On My Honor

Help! My Son Doesn’t Want to Be a Boy Scout

Elizabeth sent in this question

My son will be crossing over in a few weeks. He has worked hard to get his arrow of light and is proud of it. But he is flatly refusing to continue with scouting. I’m heartbroken about it. His personality is such that he doesn’t want to “do” anything. I kid you not, he balks at being given the opportunity to go to his favorite theme park!  He was required to be in scouts until now and has always said he wouldn’t continue, or he’d take a year off or something. So, my question is for advice. I have tried to make it sounds really cool, he’s got friends moving up and friends in a troop now but it doesn’t seem to make a difference. I can’t force him so am I doomed to this disappointment?

This is a difficult situation. Anyone who has ever had a pre-teen or teenager knows that you can’t force them to enjoy an activity. This is the age when they are becoming more independent. And they often assert that independence by expressing which activities they want to participate in and which they don’t.

The three main factors I have observed in whether boys stick with Boy Scouting are not are

  1. A good program with activities the boys enjoy. This is where the boy-led troop is key.
  2. Friends in the program
  3. A parent who is actively involved in the program and fully participates in outings and meetings.

If the program is good, but he still doesn’t want to participate, there is little you can do. Sometimes there are things which are competing for a boy’s attention which are also good for his development – sports, theater, band, etc. On the other hand, if he just wants to stay home and play video games and watch TV, maybe he needs some limits put on that. If he has a lot of free time and cannot engage in those activities, he might be more willing to fill the void with Scouting. But it should not be presented as a punishment for not participating. He needs to understand the importance of being well rounded.

It sounds like point #2 is already covered. He has friends in the troop. One of the best recruiting tools is when boys come back from a campout and tell their friends about all of the fun things they did. So if he does decide to “take a year off” that might be the encouragement he needs to get involved.

If your son does join the troop, I encourage you to get involved. By far, the sons of the parents who are actively involved in the troop seem to stay with the program a lot more. You might need to attend some training or learn how to hike and camp. But if you are asking your son to do something he isn’t comfortable with, shouldn’t you be willing to do the same?

Some kids just need a little additional motivation. I knew a parent who took his son out for ice cream after meetings. Sure, it was a bribe. This particular young man was an introvert and just needed a little extra incentive to get out of his comfort zone. He did stick with it long enough to get his Eagle.

Readers, what do you think? Add your ideas to the comments below.

28 Responses to Help! My Son Doesn’t Want to Be a Boy Scout

  1. kathy sharman February 4, 2015 at 10:34 AM #

    My son wanted to quit after Cub Scouts as well. I made a deal with him that if he stayed in thru his first summer camp and still wanted to quit then I would let him. I knew the independence that he experienced at camp would keep him involved. He stayed and its an Eagle Scout.

  2. Cris February 4, 2015 at 10:37 AM #

    I had a somewhat similar problem with my son a couple of years ago when he was a Wolf. He said he didn’t want to go to Cub Scouts anymore and was completely done with it.

    I didn’t fight him. I told him that since I was the Den Leader I had to stick with it until at least the end of the year, so he was probably going to have to come to the Den Meetings and Pack Meetings anyway, but he wouldn’t have to participate if he didn’t want to. The next Den Meeting I planned some fun games and after sitting on the sides for a few minutes he jumped in and had a great time.

    But that wasn’t enough. After that I planned an overnight camping trip for just the 2 of us. We whittled, fished, cooked over an open fire, and used our compasses to find our way around the woods. We never specifically talked about Scouts, but I did mention that it’d be really cool if we could go camping more often.

    That worked. He came back from the weekend more gung-ho than ever. He’s a Webelos now and last night we visited a grear local Troop. He walked out of there pretty sure of where he’d be crossing over to.

  3. Elizabeth February 4, 2015 at 10:47 AM #

    Thanks so much. We are really active with our pack and I’m the outdoorsy one of the family so that hadn’t been the big problem. But I totally agree that parent involvement is key. He is introverted and he is persistent when he has decided to do or not do something. So this challenge will be a big one. He knows that he has to “do something” and that staying home to play games won’t be happening but I’m not above bribing!!!

