Friday, April 12, 2013

Eleven Year Old Boys, Boy Scouts, and Absolutely Nothing To Do WithYoung Men

The age of 11 in the Church is a period of growth and transition toward ordination to the Aaronic Priesthood. This is a time when boys take their first steps out of the children's classes and into the adolescent programs. The forum for this transition is, in the United States, the scouting program.  Strangely, these 11 year old boys who are transitioning toward the Aaronic Priesthood will have virtually no interaction with the boys who will soon become their peers.

As outlined in Section 6.2 of the Scouting Handbook, LDS boys are to join their troops when they turn 11. In most programs, a den of cub scouts will join a troop after their annual Blue and Gold banquet.  This allows the entire den to make the transition together and allows the continued friends and support from their peers.  However, moving a boy into the scout troop on his 11th birthday isn't a terrible thing--just different.

After this, however, the LDS scouting program takes a sharp turn away from different and into inexplicably bizarre.  According to the Church's Scouting Handbook

Scouting prepares eleven-year-old boys to receive the Aaronic Priesthood and transition into the deacons quorum and Young Men program. Scouting can help them increase in confidence, testimony, brotherhood, and understanding of Aaronic Priesthood duties. The eleven-year-old boy will need to establish good relationships with his peers, the deacons quorum presidency, and his leaders.
Right.  That seems reasonable enough.  Until you read on:

Eleven-year-old boys meet separately from the Aaronic Priesthood–age Scouts because they are not yet part of a quorum.
That's right!  Eleven-year-old-boys are to develop good relationships with the deacons quorum presidency without ever actually interacting with them.

The focus of scouting for the eleven-year-olds is to complete the rank of First Class before they turn twelve. It's pretty normal in scouting to encourage boys to get First Class during their first year.  This is typically accomplished with the assistance of some of the older scouts teaching the new scouts the basic skills.  This gives the older scouts leadership opportunity while also helping them build relationships with the younger scouts.  It is completely absent in the LDS program.

And then it gets even stranger.  The determination to force scouting to fit the LDS bureaucracy is impressive.
Eleven-year-old Scouts may participate in three one-night camps a year, which meets the camping requirements for advancement to First Class rank. As desired, these overnight camp experiences may be held with the ward’s Boy Scout troop. The eleven-year-old Scout leader plans the overnight camps in consultation with the ward Primary presidency, the bishopric adviser to the Primary, and the ward Scouting committee. No other Scout-sponsored overnight camping should be planned for eleven-year-old Scouts
So let's sort this all out.  Boys join the troop when they turn eleven years old, but they don't participate with the troop. They work toward the goals of scouting, but under the supervision of the primary presidency-not the scoutmaster.  They may go on no more than three overnights a year--which may or may not be with the troop--as long as they are planned by the eleven year old scout leader and the primary presidency--not the troop.  And the sole reason for all of this is that eleven year olds are not yet part of a quorum.

I know it's terrible to say, but all I can think right now is "Be in the troop, but not of the troop."

None of this makes any practical sense at all.  For decades, eleven-year-olds have been participating in non-LDS scouting programs with the rest of the troop (including all the campouts) without any deleterious effects on their emotional or spiritual development.  Separating the eleven year olds from the rest of the troop also inhibits their ability to build relationships with the deacons quorum they are supposed to be preparing to join.  They would be much better served by full participation in the troop than they are by this mangled adaptation.

What really concerns me about this structure is it implies an organizational belief that eleven-year-olds are inherently different than twelve-year-olds.  I don't believe many individual people actually believe this, but organizationally, that belief is enshrined in how we treat them.  But the only difference between the eleven- and twelve-year-olds is that we have chosen to ordain boys at twelve-years-old.

So here's what it really boils down to: if you want to develop character, spirituality, and leadership in the young men, then you would do well to treat them as individuals with varying levels of maturity and emotional needs instead of categorizing their needs based on age.  There's no need to restructure scouting to fit the bureaucratic form of the LDS Church.


  1. In well run LDS troops, the 11 yos become a patrol of the troop and their leader is an assistant scout master. They do openings and closing with the whole troop. Older boys do help them with skills. And the primary president serves on the scout committee that helps plan overnights and other activities, so she is in the know.

    It still really crams completing WEBELOs and
    Arrow of Light into one year instead of 1.5 or 2. It would be simpler to leave them in Webelos and move them to the troop at 12 or when they have finished their Arrow of Light whichever comes first.

  2. You have no idea how much I agree with you here. Our 11 year old head oscillates from 1-4 kids throughout the year. This makes it quite difficult to plan activities and meetings. Especially when there is only 1 boy.