Turning Boys into Men? The Mission of the Boy Scouts of America


The mission and purpose of the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is to turn boys into men…right?


Believe it or not, the BSA’s mission statement has never included “boys” or “young men”. The original mission statement of the organization was “to teach patriotism, courage, self-reliance, and kindred values.” In 1937, the mission statement was updated to “Each generation as it comes to maturity has no more important duty than that of teaching high ideals and proper behavior to the generation which follows.” The current mission statement of the BSA is:

“The mission of the Boy Scouts of America is to prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.”

So if boys and young men have not been mentioned in the BSA’s mission statements, why are girls just now being allowed?

Actually, girls are not new to the BSA at all. Den Mothers were first officially introduced in 1932 to the Cub Scout program as adult leaders. Then in 1988, women were approved to hold any position of leadership in the BSA, including Scoutmaster of a Boy Scout troop. But what about the female youth? There’s a long history there as well. Girls were first approved in Exploring and Sea Exploring in 1971, Venturing in 1998, and STEM Scouts in 2014. Girls are not new to the BSA at all. Girls are just new to the two traditional Scouting programs of the BSA; Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. Why the big fuss then? Well, those are the two programs that are the most traditional and where you will find the most die hard alumni.

But it doesn’t make sense! How can girls be Boy Scouts?

Well, they won’t be Boy Scouts. The BSA is currently working on a name for a parallel program to the Boy Scouts. It will include the same uniforms, positions of leadership, outdoor experiences, and advancement…including the rank of Eagle Scout. It will even include the opportunity for girls to join the Order of the Arrow, the National Honor Society of the BSA. Boys and girls of elementary age will be called “Cub Scouts” as boys have been since 1930. Boys of middle and high school age will presumably continue to be called “Boy Scouts” and the equivalent name for the girls has not yet been announced. There is not necessarily a need to change the name of the organization though. It seems that the Boy Scouts of America will probably start referring to itself as “BSA” more, following the example of when the YMCA began referring to itself as the “Y” for simplicity purposes. There might be a time when the BSA changes its name fully, possibly when female membership becomes formidable. After all, the BSA began an effort in the 1970s to rebrand as “Scouting/USA” in response to the introduction of girls into Exploring in 1971, and the last Boy Scout council desegregating in 1974…apparently the BSA wanted to stop calling youth “Boy Scouts” because of the negative connotations involved in calling someone “boy”. It was a great effort but ultimately it did not go over well and the effort stopped by 1980. However, to this day the BSA does still retain the rights to “Scouting USA”.

But the boys need a place to go to be boys!

First of all, the boys will still have their own place. Boys and girls in Cub Scouts will be in separate dens…at least for now. Boys and girls in the older program will be in separate troops entirely…again, for now. Why? In making this historic change, the BSA’s top leadership has identified the importance of maintaining a single-gender environment. That focus is mainly on the older end of things, hence the entirely separate troops for the older boys and girls. The worry is that boys and girls mature at different rates and I think, that the girls might end up hogging all of the elected leadership positions in a troop. Personally, I think another factor in keeping them separate is to appease those die hard folks. We’ll see how this goes but I don’t think it will be long before the separation ends entirely.

Secondly…let’s tackle this phrase “boys will be boys” and its significance in this debate. Many times in the social media arguments in which I find myself, the die hards are arguing that boys need a place to just be boys. So let’s ask ourselves…is that a good thing? Google “boys will be boys” and see what comes up:

“boys will be boys: used to express the view that mischievous or childish behavior is typical of boys or young men and should not cause surprise when it occurs.”

“This isn’t the first campus rape discussion to be trivialized with the “boys will be boys” mentality.”

“This statement implies that any negative behavior should be excused on the grounds that boys are always doing things that are wrong, and need to be treated with a degree of leniency that borders on insanity.”

Those are all on the first results page. Why do we want to encourage the “boys will be boys” mentality? It never means anything good. It refers to mischief or unmentionable acts, such as what one of my social media opponents referred to as “hide the pickle”. Another one lamented that boys will no longer be able to skinny dip on Scouting trips. Yes…these were real arguments against allowing girls to participate in BSA Scouting programs. And yes…both of those people have been blocked and added to my personal “ineligible to volunteer in the BSA” list.

So how significant is this change? It’s a HUGE step forward for the Boy Scouts of America. Now families can fully participate in Scouting. Girls who have been participating in den and troop meetings as well as camping trips can finally be recognized for what they’ve done instead of standing by and watching as only their brothers are praised. It means that the gold standard of youth leadership training and accomplishment, the rank of Eagle Scout, is now obtainable by young women. It also means that every time I step into an elementary school to recruit new Scouts, I no longer have to turn away the girls who I have gotten so hyped up about BB guns, bows and arrows, camping, fishing, and hiking. It’s one of the last barriers to full inclusion in the Boy Scouts of America and it came crashing down fast. In my professional time with the BSA, I have witnessed the barriers against homosexuals, transgenders, and girls removed. The only thing left is full inclusion without regard to spiritual belief. Progress has already been made on that front…but we’ll save that one for another post.

I was the first Eagle Scout in my family. My daughter could now be the second. I’ve never been prouder to be a part of the Boy Scouts of America.