  4. Heather February 4, 2015 at 11:38 AM #

    First, I beg to differ. You can absolutely require your son to Scout. It is less than ideal but if quitting isn’t presented as an option you might be suprised, since he is in a good Troop with friends and an active parent, that he makes a better go of it. I have 2 Scouts. One is kind of luke warm about it but not Scouting has never been an option, unless replaced with a different activity – and this caveat they do not know. Last I checked, we are the parents until adulthood. If I can force my kids to brush their teeth & make their beds I can certainly force them to participate in a healthy character building activity like Scouts.
    Secondly you shared your son lacks interest in “doing” anything at all. I would suggest you have your son evaluated for depression and or anxiety. In which case Scouting is an excellent opportunity to overcome the symptoms and loneliness associated with depression.

    • Michelle August 10, 2016 at 2:57 PM #

      Sorry, but no. A parent absolutely should NOT require her son to remain a Boy Scout if he is no longer interested in the program and has expressed a desire to leave. Why would you require your child to continue participating in an activity that he no longer wished to do? My ultimate goal is to raise both my children to be kind and positively impact others. But that goal can be done with other activities including sports. As parents we need to allow our children to learn to make decisions for themselves as they grow older and become responsible young adults. Scouting may be a great program but it’s not for everyone.

      • Bruce June 11, 2018 at 2:56 PM #

        Should a parent ever require their child to do anything? Go to School? Church? not cheat on exams?

        • Laura Rich June 17, 2018 at 10:11 PM #

          I don’t believe parents should determine how a child should spend most of their waking hours. We expect them to go to school, of course, and do their homework and then possibly church but why do you feel like they have to do scouts. As much as I love my sons being in the scouting program the question is why do you think its so crucial that they stay in scouts? Is it about you and what you get from him being in scouts or is it about just him and his relationship with scouts? Spending time with just your child and you and the great outdoors can offer your son a lot of those special experiences while building an excellent relationship with him. Scouts shouldn’t be a chore it should be about doing something you enjoy.

    • Ryan Richter October 10, 2017 at 7:42 PM #

      Do you have any suggestions for other activities?

  5. Sonny Wm. E. McCraw February 4, 2015 at 12:00 PM #

    Never barter, nor bribe a child. This tactic only leads to a false sense of entitlement; as well as it leaves the child with the expectation that there is some form of reward or gift at the end of each task they perform- whether mundane, routine, or monumental.

    A child’s greatest rewards are the one’s no one can place intrinsic value on, nor take from them. This reward is the life lesson of pride in their work and knowledge of finishing a job well done. This is something he can carry with him beyond patch or medals.

    Bridging over from Arrow of Light to the Trail to Eagle is difficult for some children.
    The Boy Scout Program has several aspects that appeal to both parent and child. –
    1.)- Service to the community.
    2.)- Leadership Training
    3.)- Merit badges that encourage him to learn anything from Astronomy to Welding and gaming.
    4.)- Outdoor ethics and conservation of our natural resources
    5.)- Patrols
    6.)- Camp-outs and cookouts
    7). The Order of Arrow
    8.)- Religious Emblem Programs that help the scout explore his faith,
    9.)- Service projects like the Messenger of Peace
    10.)- Earning the Rank of Eagle Scout
    11.)- week long summer camps
    12.)- BSA Family Fun Programs
    13.)- the BSA NOVA STEM Programs
    14.)- History
    15.)- Character building
    16.)- teaching others using the EDGE Method and so much more.

    The value of this can be seen in the success of the 4 % of boy scout who earn the rank of Eagle Scout…

    Eagle Scouts like Neil Armstrong, US President Gerald Ford, Jordan Devey, offensive tackle for the New England Patriots and 2014 Super Bowl champion, Maroon 5 guitarist James Valentine, and Rock Legend Jim Morrison of the Doors…

    By showing my son the proud Scouting Alumni who earned the Rank of Eagle and the opportunities Scouting had to offer him; My son gained momentum and proudly earned his Eagle.

