidence in one’s self-worth and one’s decisions, connection in the form of positive bonds with other people and institutions, and character in a sense of morality, integrity, and virtue.
Scouting, as it turns out, is the ideal place to foster these five C’s of positive youth development. As Scouts learn new skills, they gain competence in new arenas and confidence in themselves. The guiding presence of adult leaders and an opportunity to perform service builds a connection to different parts of a young person’s world and instills a sense of compassion for others. And of course, the all-encompassing presence of the Scout Oath and Law guides all of our actions and is a framework for living a life of character and virtue.
A young person with confidence in their actions informed by a strong sense of morality and a propensity for service is a powerful thing indeed! And that’s just what our Scouts are.
We’re very excited for the results of our study as it enters its final year, and we welcome any questions or comments as to what we’re working on!
Remember, Scouting is at its heart a character and leadership development program. Tying the perfect knot, pitching your tent correctly the first time, or enjoying an expertly prepared breakfast isn’t what counts. Encouraging problem-solving in the quest for a square lashing or bowline, teamwork in laying ground clothes and hammering in tent stakes, and perseverance in eventually learning when to flip your pancakes over is what really matters. After all, setting goals, overcoming challenges, and working well with others are what will prepare our Scouts for success in their lives.
Above all else, thank you for your continued support and enthusiasm as we work together to deliver the world’s finest youth development program. It’s your dedication as volunteers that makes the magic of Scouting possible for our youth.