Adult Association: Practicing Being “Grown-Up”

[NOTE:  this is part three of a mini-series on the “methods of scouting” — the introduction can be found by clicking HERE.]

One of the eight scouting methods is titled “Adult Association” and focuses on the healthy development of boys by placing them in situations where they learn to make connections with adults (including strangers who are experts in their respective fields and have been through a background check – Merit Badge Counselors (“MBCs“)) in appropriate ways.

Some practical benefits include:

  • volunteers-226x300Practicing introductions, handshakes, common courtesies (etiquette) and simply making proper eye contact when speaking.
  • Developing healthy social assertiveness
  • Practice setting and keeping appointments (an additional form of teaching/learning personal responsibility)
  • Opportunities to “fine tune” character, if needed, through coaching conversations about honest mistakes made.
  • Getting boys to think more broadly about new responsibilities by working on trip/outing/meeting plans with adults who provide coaching/constructive criticism (i.e. who will drive, do we need a trip plan or not, what are the total costs and have you considered contingencies/emergencies that may come up during the trip, etc.)

This can be accomplished in many ways through the scouting program and it always begins with the Adults setting a strong, positive example to follow.  Adults need to check their emotions and frustrations at the door – showing grace and compassion when mistakes are made.  “Blowing up” at a simple problem isn’t helping boys become steady men.  The adults must practice the scouting ideals in their own lives and be ready to explain how they’re managing to live up to those ideals at work, at home, and at leisure.  If we don’t follow though, there’s no reason for the boys to try, either.

Naturally, it is critical to follow Youth Protection rules at all times.  Two-deep leadership, mutual accountability and monitoring the boys to detect inappropriate behaviors is as important as remembering to breathe.  When we encourage scouts to learn to work with adults, these protections must be in place and respected at all times.  No short cuts, no exceptions.  The rules work when we follow them and that’s part of setting the right example, too.  Some of these scouts will “age-out” (turn 18 and become ineligible to continue as youth members) and become Assistant Scoutmasters or Merit Badge Counselors – they need to make the transition from being “one of the guys” to being “one of the adults”, too.

There are many other ways to provide development opportunities to scouts beyond setting a good example:

  1. The Merit Badge program isn’t solely about advancement!  It provides opportunities for scouts (with their buddy) to meet someone brand new who is an expert at a topic of mutual interest.  The MBC has been screened by the council and Youth Protection should be fully in place (MBC’s need to update their Youth Protection Training (“YPT”) every two years just like other “direct contact leaders”).  The scout should take the initiative to get the blue card process started at a troop meeting with his scoutmaster.  Once the scoutmaster provides a name of a qualified counselor, the scout should make contact directly to receive instructions and set an appointment at a mutually convenient time.  The dialog between the scout and MBC is not unlike many phone conversations we take for granted as adults – calling to get a repairman to come to the house, setting an appointment with our physician for a check up, or even calling to arrange a social get together with other adults.  Meeting with the counselor (and bringing a buddy) can be a great experience for most scouts – they get to learn more about that topic than would normally be covered in the booklet alone, and they get to interact with a person who really loves that topic of interest and has expertise to share.  Later in life, those scouts may be in a job that requires tracking down an outside vendor to provide special services to their employer – being able to ask questions and have a detailed conversation is a skill that can be practiced through the MB program.
    1. Diagnostic questions for your unit:
      1. Do we coach the boys on how to contact MBCs? 
      2. Do we encourage the boys to “stay within the troop” for MBCs from immediate troop families or do we also encourage them to reach out to “strangers” for some of the badges (perhaps where the committee has already met the MBCs at fairs or roundtables, etc.)
      3. Do we work with the boys to teach them how to negotiate a mutually convenient time for an appointment without being pushy or rude to the MBC
      4. Do we stress the need to send a thank you note to each MBC following a completed MB experience (a scout is courteous)
      5. Do we bring MBCs to the troop meeting to introduce them to our troop families so that they’ll have confidence in contact him/her at a later time for individual counseling sessions (with a buddy present)?
      6. Do parents recognize that some MBCs may be able to offer recommendations for college or a first job based on their position of expertise within industry/commerce?
  2. The Patrol Leadership Council (“PLC“) is run by the Senior Patrol Leader (“SPL“), but also includes representatives from the adult leadership team to serve as coaches or “back-stops” in case the youth forget key details about trip planning, etc.  As long as the adults don’t over-reach their calling on the PLC, they can be very helpful in getting the boys to step up their analysis, planning and organizational skills – all details that will be helpful when in business for themselves or at college or while working for a corporation on teams or by themselves.
    1. Diagnostic questions for your unit:
      1. How do we work with the PLC to teach the boys to anticipate the various contingencies they may have to deal with during planning meetings – are we teaching how to identify issues or just spoon-feeding checklists to them?
      2. Do we leverage PLC meetings to treat the boys as adults and coach them on how to interact with other adults?
      3. When we get to camp, does the SPL meet/greet the ranger with all needed check-in paperwork or do we only allow adults to take on those responsibilities?
      4. Does the SPL or his designee handle check out procedures with the camp staff, or do we have adults run it to “speed up the process”?
  3. Service projects may be organized by the PLC, the adult leaders or by Life Scouts who are working on their Eagle requirements.  During these programs, there are opportunities for boys to work side-by-side with adults and learn how to serve as peers with these adults during the day.  The interactions are less formal and provide opportunities for adults and boys to bond in appropriate ways as they repair a church. clean a cemetery, restore a trail or whatever their immediate goal may cover.  The trick here is to encourage the adults to get to know the boys as they work – many times I see dads cluster with other dads, moms cluster with other moms and so forth.  Boys want to be treated like adults, and we have the chance through service projects to do so while encouraging them to behave like adults, too. (see setting a good example at all times).
    1. Diagnostic questions for your unit:
      1. Do we encourage the youth leaders to lead while coordinating directly with the benefiting organization (i.e. we can help employ multiple methods at one time on service projects including “patrol”; “personal growth”; “leadership development”; “scouting ideals” and “adult association” simply by keeping the boys at the forefront of the process and never allowing them to “hang back” and be the “muscular workforce” while the adults handle the permits, approvals, etc. in a vacuum.
      2. Do we coach the adults to mix with the scouts (following YPT at all times) and encourage conversations
      3. How do we give boys opportunities to interact with adults during service projects (i.e. beyond our immediate troop moms and dads)?  For instance, does the troop historian actually submit press releases (approved by the committee, etc.) to the local editor of the paper, etc?
      4. Do we make time to encourage the boys to “buy in” to the compassionate intervention intended by the service project – do they see the value of “scouting for food” beyond hitting a target number of bags of pantry items?  (are we building their moral courage to intervene for the right reasons)?
  4. Interpersonal conflict resolution, or as I sometimes see it….”when boys don’t get along with each other and need to work it out” provides an opportunity (again under the boundaries of YPT) for adults and scouts to work together to resolve hard feelings or disagreements.  Often at summer camp, boys will have some sort of disagreement and while some adults could ignore it or try to solve it with a forceful approach (I’ll settle it for you!), it’s an opportunity to coach and counsel the boys about finding mature ways to work it out among themselves.  These boys will have to learn to cope with people they don’t like or don’t agree with at school, on the job or wherever they may go in the future.  Learning how to deal with these situations constructively requires patience and time, but is an investment in their interpersonal skills.
    1. Diagnostic questions for your unit:
      1. Do we limit conflict resolution to adults telling the boys to “knock it off” or do we invest time to coach the boys on how to bury the hatchet themselves (and then monitor the process to be sure it’s going well)
      2. If conflict includes violation of scout oath and/or law, how do we escalate this process to the committee – are the boys treated as adults and shown how to “step up” their character during the process?
  5. Leverage “Scouting Alumni” wherever possible.  Scouts love making connections with college aged alumni who can share stories from a couple of years scout alumn imageago instead of thirty years ago.  This doesn’t diminish the valuable contributions of scouters of any age, but there is no doubt about the special connection a recent alumni can make.  Additionally, the Alumni may be able to advise on college choices, “first job” strategies and more.  This type of healthy relationship can encourage a boy to take his schooling seriously and really focus as he prepares to enter the full-time adult world.


