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Age Limits for Merit Badge Classes

Andrea sent in this question:

Can we talk about age requirements? Maybe this has been going on for a long time, maybe it is new. But my 12 year old 1st class scout is now starting to work on several merit badges in order to prepare for the next few ranks. And I am finding more and more classes that put an age requirement (i.e. minimum age) for taking the class. I am strongly opposed to this as I feel it is adding to the requirements, something that I KNOW none of us are allowed to do. So can we discuss?

I have heard this question several times in various forms. Here is my take on it. 

The age limit for a merit badge “class” is not a requirement for earning the badge. It is a requirement for doing the badge in that particular group setting. An instructor might only want to work with older scouts in a group due to maturity level. Or perhaps there is limited space and he wants to give older Scouts the first opportunity for the allotted spaces. Or he needs to limit the participants due to availability of equipment. There are a number of reasons why the counselor might need to put limits on the group he is instructing, rather than just taking everyone who wants to participate.

So your son can still earn the badge, just not at that specific event. He can always contact a merit badge counselor and set up an appointment. As a bonus, earning a badge this way can be a better experience for a Scout than being in a class or clinic. Note what the 2015 Guide to Advancement says about large group instruction:

The sort of hands-on interactive experience described here, with personal coaching and guidance, is hardly ever achieved in any setting except when one counselor works directly with one Scout and his buddy, or with a very small group. Thus, this small-scale approach is the recommended best practice for merit badge instruction and requirement fulfillment. Units, districts, and councils should focus on providing the most direct merit badge experiences possible. Large group and Web-based instruction, while perhaps efficient, do not measure up in terms of the desired outcomes with regard to learning and positive association with adults.

So small scale instruction is preferred over larger merit badge classes.

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


7 responses to “Age Limits for Merit Badge Classes”

  1. Adrienne K Avatar
    Adrienne K

    I agree with your assessment. I have three sons ages 11, 14 & 17. The youngest and even the middle son would behave differently or have different perspectives in the same class. As a rule, I don’t think it would be reasonable for younger Scout to be expected to work at the same level as an older Scout, or for a Merit Badge Counselor to need to manage the different needs in a group setting. It would be a disservice to all three involved. At 12-years old, a Scout still has plenty of time to earn merit badges and that might not be the best setting for him to learn about that particular topic. Also, there is no requirement that Merit Badge Counselors have to work with any Scout who calls. If a Merit Badge Counselor says that a class is limited to a certain age group, there are other options: 1. Ask the Counselor if he/she will work one on one with your scout, over time or 2. Contact your Scoutmaster, District, Council – whatever your local protocol calls for – to find a different Merit Badge Counselor.

    1. Adrienne K Avatar
      Adrienne K

      I need to add – depending on the topic of the badge. This would be especially true of more academic badges.

  2. Mike M Avatar
    Mike M

    As a Merit Badge Counselor for Personal Management I like to set an age minimum for the class I give (usually at Winter Camp). 11 – 13 year old Scouts may have trouble grasping some of the finance and budgeting concepts being presented and they’ll need to know those ideas to help later in Scouting. That being said, I also agree that no age limit should be required to earn the badge. A younger Scout may be mature enough to be counseled on a more individual basis.

  3. Steve Jackson Avatar
    Steve Jackson

    There are some merit badges that may require a certain level of physical endurance that may be difficult for younger Scouts like Lifesaving. The Guide to Safe Scouting also talks about “Age Appropriate Activities”. The merit badge counselor may want to establish a minimum age to try to achieve a physical minimum standard for safety. However you should not see a minimum age of 14 for Citizenship in the Nation. Some MBU’s do limit or give preference to Life Scouts for some Eagle required merit badges.

  4. Gary Guider Avatar
    Gary Guider

    They are not “adding requirements”. They are just setting the standards for the classes they want to teach. There is nothing saying your sons can’t earn the merit badges the person teaching the badges just wants to make sure that the boys are mature enough for the subject matter. I don’t see anything wrong with this at all.

  5. Cliff Denny Avatar
    Cliff Denny

    I teach Crime Prevention Merit Badge and take the Scouts to the County Jail and/or the District Court. Both agree to let me do this but want, for various reasons, to limit the interaction to older Scouts. Also with the content of the merit badge, I find that a certain maturity level (not always indicated by age) is what is needed. Some younger Scouts just are not mature enough to discuss some issues. I feel that there are plenty of merit badges not requiring age/maturity to complete and younger scouts usually have more have fun doing these merit badges.

  6. Rich L Avatar
    Rich L

    I disagree with the whole idea of a “Merit Badge class.” I have yet to see how this group instruction serves as anything other than what it is- instruction. Scouts must show their proficiency in a skill, not merely get instruction on how to do things. It is a means to learn, not a means to earn the Merit Badge.

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