Scoutmaster Musings - Troop Discipline

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Scoutmaster Musings

Troop Discipline
Looking through many troop web sites, I've run across dozens and dozens of 'Troop Guidelines', 'Troop Handbooks', and 'Troop Discipline Policies' - every one similar, but different in some ways.

When boys join the troop I serve, they are given a 3-ring binder containing a few pages of information about how Boy Scouts differs from Cub Scouts, how patrols work, and how they need to take responsibility for their own advancement. There are also a couple empty baseball card holder pages for them to store their advancement cards and merit badge cards. We've got nothing written about special discipline policies - they just aren't needed.

Every boy over 10 years old knows what's right and what's wrong and how to behave. That certainly doesn't mean they will always do what's right and behave correctly, but they know. So, what good does writing down rules do? I can't think of any rules that are not covered by just saying, 'Our troop uses the Scout Oath and Law as our guide. All scouts are expected to do their best to follow that guide.'

The main reasons that scouts misbehave are:

Whether or not you agree that the correct behavior is known, there will be times when someone misbehaves. Maintaining discipline in a troop can be touchy, just like in any other group. I've found that the structure of a troop helps take care of most situations effectively and quickly, and with minimal escalation.

Discipline isn't a bad thing - it is not the same thing as punishment. Discipline has at least a dozen definitions, and nearly all of them include 'training'. Discipline is training and correcting someone to bring about expected behavior.

Like everything in Scouting, the training of scouts is the most important thing a Scoutmaster team can do. Including the allowed and expected discipline actions in your junior leader training helps set the troop on the right track. The leaders need to know that they are expected to maintain discipline and what their limits are.

Scouts should maintain discipline in their troop by training other scouts how to behave. So, let's call them the trainer and trainee for these general tips:

Taking time to train scouts to maintain discipline gives them opportunity to learn to deal with power and authority. They will run to you for intervention much less, and they will learn to be fair.
It's a good idea to have the senior scouts do a presentation on discipline for the whole troop occasionally. A skit demonstrating how they would address an imaginary problem the right way is entertaining and educational - especially if the problem is one that has been noticed in a few scouts recently.
It's also a good idea to make sure the scouts are expected to report any disciplinary actions they take to the scoutmaster or his assistants. This gives them an opportunity to show they are doing their job and get positive reinforcement on a job well done.

So, I've just mentioned what you might consider trivial things - being obnoxious, being noisy in meetings, not respecting an instructor - and you're wondering about real discipline problems like fighting or stealing or constant cursing. Well, a boy will push the limits in whatever group he finds himself in until he discovers the limits. By having older scouts trained and available to maintain discipline for new scouts, they will quickly learn the limits. They will know cursing is not accepted. They will know that hitting in anger is not accepted. And, they already know that stealing is not accepted.

If a scout purposefully behaves against what he knows is accepted, then the Scoutmaster needs to handle the discipline immediately. This is not something resulting from being untrained, but from a specific decision to do what is wrong. Addressing the problem directly with the scout and his parents is the best way to handle this.

Most issues with scouts have to do with boys doing weird, impulsive things, and sometime just plain mean things, but rarely things that indicate a real problem. Allowing trained, older scouts to address the behavior nearly always brings it around.

As is true for everything in scouting, the discipline of a troop is an ongoing, never-ending, rollercoaster ride of learning. It is not a plateau that is reached and maintained.

Scout On!
Posted: 13:45 01-08-2007 112
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