Scouting and Cell Phone Policies
Written by Dave Peters
A Small Picture.
Rather than extract a critter from its environment and hauling it to Ecology, Cub Scouts attending Arrow of Light Camp earn points taking pictures of plants and animals with their phones. When they transition to a troop, these budding nature photographers may face a phone ban within that troop.
This can send a mixed message to our youth.
Troop phone ban policies, while well-intentioned, may cause more harm than good to Scouting as a whole. Banning devices keeps the positive message of Scouting out of the public eyes, contributing to challenges in the program’s overall perception. Also, enforcing these policies could present youth with an ultimatum: your cell phone or Scouting.
Sadly, some youth may choose their phones.
According to statista.com, “The average age that kids get cell phones is between 11 and 13 years old. This is the age when most children are allowed to have their own phone, and when they may need it for emergencies or pick-up requests.”
As we progress in this digital age, more units are finding ways to incorporate phone use in a safe and effective way.
Troop 9005 in Woodbury adopted the “right place” approach. Charter Organization Representative Steve Addington says, “at Troop meetings and events there is a Tech Table, where Scouts can use their devices to do research and then bring that information back to the group.” Troop 9005’s approach may be one reason why its membership retention numbers rank among the highest in the council.
Troop 3479 in Eden Prairie developed a Tech Chip which resembled the Totin Chip where Scouts are trained in proper phone use before earning a wallet-sized certification. If four corners of the card are lost, the Scout is re-trained. Learn more about Troop 3279’s Tech Chip Training and purchase their cards here: https://www.boyscouttrail.com/content/award/tech_chip-2052.asp
The girls in Troop 7071 in Woodbury modified 3479’s Tech Chip to include a 15-night camp requirement before receiving cell phone privileges at camp. “The girls really like the idea of re-earning those camping nights if all four corners are lost,” says Scoutmaster Jenny Veith. “The extra requirement says to me these Scouts are truly dedicated to the idea of a better shared group experience.”
In 2015, Aaron on Scouting blogged about a cell phone policy based on the 12 points of the Scout Law. You can read all about how Grayslake, Illinois Troop 96 “runs the 12” when training youth on their cell phone policy here: https://blog.scoutingmagazine.org/2015/05/04/this-troops-excellent-technology-policy-is-based-on-the-scout-law/
A Bigger Picture.
“With so much of Scout advancement being online, from merit badge pamphlets to Scoutbook,” says former University of Minnesota Instructor and lifetime Scouter Dr. Michael Westfall, “it’s a bit disingenuous to ban devices…it seems to me, if we can train Scouts proper use of fire, axes, and knives, we ought to be able to train them how to use their phones.”
In youth sports, players regularly snap and share photos on social media apps. On a team bus, in uniform and surrounded by friends, a photo can make a great memory. How great would it be for the Scouting movement if our youth felt just as natural sharing their in-uniform team building moments, camp adventures, and leading endeavors?
Scouting didn’t trademark “Prepared. For Camping.” or “Prepared. For the Meeting.” Scouting trademarked “Prepared. For Life.” Cell phones are gaining new capabilities every day and are sure to be a constant resource for our youth throughout their lives. As capabilities increase, so do our responsibilities as youth enrichment programming leaders.
Whether it’s a “right place” or “price to pay” model, a flexible cell phone policy can create pathways that eliminate the “cell phone or Scouts” ultimatum. If a change in policy led just one more youth to Scouting, most would agree it’s worth it.