Be a good example, monitor your other direct contact adult leaders and helpers to be sure that they set a good, consistent example as well.  Be willing to coach these adults quietly and respectfully if they cross the line.  Find ways to put the boys in contact with additional adults — perhaps involving the PLC in roundtable meetings, making presentations, taking on a stronger leadership (point person) role during service projects, and investing in helping them learn to work out their own differences in a mature, adult way.

I’m sure there are many more ways to “up the volume” on this method; however, you should make no mistake that injecting an emphasis on “adult associations” into your program will take more effort, more patience and it may make things bumpier along the way.  Of course, the purpose is to invest in these boys so that they’re better prepared when they’re recognized as adults (by virtue of age, getting their first job, joining the military, going off to college, etc.)

It may seem easier to jump in and make decisions for the boys, or call the MBC on their behalf, or let parents do some of the “heavy lifting”.  Unfortunately, these actions steal from the boy’s own development and subvert the aims of scouting by hamstringing this method.

A colleague shared this old scouting “poem” with me as an encouragement:

Why I’m a Scout Leader

I’m not a Scout Leader for the easy hours, high pay, parent’s gratitude, power or prestige.

I’m a leader because I want a better world for your son and mine. I want it to be a world he can help shape; a world of love and laughter, where he can show compassion and build his dreams.

I want him to be able to look at the stars, a sunrise, a sunset – the work and the world of God and man – and feel the beauty and strength inside himself.

I want to help him to finish anything he starts and do it well. I want to guide him to know his worth, a deeper understanding of himself.

I want all Scouts to be the best they can be.

I want to help shape men who have strength of character and are sensitive to the needs of others.

I’m giving of myself and my time. For this, I reap rewards far beyond what I give. I receive a wage that consists of smiles and laughter, observing a scout’s growing self-confidence and the look of triumph on his face when he has achieved more than he thought he ever could.

I am a Scout Leader because I care.

 …and I’ve got a better shot at seeing the goals of this poem realized when I push for stronger “adult association” opportunities among the boys than if I simply limit this method to being a good example. 

How about you?  There are many brilliant, experienced and caring scouters who may have a lot to share on this topic – please contribute!

(Since this blog was first posted, another fine article has appeared that may be helpful to your unit — “Young Man’s Guide to Talking With Elders” found at


About Troop113

Our Troop # comes from Psalm 1:1-3 - describing the men we want our scouts to become
This entry was posted in Devotional, Leadership, Scouting Ideals and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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