Youth Groups

Me, with Riki Hendrix, (from Buddy Miles’ band) playing for a Scout Jamboree.

Good Friends in Guitar Land:

Well, the deadline for filing complaints against the Boy Scouts of America passed in November, at least according to their own bankruptcy notice regarding potential settlements with their former members. According to sources, there were LOTS of complaints too. Where all this will end up, who knows, but for those of us who were in youth groups growing up, some memories, good and bad, will never end.

It’s not just the Scouts either. I’d be willing to bet that many, if not most youth groups, have faced similar challenges regarding allegations as to how some of their members were treated.

This past week marked the normal observance of Boy Scout Sunday for Christians, although individual groups may celebrate at any date during February. The United Methodists, for example, celebrate it on February 14th. Jewish Scouts celebrate Scout Sabbath and Muslim Scouts celebrate Scout Jumu’iah.

The birthday of (international Boy) Scouting is Feb. 8th, by the way, and this is the 110th year of its official existence, unless you want to count the filing for bankruptcy and all the rest of Scouting’s recent changes, at least here in America. So many things are changing here in America, are they not?  But I digress here...

With rare exceptions, most of us have belonged to a youth group when we were kids, and hopefully, most of our experiences were pretty good ones. Youth groups generally espouse high ideals, along with having some sort of community service component. At their best, they combine a sense of identity, goal setting, and belonging, with fun and purpose. The social aspects of a well-run youth group can also provide a lifetime of making good friends, having good memories, and becoming better citizens.

Then, there’s the flip side.

In order to be successful, a youth group requires dedicated adult volunteer leaders who are willing to freely give of their time and their thankless after-hours energy, in order to safely supervise a bunch of rowdy out-of-school kids who will do everything in their power to resist such supervision.

Absent such dedicated adult leadership, to say that youth groups could be a recipe for disaster would be a polite understatement.

In the olden days, kids and adults both at least gave lip service to paying a great deal of attention to community morals and respect for all things that deserve respect. This does not mean that problems did not slip through the cracks. They certainly did, but on the whole, it was easier to find common ground for everyone with the commonly shared and respected high ideals of the past. Sometime in the last 40 years or so, and particularly after everything went downhill in the 1960’s, things started to slip off the rails in our anything-goes society.

As mentioned, a great problem with youth groups has always been trying to find enough good adult volunteer leadership. Another significant problem with many youth groups was their tendency to want to cover up any problems that came along, or to handle those problems quietly “for the good of the organization.” To a large extent, this went on with numerous churches, schools, and other youth-serving organizations back then, and more and more frustrated victims were unable to get a fair hearing, and find a just resolution for their concerns.

Finally, society began to take notice. Mandated reporting laws were developed, forcing adult leaders and medical personnel to report suspected abuse allegations to appropriate civil authorities. Eventually, lawsuits started coming along, and before long, major financial settlements were forcing youth organizations to either pay up, close, or to file for bankruptcy. As more and more cover-ups were discovered, many youth groups and other institutions fell under great suspicion, and that’s pretty much where things sit today.

Being a member of several youth groups as a child, I had a fairly mixed experience with them. With my disabilities, I was not able to participate or advance in rank like the other kids. If there was a good adult leader on duty, things generally went well, but if not, there was sometimes the dickens to pay. (I remained a “Tenderfoot” with the Scouts for example, due to being unable to do some of the more rigorous physical stuff required. These days, they do have alternative requirements, as appropriate.)

As a school teacher, I did go back and volunteer with several youth groups, in order to assist some of my own handicapped students with attaining badges, or achieving higher rank, but oftentimes, that too was an uphill battle with people who were set in their ways about accommodating special needs. Again, qualified and appropriately trained adult leadership made all the difference in such situations. If there were adequate youth protection policies and adult “two-deep” leadership, as is required these days in most modern youth programs, then things generally went well.

With the groups (youth or adult) that I’ve been associated with over the years, for the most part, they have offered mostly good experiences for their members. This point made however, within each of those groups, I have also discovered a number of agenda-driven individual fanatics. Groups need to have the courage to keep an eye on such people, and be willing to show them to the door at a moment’s notice, if they get out of line, or get TOO wild-eyed. Once again, of course, I digress here.

Most of you know that in my columns, I very much try to stay positive, while at the same time, advocating for the change that is so necessary. At their best, youth and other groups serve a great social and civic purpose.

At their worst...well, you know...

Anyway, several years back, I retired from many years of active service with youth groups. I remain a member of the International Scout and Guide Fellowship. (ISGF)

Volume 17, Issue 5, Posted 4:13 PM, 02.17.2021