Saturday, October 29, 2011

Suggestions for New Boy Scouts Who Hate Parental Separation During Camping

This post is inspired by a blog comment I received that stated:

(My son crossed over last spring and loves Scouts) "...but - he HATES the camps. he feels it's alot of hurry up and wait. he also is quite the home boy and doesn't like to be away from us for more than one night. it's a conundrum for us b/c scouts is the only activity he likes and will participate in gladly. i'm not sure how much he'll get out of scouts if he continues to avoid the camps
p.s. he loves to camp, light his fire, cook his food, etc. just wants US there too :) "


There are a few issues here so I will separate them and offer possible solutions.

1. It could very well be true that the camping trips are boring.

The question is who is planning these trips and what are they doing?

If it is a boy-led Troop perhaps the boys are not planning things well.

Has your son complained to the SPL that the trips are boring and given suggestions as to what he'd like to do?

Ideas:

a. work on Scout skills (the Scout asks other Scouts to help him learn new skills required for rank advancement, or help practicing what he has once learned, i.e. knot tying)

b. play organized games as a big group

c. smaller informal games like Frisbee or tossing a ball

d. bring card games and other portable games to play with others, then he initiates the game playing (i.e. Milles Bournes, poker)

e. have an Assistant Scoutmaster teach a merit badge

f. organized hike

g. bring a book or comic book to read if he has gaps of time and wants to be alone

2. Certain camping activities and responsibilities take a certain amount of time and so not every minute can or will or should be entertainment filled with activities for the whole group.

For example if your son is not the one washing dishes he may be bored with the time the others who are assigned to that duty are using to wash dishes. In that time he will have to entertain himself or do activities with other kids like read a book, play frisbee, or play a card game, or just have a conversation. That is not unreasonable. He could always offer to help out, even if it is not his assigned job...

If your son's patrol packed up quickly but some other patrols are dawdling and the trailer cannot yet be packed up to leave he will have to entertain himself.

Kids need to learn to entertain themselves sometimes. Also, being bored is sometimes a good thing. Having spare time to just think is good. Learning to cope with downtime and boredom is a skill I think some people have not yet mastered.

3. Have you (the parent) gone camping with the Troop yet?

Troops often will allow a parent to come along on a camping trip, especially if you have a private talk with your Scoutmaster explaining that your son loves camping but is struggling at the camping trips and feels he needs you there, at least in the beginning, not as something you see as permanent until the boy turns 18 and ages out of Scouting or until the day he earns his Eagle!

If you go camping, you should (must) follow all Troop rules and respect the leadership's authority.

For example in our Troop the boy still had to sleep with the Scouts and the parent had to sleep alone. I know one Scout in another Troop who was so scared he would not sleep apart from his mother (who went on the trip as he was afraid to camp without the mother or father, so that Troop let him share a tent with the parent. I would not have approved of that even if my son's Troop allowed it.

I myself am not a helicopter parent and I do not like helicopter parenting. I am an active parent who meets her children's needs. So, when my older son joined Scouting, as was typical for his personality since he was born he was a bit worried about being without one of us for the camping trips. He was used to being with us as the Cub Scout rules forced one of us to go camping with him.

So, at the beginning my husband went on the camping trips but kept a distance. My husband did NOT do my son's work for him and he did NOT interfere with Troop activties such as overriding what leaders said. For example the boys cooked their own food and if it burned my husband didn't go over there to help them cook or to teach them how, as it was the duty of the SPL and ASPL and other more experienced Scouts. My husband did not pack up our son's gear or do other tasks that Scouts were supposed to do for themselves. My son was happy knowing that my husband was there in case he was needed.

The first year my son went away for a week for summer camp the Troop needed a second female volunteer leader so I went. I did not go because my son needed me but he was happy to have me there. (That was a month before he turned 11 since he has an August birthday so he was younger than some of the others.) I was very hands off but he knew I was there if needed.

By the fall camping trips in that first year of Boy Scouting my son didn't need or want me or my husband on the camping trips.

