Fewer than 0.3% of American teenagers become Eagle Scouts and, if you’re the parent of a Scout, you’ll want your child to be one of them. Scouting teaches reliance on other Scouts and independent effort, but that does not mean parents just sit on the sidelines and watch. This is the tricky part— supporting your Scout without badgering, intimidating, or becoming over-involved.
David Harakal, whose son is an Eagle Scout with two silver palms, an OA Vigil honor member, and past NYLT SPL, shares 7 ways you can support your Scout from his upcoming book Parenting Through the Ranks: How to Raise Successful Scouts, available September 1, 2023.
Nov 2023 Update: David also appeared in an interview with Eagle Scout Worldviews (terrific channel, you should definitely check it out!) where he shared additional Scout parenting insights and tips for a richer, more constructive Scouting experience. You can see David’s full interview below:
Now, it’s time to dive into the 7 Scout parenting keys for encouraging and empowering your child on their journey to Eagle Scout rank!
Prepare Your Scout for Success
Encourage, challenge, equip, empower, and support your child, then celebrate their successes with them. But these successes must be theirs.
Baden-Powell said, “When you want a thing done, ‘Don’t do it yourself’ is a good motto for Scoutmasters.” It is also a good motto for parents. My derivation of that principle is: “Do nothing for children that they can do alone, or with the help of peers.” Help your future Eagle by Scouting with them, not for them.
One of the best ways to equip your Scout is to practice the E.D.G.E. Method at home. All four steps of the E.D.G.E. Method are important to help your Scout develop the skills and leadership they need to advance in Scouting. Practice during times of non-conflict. This is one of the best tools for your child to master. He or she will need to use it when the time comes for them to lead in their Eagle Scout project.
If you are new to Scouts, it can be easy to focus on Eagle and lose sight of what’s right in front of your Scout. Encourage your child to get the most out of each step. Scouting is a process, not a race. If your Scout rushes to reach First Class, they will not fully develop the foundational skills on which the rest of Scouting builds. A solid foundation will help your child build the confidence and leadership they need to reach Eagle.
In the short period of Scout to First Class, your child will learn more core skills than in any other phase of Scouting. A Scout who works toward First Class develops competence in first aid, camping, and leadership, improves their physical fitness, learns about their environment, and works effectively in a team. Few other youth will develop this breadth and depth of skills and abilities, which will provide benefits throughout life.
Merit Badges Are More than a Patch on a Sash
Discourage your child from becoming a mere Merit Badge accumulator. Help them find their satisfaction in mastery, not box-ticking. They might find a new hobby or even start down the path toward a career. Encourage them to use merit badges to expand their horizons, to discern their aptitudes, likes, and dislikes.
Ask your Scout to tell you what they learn as they work on a merit badge. Look through the available merit badges in the current Scouts Requirements book together, and learn more about who your Scout is and is becoming as you learn together what interests them.
Encourage Your Scout to “Stick With It”
As your child matures, demands on their time increase. If your son or daughter reaches a point where they want to quit Scouting, have open, honest discussions. Ensure there is not a social dynamic, fear, or troop dysfunction that is pushing them away from Scouting.
Talk to your child about elements of Scouting they may not have tried yet, including the high adventure programs, various leadership training opportunities, conservation programs, Sea Scouts, Venturing, and the wealth of merit badge opportunities. But this has to be a two-way discussion.
They may need some time away. If necessary, have your Scout talk to their SPL and Scoutmaster about taking a break. Maybe only attend every other week, or once a month for a while. Maybe only camp a few times. You can hope that “Absence [will make] the heart grow fonder.” Continue to fulfill your commitments to the troop even if your Scout takes a break. Your commitment to the program will encourage your child to reconsider.
If your Scout takes a break, keep them informed about high adventure plans and help with Eagle projects together. Leave the door wide open to return, but without pressure.
Recognize and Honor your Scout’s Leadership
Especially as your Scout progresses from Star to Eagle, scouting discussions with your child should be more peer-to-peer. Support each other during meetings. You should be supporting the troop as an assistant Scoutmaster, Scoutmaster, troop committee member, merit badge counselor, or in another support role.
Model servant leadership. Your Scout might ask you to work with a youth who is trying to complete a merit badge or rank advancement, or you might ask the same of your Scout. Relish shared and mutually delegated leadership with your child. Scouting offers one of the only places you and your child can experience this kind of shared leadership.
Empower Your Scout
Your Scout, especially when they reach Star, Life, or Eagle, needs you to empower them to make informed decisions outside of Scouts, within the framework of rules you establish and enforce for your family. Decision-making knowledge is of little value without the opportunity to use it. Scouting will add strain to your relationship if adult and youth Scout leaders trust your Scout to make informed decisions for the unit but, in contrast, he or she lives a tightly controlled life with no autonomy at home.
