Periodically, there is a news story about a 12 or 13 year old scout who completes the requirements for their Eagle Scout Award. Typically, this news item is followed by a brief period of passionate discussion on various scouting forums about whether it is appropriate for a scout to complete their award requirements at such an age.
Technically, any scout who completes all the listed requirements to the satisfaction of their scoutmaster and review board(s) earns the right to receive the award. The only age stipulation is that they must complete the requirements before their eighteenth birthday.
Now there are specific logistics that suggest boys could not possibly complete the requirements before a certain age. Specifically, the joining requirements must be fulfilled before any advancement work can be counted. Further, there are some requirements which specify a minimum timeframe where the boy serves in a Position of Responsibility (POR). Without fulfilling that tenure period, the boy would not be qualified to advance further.
So if a scout joins at age 10 years and zero months (having completed the fifth grade) then he must complete (among other non-time sensitive requirements):
- Tenderfoot physical fitness testing (do various exercises on a particular date, then using an exercise regimen repeat these exercises on a particular date – at least thirty days since setting the initial measurements). If our hypothetical scout did his physical fitness testing on the day he joined and did the re-test on day 30, he’d now be 10 years and one month old.
- Complete at least 10 outings (overnight camping trips) with your troop. Many troops camp once a month, but some camp as often as twice a month. Assuming that this young man camped twice a month since the day he joined, that would be a total of five months from his join date. He’d now be 10 years and five months old (having done the physical fitness testing while also completing camping trips).
- Assuming this young man also completed all other requirements needed to become a “First Class” scout, he would need to be elected by his peers as Patrol Leader, or appointed to another Position of Responsibility by his Senior Patrol Leader. Assuming that happens immediately upon becoming “First Class”, he’d have to serve in that role a minimum of four months while he works on other requirements to become a “Star Scout”
- Assuming that our young man has served his tenure for four months as a “First Class” scout and has completed his other advancement work, he’d be 10 years and 9 months old.
- He needs to continue to serve in a Position of Responsibility for six months as a “Star Scout” before becoming a “Life Scout” — assuming this happens and he meets all other requirements, then he’d be 11 years and 3 months old.
- He needs to continue to serve in a Position of Responsibility for six months as a “Life Scout” before becoming eligible to become recognized as “Eagle Scout” — assuming this happens and he meets all other requirements (including organizing and leading a service project), then he’d be 11 years and 9 months old.
In reality, this presents a huge challenge to most boys. The advancement work alone presents a myriad of skill mastery along with writing projects and nature study field observations, etc.
Should it be encouraged? It depends on the boy, and who you ask within scouting ranks.
Comments on “young eagles” have included items like:
- Some one please tell me. Has he really practiced real leadership? How much leading has he done? Was he the Librarian and Historian for his leadership? I know they count, but really…we are talking about an Eagle Scout here.
- When people see the Eagle badge, they think leadership, accomplishment, self-reliance, the ability to serve and accomplish tasks. When I see a 12-year-old.. I think HOW?
- Where I agree it is possible to earn the Eagle rank at a young age, I question a 12 year old’s leadership skills.
- I would believe a young man of 12, wouldn’t be able to successfully achieve on his own.
- I think the real issue may not be age, but the level of maturity and real leadership that the scout is able to exhibit.
In summary, most adult scouters suggest that their main concern is whether a 12 or 13 year old has the maturity to lead others. Additionally, they understand that the number or percentage of scouts completing their Eagle requirements at such an early age is an outlier — perhaps as low as 2-5% of the total.
Consider these examples of early teen-aged leadership and achievement:
- David Farragut’s naval career began as a midshipman in the United States Navy on December 17, 1810, at the age of nine. While serving aboard USS Essex, Farragut participated in the capture of HMS Alert on August 13, 1812. He was appointed command briefly as “prize master” at the age of 12.
- Joe Nuxhall was the youngest player in modern Major League history. He was 15 years old when he first pitched for the Reds.
- Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roche Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette was born in 1757. At the age of fourteen, Lafayette entered the Royal Army. Before turning 20, he became a Major General in the American Continental Army and served on General Washington’s staff.
- From age seven to fifteen, George Washington was home schooled and studied with the local church sexton and later a schoolmaster in practical math, geography, Latin and the English classics. But much of the knowledge he would use the rest of his life was through his acquaintance with backwoodsmen and the plantation foreman. By his early teens, he had mastered growing tobacco, stock raising and surveying. In 1748, when he was 16, George traveled with a surveying party plotting land in Virginia’s western territory. The following year, aided by Lord Fairfax, Washington received an appointment as official surveyor of Culpeper County.
- Colin Maclaurin went to study divinity in University of Glasgow at the age of 11 and remained until he was 19 years, 7 months old in the year 1717 when he was elected professor of mathematics, where for nearly three hundred years he held the record as the world’s youngest professor.
Are these unusual examples? Certainly, but very youthful Eagle scouts are unusual as well. When scouters openly complain about youthful achievement and hint that there may be cheating involved, it diminishes the award and demonizes the recipient unfairly (without evidence). If this issue is so critical, then BSA ought to simply set an age limit, or change the requirements to satisfy those who believe that a 12 or 13 year old scout is incapable of leading or understanding what they’ve been taught and mastered.
Lastly, consider this quote from a Harvard Business Review article titled “We Wait Too Long to Train Our Leaders” (Click HERE to see original article)
Years ago, I was involved with a firm that experimented with teaching leadership principles to elementary school children. We were introducing the same skills to 3rd and 4th graders that we teach managers in large corporations. These nine- and ten-year-olds had no trouble understanding such concepts as the importance of preserving self-confidence in your colleagues or the dangers of focusing on personalities. In fact, they lost no time in applying the principles to their parents (who are, after all, their immediate supervisors). I can’t help smiling when I think of a 3rd grader informing her parents that they were not focusing on the problem, but only on the person. From this we concluded that it’s never too early to teach leadership skills.
So a youth leadership development program (BSA) is succeeding in having boys (at a range of ages from 12 to 18) learn to communicate, motivate and lead others. I don’t see a problem in the results as each scout is truly unique. While one individual may be ready to advance more quickly than others (and should not be held back artificially), others are having fun and growing despite showing more interest in the experiences of camping than completing advancement requirements.
Perhaps Michael Malone said it best:
I’ve been an Eagle Scout now for nearly fifty years and in that half century, I’ve learned far more about what it means to be an Eagle than I ever knew on that day as a thirteen year old [emphasis added] when my mother pinned the medal on my uniform pocket. I don’t have to tell any of you here that earning your Eagle is merely a prelude to learning what it means to BE an Eagle, and that is an education that continues to this day [and will] no doubt continue for the rest of my life.