My younger son is very different and really independent. Although our Troop asked me to camp at summer camp the first year after he crossed over, to help out my younger son asked that I not attend. I told the Scoutmaster what my son said and asked if the Troop would have a hardship if I did not go camping. When he heard that he said he was sorry to not have me help but he loved my son's independence and thought it was best for my son to be allowed to spread his wings and fly solo. The Troop found another female to help them (they like the balance of some female energy at summer camp and it is good to have a mom there to comfort the kids who are homesick or having some problem). As it turns out I was busy packing for our previously-unplanned move that week and would have really had a problem if I'd had committed to be away at camp all week so it worked out best for me also to have stayed home.

The gentle separation and us not being helicopter parents on the camping trips helped my older son become more independent and to not feel that he needed us there. A month before his 13th birthday he went to the 2010 Boy Scout Jamboree for 12 nights away from home with no mobile phone or internet contact with us and he had the time of his life. I was the one worried because I didn't know if he was alright or not, even though the Scoutmaster promised to phone us if some emergency happened and my phone had not rung. We wound up gong down to visit at Jambo (only because my husband wanted to see what it was like and to see the big 100th year anniversary show). My son was happy to show us around but got sick of our slow pace walking and such; he felt we were inhibiting him from doing what he wanted (!) and didn't at all "need" us there. He was happy to be back to being totally independent when our short visit ended! A boy we knew was terribly homesick and after his parents visited he was happy and when they left he had a great time and was over his homesickness.

Also if you go on the camping trips you can observe what goes on there. Is the Troop a mess with camping, are they disorganized? Do the camping trips really stink? Perhaps you could talk to the Troop Committee Chair and the Scoutmaster about your concerns and address whatever the issues are. If the issues are serious I would suggest finding a new Troop.

4. Does your son have a problem making new friends and having conversations?

Some quiet kids who are shy would rather sit alone than talk to another kid. He should be gently encouraged and directly taught to learn social skills.

I think it's sad when some kid sits alone and chooses to not even talk to anyone then later they complain they are lonely. They need to realize their role in the situation and learn to take responsibility for making a change in their own lives rather than acting like victims who are being intentionally ignored and excluded.

Why do some kids expect that others should reach out to them and pull them into what they are doing when they have never made that same effort with someone else? Have they ever considered that when they sit alone and look unhappy that others may read their body language that they are not an approachable person and the way they act may look like they are someone who is either not nice, unhappy, or even mean?

All Scouts should be encouraged to find a circle of friends and to be comfortable with peers. If the boy likes the company of more mature people maybe he would be accepted by older kids in the Troop? There should be one or two kids that he likes enough to pal around with. He should conspire with his friends to make a committment that they will all go on that camping trip. In other words they make plans ahead of time and make sure they are all going together, that is a good way to have peer pressure, it's called making plans to have fun.

I note that usually the "only children" seem to like to hang around with adults rather than make an effort to make friends with same-aged peers. Also the really smart kids (gifted kids) seem to favor adult company over same-aged peers. With that said, in my opinion those kids (and all kids) need to learn to stretch outside their comfort zone and make a concerted effort to become more social with their peer group. Everyone can benefit from improving their social skills.

If your son can't find one or two kids to befriend then perhaps you need to find another Troop, but only if your son has made a real effort using to reach out and open up to make friendships. Learning how to make small talk, learning how to initiate activities like starting a card game and things like that are good skills for all kids to learn.

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If a parent goes on a Scout camping trip the Scout should not hang around all day with the parent, or look to the parent to direct activities that are more exciting or different than the leadership has planned.

The parent should follow all Troop rules, policies and procedures and the parent should not override the leadership's authority.

1 comment:

sm said...

here in canada, the cubs DON'T camp with their parents. that would have helped my son immensely; taken much of the anxiety away...
you know, it never occured to me that we could ask to attend a camping weekend :)
so thanks for the idea and i'll try to set this in motion