    There were massive obstacles he faced and persevered to overcome… It was not easy. but now you can read about his success and how he helped.

    http://www.sltrib.com/news/1806911-155/veterans-benjamin-homeless-ogden-scout-center

    http://www.icatholic.org/article/girl-boy-scouts-and-adult-leaders-are-honored-5516449

    http://www.icatholic.org/article/five-boy-scouts-receive-the-thomas-s-monson-award-3336470

    http://icatholic.org/article/eagle-scout-project-helps-homeless-veterans-become-selfsufficient-3787378

    • Jj June 7, 2016 at 3:56 PM #

      Umm Jim Morrison was a Boy Scout. There is no correlation to success and whether or not someone makes eagle.

  6. Veronica February 4, 2015 at 12:08 PM #

    Elizabeth,

    Thank you for submitting this question. I have the same situation. My son has earned his Arrow of Light and his Super Achiever award, but now he says his done.

    I think some of it is anxiety about him being there alone. He just turned 10 in November and he’ll be crossing over this May. So, maybe it won’t be such a hardship if he waits a year.

    We’ll see. Good luck to you.

  7. connie February 4, 2015 at 3:20 PM #

    I have 2 son’s who went thru scouting one who truly loves it and at the age of 12 is a star scout and one like who will cross over in a few weeks who truly hated everything about scouting. I told him he had no choice but to finish cub scouts because we come such a long way but he didn’t have to go to boy scouts if he didn’t want to. He attends the boy scout meetings either way because I stay with his brother. Just recently he asked the scout master of he could attend a merit badge class all the kids were taking. The scout master agreed and my son had a blast he earned his first aid merit badge but he also refund his enjoyment in scouts and is now excited to crossover. Have him attend some troop meetings and events he may like it

  8. janice February 4, 2015 at 8:27 PM #

    Look for a Venture Crew in your area. Venturing is a co-ed division of BSA. for ages 14-20. I have seen boys who were loosing interest in their troop renew their enthusiasm when they learned they can do high adventure stuff with girls. Venturers can do some things that the Troop cannot, such as pistol shooting and hunting. Boy Scouts who are on the Eagle trail can complete their Eagle Award as a Venturer. There are still awards and leadership skills to be had, but with the youth leading the way & the adults stepping back & just advising them.

  9. Jebecka February 5, 2015 at 7:58 AM #

    I’m not writing with an answer, but another question. My son also dropped out of Scouts after earning his Arrow of Light and crossing over. I was his den leader for his Webelos II year. I know he would be more likely to stick with it if I am involved however, being his mom, I’m not sure how involved I should be with Boy Scouts? I stepped back a bit because I feel I should because this is a boy/man/father thing. How involved are mom’s ususally in Boy Scouts? Are they seen as hovering helicopter mom’s if they want to go on the campouts?

    • Scouter Mom February 5, 2015 at 8:43 AM #

      There are plenty of women involved in Boy Scouting. In today’s world, boys need to learn to interact with women as well as men. Your sons will have women as fellow students, coworkers and supervisors. But you must remember that you are there as a unit leader, not as a mother. You will need to be able to sit back and let the boys do. I strongly recommend that you attend Boy Scout Leader Training in your area. This will help you understand the program. If you understand the role of adults in Boy Scouts, there is no reason you can’t be an asset to the troop.

    • Michael August 30, 2016 at 11:58 AM #

      There are no rules about what roles women can or should fill in the troop. So this is really up to you. you mentioned being viewed as the helicopter mom, that would also be up to you, depending on how you interact on the trips. Also, dad’s can be guilty of it too. Don’t be afraid to left him fail. It happens a lot, and they learn from it. Sit back be hands off, and supervise. Step it only if an action is likely to get someone hurt. I do think for the most part males have an easier time letting this happen, but there are severalgreat female leaders in scout too. Treat your scout as any other, put them in tents with the other scouts not in yours. Help him pack before a trip, don’t then switch from mom to leader on the trip. If you think that would be difficult to do but still want to be involved, troop committee, advancement coordinator or many other roles may be an option.

  10. m p February 6, 2015 at 11:33 AM #

    This is a question that comes up routinely every year, specifically around crossover, but throughout all levels and ranks of cubscouts and scouts.

