Where Does The Adult Fit Into A Boy Led Program?

I spend a lot of time beating my head against a wall in frustration over misconceptions of what the scout program is. I’m trying to build the scouts in our troop into leaders and am slowly moving us into the realm of ” Boy Led”. One of the largest challenges I face is the misunderstanding that the way we used to do things, or the way many times we do things now, was what I would consider boy led. Boy led is not when an adult tells a youth leader what to do and what to say and who to say it to and when. That is adult led, maybe using Explain, Demonstrate or Guide from EDGE Training, but definitely not using Enable.

For some reason, with some volunteers, any explanation by me of the concept of Boy Led is understood to mean “adult bereft” in which the adult is expected to turn a blind eye to misbehavior or safety concerns. These same adults are the first to criticize the boys for being “out of control” or some other nonsense. So, I found this nugget from BSA which I’m now sharing with others in hopes that it better explains the adult role than I have ever been able to.

Associations With Adults—Boys learn a great deal by watching how adults conduct themselves. Scout leaders can be positive role models for the members of the troop. In many cases, a Scoutmaster, a merit badge counselor, or one of the troop parents who is willing to listen to boys, encourage them, and take a sincere interest in them can make a profound difference in their lives. Adult association is also part of what we call a youth-led troop. Adults understand that their role is to create a safe place where boys can learn and grow and explore and play and take on responsibilities—and fail, and get up and try again. If you were involved with Cub Scouting, this is a very different role that can take some time getting used to…
…I’d like to come back a moment to the youth-led concept of Boy Scouting. As I mentioned before, it is different than how Cub Scouting works, and it is different from the way a lot of youth activities are run, where the adults decide what to do and the youth do it. Boy Scouting is different, and it is sometimes difficult for adults to realize that we have a different role and a different goal. In Cub Scouting and in many other programs, our goal is to have fun activities and generate achievements. Our role is to make sure that the activities happen, that the achievements take place.

Boy Scouting is different. In Boy Scouting, the role of the boys is to have fun activities and generate achievements. The role of the adults is not the destination, but the journey. That is, our responsibility as adults is to promote the “process” of Scouting. What is important for us is

Not the food on the campout, but that the boys cooked it.
Not a sharp-looking flag ceremony, but that the boys put it together.
Not who would make the best patrol leader, but that the boys elect one.
Not that Johnny learns first aid, but that Billy teaches him.
Not that we cover everything on the meeting agenda, but that the senior patrol leader is in charge.
Our goal is not to get things done, but to create a safe and healthy environment with the training and resources that the Scouts need, and then let them do it. It can be a very messy business, and painful to watch. Meetings where the boy leaders are in charge can be very chaotic. And it can be very tempting for adults to jump in and sort things out, because that is what adults do. But we have to remember that that is the process of Scouting. That is how they learn—even from disorganization and failure. We just have to remember that our business as adults is not the same as the business of the boys. It is up to them to get things done. It is up to us to make sure they have what they need, but (within the bounds of health and safety) not what they do with it.