Girls in the Cub Scouts?

Published 9:23 pm Tuesday, November 7, 2017

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The Boys Scouts and Girl Scouts are two of our country’s finest youth organizations. They allow boys to mature as boys and eventually young men, and girls to grow up comfortably as girls on the way to becoming women.

I’m just not convinced that the Boy Scouts’ decision to admit girls into their program, even on a very limited basis, is good for either organization, or for that matter, either gender of young people.

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While the Boy Scouts of America described its decision as an effort to better serve families that include both boys and girls, the decision has all the earmarks of a raid on membership — an attempt to attract more members and, thus, more revenue for the organization.

Both organizations have lost membership since 2000. The Boy Scouts’ membership a year ago stood about roughly 2.5 million, down 25 percent during the past decade and a half. The Girl Scouts have lost about 26 percent, but is actually a larger organization, with about 2.8 million members.

They are thus pretty comparable organizations as to size and they face the same challenges in this rapidly changing 21st century.

There are certainly many reasons for the decline in both organizations. Team sports are being embraced by growing numbers of young parents and, perhaps more importantly, their parents. Soccer, baseball or any other team sports are wonderful programs. They all can all teach discipline, teamwork, self-confidence and motivation to excel. But kids can’t do everything, try as they — and their parents might.

And parental interest, whether in sports or scouting, is immensely important. In fact, I suspect that the decline in scouting numbers — both girls and boys — has at least as much to do wit the interests and desires of millennial parents as it does their children. And I wouldn’t stop there. Baby Boomers pushed hard for team sports and various other activities for their children and thus it may well be that their influence on their grandchildren is even greater than it was on their children.

Scouting — for boys and girls — is different from athletics. It teaches much of what team sports do, but it uses different activities to get there, and it has elements that are quite different. Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts make a pretty big deal of training young people to be leaders among their peers, and their development programs, simply by the nature of the organizations, are in some ways more diverse than the skills sets needed in a particular sport.

But back to the issue of girls becoming Cub Scouts, which is what they will initially be invited to join. Girls and boys have many opportunities, including those team sports, 4-H and church organizations to work and play together, but they also need programs in which they can develop more fully as boys and girls. Call me whatever you like, but I still believe boys and girls are different, that they have different interests and different emotional needs that can best be met, particularly at a young age, with members of their own gender.

The Boy Scouts are not talking about fully integrating their programs. They will allow local scouting leaders to create all-girl “dens” within the Cub Scout program. The girls thus admitted would be a part of the Pack — the larger local Cub Scout organization.

But the scouts are talking about starting with this “toe in the water.” Further combined activities could be on the horizon.

The Boy Scouts already admit girls into their teenage Explorer and Sea Scout programs, including a very successful Sea Scout program here in Smithfield. But the basic Boy Scout and Girl Scout programs have much to offer their members without trying to combine the two.

And, if the Boy Scout effort is successful, it can only weaken the Girl Scout program. It’s a bad idea that could end up weakening both programs and that, in my view, will be very unfortunate for boys and girls alike.