    My son does not want to crossover/continue in scouting. All the advice here has been very supportive and helpful. Having an active pack/troop. Having active parents/leaders. Having an invested cubscout/scout.

    The below website is Mike Rowe (eagle Scout) advice to a parent when asked to help persuade a writers son to continue in scouts and earn his eagle.

    I presented this story to a mom of a cubscout and several scouts. Her eldest son was only a few merit badges shy of eagle and in High school. His clock was ticking and due to HS commitments had dropped out of scouting. Needless to say after this story he rejoined scouts and is working again with his troop as well as his younger siblings (cubscout and scouts). He decided to rejoin and he will decide if he finishes and at this point and his age that’s how it should be if we as leaders have done our job correctly.

    Once again only 4% reach eagle scout, and this may be a goal, but it is not the only goal.

    If link does not work, just google mike rowes response to a perspective eagle scout parent.

    mike-offers-a-potential-eagle-scout-his-eagle-perspective.

    hope this helps

  11. Diane M. Hale September 28, 2017 at 10:25 PM #

    Hi. I have enjoyed the questions and answers. My son, of course, also wants to quit Scouts. He just earned his Tender Foot, and says he is done. His meetings are once a week, and they last pretty long, an hour and 45 minutes.
    They really do not accomplish much at them, and my son feels like they are a waste of his time. He does like most of the camping trips, if the one boy in the troop whom he likes, goes on the trip.
    He is not involved in too many other activities except altar servers, and a club at school called Liturgical Ministry, which involves helping out with weekly school masses. Scouts is the organization that provides the camping, the activities, and the opportunities that nothing else in his life provides. This is the second or third time he has told me he wanted to quit. The last time this came up, my husband talked him back into staying. The time before that, we told him he just had to get the Arrow of Light, then he could quit if he wanted to. The truth is I never intended to give in to him quitting for any reason, I always thought he would like it enough to stick it out.
    I am heartbroken at this. I know if he quits, it will just give him more time to play on his phone/I-Pad with his “best friend” who thinks Scouts is stupid!
    One of the scoutmasters mentioned that he should bring a friend to one of the meetings, as it is a requirement for the next rank, which is Second Class.
    This would be an idea, but I am having trouble thinking of a friend to suggest.
    My last resort is bribery, which I think is not really a good idea, and it would mean staying in Scouts for the wrong reasons. If anyone has any new advice for me and my stubborn 12-year-old, I am listening.
    Also is forcing your child to stay in a form of abuse in some ways if he really dislikes it that much?

    Thanks!

  12. Diane Hale October 2, 2017 at 9:57 AM #

    Very uplifting to hear that the boy re-joined the troop.
    I hope he can finish the requirements for Eagle.

  13. James Lehman March 2, 2018 at 8:21 PM #

    *Son does not want to join/continue/be active in Scouts….
    DO NOT let him get away with this so easily. Sit him down, and ASK HIM WHY. You are the parent, you have his best interests at heart (from your perspective?). What is it about the idea/the Troop/the activities (or lack of)/the perceived promise vs the reality….
    Does he fear the “bugs and dirt of camping”? Are the meetings boring and dorky? Is the uniform “stupid”? Is there a bully in his unit? Is he expecting BOY Scouts to be as childish/artsy-craftsy as CUB Scouts? Does he REALLY want to concentrate on his “Music/computer games/girl friend/science project/debate club because he thinks he can get a Scholarship/to third base/get famous/be a “BMOC”… ?
    DO NOT let him just vegetate in front of the TV/Comp console/schmart phone.
    What would he like Scouts to be?? Can he see the ideal and make it happen? I am always amazed at how some kids ALLOW the Scout experience to be degraded by adult that THINK they know what it should be when it is the BOYS (and now the girls !) that know exactly what it CAN be…
    When President Truman was once asked how he thought a parent could help their child be successful, he said the parent should find out what the child likes to do, and if it isn’t dangerous, encourage them in it.
    See you on the trail.

  14. Rhino March 23, 2018 at 5:03 AM #

    I’m speaking as someone who was once in your son’s position. I had finished Cub Scouts, and Weeblos, and, after two years, had decided I had had enough. My now late mother was a control freak, who told me I HAD to join the Boy Scouts for at least a year. She also kept saying, even though it wasn’t true, the only reason I wanted to quit was because the person who convinced me to join, whose mother was our den leader, also decided to quit. All the begging, pleading, and reasoning on my part had fallen on deaf ears. The day I turned in the form, which my mother had my sister fill out for me becuase she knew I would have said no to the question, “Do you want to be a Boy Scout?” I was so angry and bitter. I managed to get out of having to go in, but it required me to do something sneaky. My mom made sure to lay the guilt trip on me for about the next 6-8 months afterwards. There is a lot more I could say about this, but, speaking as someone who was once in your son’s position, I think the real issue here is your afraid to relinquish control over your son’s life, and allow him to make choices for himself. I have no problem with you trying to encourage him to stay on, but, he’s of the age where he knows what he wants, and needs to be allowed the opportunity to be respected by you if his decision is not the one you want hi. To make. Forcing him to go in will only make him bitter and resentful.

    • eploppy May 30, 2018 at 11:50 PM #

      I agree with Rhino. I too am a former Eagle Scout and I only got it because I wasn’t allowed to have my drivers license. Now 10 year later I regret it terribly. I only got it for my mother’s sake and because I knew how much it meant to HER. The Eagle Scout Award has done nothing for my leadership skills and nor has it helped me get a job, in fact many people not from America are highly offended by the Eagle Scout Award and program because some men and mothers make it seem like having the Eagle Scout Award makes them better than those who don’t.

      By forcing your son to get it can cause great resentment, fights in the future and even a rift between you and his future family. Let him decide and support him on his effort, there are many other ways to show the aspects you are looking for you son that are found outside of scouting and are even better than scouting.

      Another thing to think of is the wording in your question: “I WANT HIM, I’M Heart broken, I’VE tried making it cool.” Are you getting the Eagle Scout Award or is your son? A wise mother and wife said this to her husband when he wanted to by her gifts she didn’t wand or that they couldn’t afford “Are you doing this for me or for you? (In other words are you trying to show that you love me or that your prominent provider?” So to you are you having your son get this award because it shows that that the scouting organization is helping him become who he wants to be and respecting his choices of life or are you wanting him to get it to make YOU happy and to show that YOUR being a good mother? Are you wanting him to get it because HE knows it’s helping him or so that you can tell everyone your son is an Eagle Scout?

      Your son loves you and will always remember the respect you have for his decision than an piece of cheap metal and cloth. Let him use his agency and trust him. He will have wonderful memories when you let him be who he is and not chicken pecking him about the award. Yes, you may be heartbroken, but will him getting an Eagle Scout Award, and you being happy, worth him living to regret it?

      I say this because I had a similar problem and I wish I never got it. In fact this award is so horrible that the BSA is refusing to let be records be terminated. This can happen to your son if you don’t let him decide and you supporting him no matter how much you hate it.

      By do this he will have more confidence in himself and the bond between the both of you will be stronger than if he was an Eagle Scout.

      • Rhino May 31, 2018 at 10:51 PM #

        So perfectly said Eploppy!!! There are certain things parents should require of their children (homework, chores, dress, language, etc.) but forcing them to do something they don’t want to do with their social life is definitely not one of them!!! It sounds to me the real reason your mother made you stay in, was so she could brag about how she saw her son through Boy Scouts, and had a hand in all of his accomplishments!!! She holding not getting your drivers license over your head was nothing short of 100% manipulative blackmail!!!

        Mine was the same way!! Whenever I posed the question to her about the Boy Scout code of being honest, and how it was a lie saying yes to the wanting to be a Boy Scouts, she would just tell me to, “Shut up!” The night I handed in the form, my Scout Master was surprised. When he asked me about my joining, I was totally honest about what was going on. When he offered to call my mother, I told him it would only lead to a lecture when I got home. He then told me I had then better change my attitude, because if it stayed the way it was, they didn’t want me! The sneaky thing I did to get out of it was, unlike the Cub Scouts and Weeblos, Boy Scouts went year round. My birthday was in the middle of the summer, so, I could not become a B.S. until then. I lied to my mom and told her they would be contacting us in the fall about when Scouts will be meeting again. When she finally asked me about it in the middle of October, I told her the truth. She got pissed at me! My best friend had decided to go in, and, every time he was over, she’d, in a very condescending and targeting me tone, would ask him about the Scouts, what they were doing, and how she had wished she could me to join! Well, I decided two could play at that game!! When my friend who she kept saying talked me into quitting was over, I did the same thing to her, and even told him what she was saying! She walked out of the room pouting mad, and told me later how she didn’t appreciate me embarrassing her. When I posed to her a favorite quote of, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander!”, she told me don’t get smart or I’d get the back of her hand! But, it also was the last I ever heard about the Boy Scout issue!!

  15. Kenneth Schauer May 19, 2018 at 9:02 AM #

    Let your child decide. Forcing them to do things they are not interested in will only breed contempt in him for authoritative figures. that can cause him problems all his life. Find out his interests and encourage him to pursue them. I am not saying to let him run things. Children need some discipline. I enjoyed martial arts classes, dirt bike riding and cooking. Martial arts helped as it teaches self discipline and to use violence as a last resort. In the latest news they are taking the boy out of the title and just calling it “The scouts” and letting girls in so it is not the same organization it was. They have forgone logic and dignity and bowed down to the SJW’s.

  16. Bruce Kennedy June 11, 2018 at 2:52 PM #

    My youngest son said he wanted to drop out of scouts. I handled it like this. I said NO. We require them to go to school. We require them to go to church. Because we as parents believe it is what they need to be a successful adult. I feel the same way about scouts. For you parents who want to let your child decide, raising your family the way you see fit is your business. I say raising mine the way I see fit is my business. BTW he is almost Eagle. His Brother is Eagle. His oldest sister is a successful and loved School counselor and his other sister is a very successful Physician. It is my belief that our job as parents is to guide our children and place requirements on them when needed.

    • Rhino June 11, 2018 at 3:36 PM #

      I respect your right to raise your children the way you see fit Bruce! But, part of parenting, in my opinion, is to allow them to make choices on their own! Yes, parents should require certain things of children, but I don’t think they should force recreational free time events upon them! Had my sneakiness not have gotten me out of the Boy Scouts, I had decided I was going to one of two things! The first was to tell the command leader I was only there because my mother was forcing me to be, and ask if it would be okay if I could just go in the other room and read magazines. If he wouldn’t have allowed me to, I would probably have done something to have gotten myself kicked out! Nothing overly serious mind you, just maybe something like swearing quite a bit, having a bad attitude, excetera. Bottom line though, I think back on that incident,, and it created some very serious bitter feelings between my mother and I which lingered on into my adult life! Something to think about when your children get older!

  17. Laura Rich June 17, 2018 at 10:18 PM #

    I think the problem is as adults we think our children will regret leaving Boy Scouts before getting their Eagle. We make it too much about ourselves instead of what might actually be best for our kids.

    • James Lehman June 18, 2018 at 4:55 PM #

      There ya go. “…getting their Eagle”. Scouting is not/should not be/ cannot only be about “getting their Eagle.” Cub Scouts have a motto/mantra: “Keep It Simple, Make It Fun.” KiS MiF. If the child (yep, girls too, now!) doesn’t see the fun of Scouting, there is no use in requiring it. The child will get very little out of the Scouting experience if the parent makes it “about getting their Eagle”. The earning of the Scout ranks is “One ” of the methods of Scouting, but ONLY one. The outdoor stuff, the uniform, the consideration of the Scout Promise and Law, the team work inherent in the “Patrol Method”, and all the others , if the Scout Unit is a GOOD one (another discussion), it will allow (and that is the word) the boy (and now the girl?) to learn and develop and grow and mature thru their playing “The Game With A Purpose.” Harry Truman was once asked his advice on having successful children. His response was (paraphrased) to find out what they like to do, and if it is not injurious or too dangerous, encourage them in it. Here’s Scouting. Encourage, support,,,,, require? ummmmm.. . . . . .

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