Your maturing child needs to learn and practice how to be an adult, with you available to counsel, support, and, if necessary, rescue them. It is difficult to maintain balance, but a balance you must find. Encourage your Scout to attend a National Youth Leadership Training (NYLT) course, the pinnacle of youth leadership training.
Advise, Counsel, then Stay Out of the Way
Eagle must be your child’s goal. Many parents push their children to earn Eagle, often before they are mature enough to realize the full benefits. When the time is right and your Scout is ready, be available to brainstorm or connect them to your network as they work on Eagle project planning, or listen to their frustrations, when they are ready to talk.
Parents, rarely will your child’s “talk time” fit into your schedule neatly. A common favorite time is when you are tired and ready to go to sleep. Stay up. Listen. Encourage. You can sleep tomorrow.
Ask questions that help them get to the answer they need. Ensure your Scout has a contingency plan to prepare for what could go wrong. Offer help, but accept “none” as a sign of maturing independence, not rejection—and be ready for them to change their minds when you least expect it. Be their advocate.
What if your Scout starts but doesn’t complete their Eagle rank? What if they only lack one or two requirements? Encourage them when they get distracted or discouraged, but only as you remember the phrase from the BSA Advancement and Awards website: “Advancement is simply a means to an end, not an end in itself.” Read the BSA Vision and Mission Statements, the Scout Oath, Scout Law, and Scout Motto. Not one mentions ranks or advancement. A Scout who walks the Eagle path matures into a more informed citizen, better leader and follower, better employee and employer, better friend, better woman or man. Experiential learning is the means to further BSA’s primary desire for youth—personal growth.
In my book, Parenting Through the Ranks: How to Raise Successful Scouts, I offer twenty-eight sample conversations, both helpful and unhelpful, ranging from helping a Scout overcome fears to dealing with bullies to planning their Eagle project. Here are two sample conversations from the book.
Scout-Parent Sample Conversation: Merit Badges
Parent: “Do you have a goal for how many merit badges you want to earn?”
Scout: “I haven’t thought about it much. One kid in the troop last year earned them all, and another kid earned about half of them. Earning all of them sounds like a lot, but I think I might want to earn half of them. I’m not sure yet. I know I want to earn at least twenty-one, because I want to be an Eagle Scout.”
Parent: “Sounds like you are evaluating how to set a healthy, sustainable pace for your advancement. You are wise for not trying to rush. I think it’s normal for Scouts to start working on merit badges at summer camp. The troop leaders will help you figure out the best ones to work on when the time is right. Once you decide on your goal, let me know how you want me to help.”
Scout: “Thanks. I love the stuff we’re learning in our Scout-to-First-Class program.”
Parent: “Is there anything you’ve learned that you could teach the rest of the family? I overheard some of the other Scouts talking to each other about how great you were with knots and lashings, and that if something happened to them, they would want you to perform the first aid.”
Scout (beaming): “I’ll go get some rope and my first aid kit. When can I show everyone? I don’t want dinner to get cold.”
Parent: “Of course. Thank you for your consideration for the family.”
Scout-Parent Sample Conversation: Eagle Projects
Parent: “I overheard some of the other Scouts talking about their Eagle Scout projects. Is earning Eagle still one of your goals?”
Scout: “Absolutely! One of the Scouts in my patrol is already working on theirs, but their parents are stressing them out over it.”
Parent: “I’m sorry to hear that. You have time, but I encourage you to map it out so that it doesn’t sneak up on you.”
Scout: “That sounds like a good idea. Will you help me make a schedule? I want to improve my leadership and enjoy the experience as well.”
Parent: “Wow. I wish I had been as wise and mature when I was your age! I rushed through my Eagle Scout and since regretted it. Of course I will help you, but is there anyone else in the troop who could help you? I made too many mistakes, so I might not be your best advisor.”
Scout: “Thanks for the reminder. We have an Eagle Scout coach. I’ll ask them. Thank you!”
Parent: “We’re proud of you and love watching you growing into an amazing adult. You live the Scout Oath and Law. Whether you earn your Eagle Scout rank, or don’t, is up to you. Neither will change how much we love you. We’re ready to help you when you ask.”
Scout: “I really appreciate your confidence in me. I love you.”
Are You A Scout Parent?
I wrote Parenting Through the Ranks: How to Raise Successful Scouts because there are myriad resources to help parents learn about Scouting, but none about how to parent their Scout. My book will help you to maximize the benefits of Scouting to influence all areas of your child’s life, and help parents develop a richer, long-lasting relationship with their children.
Available September 1st, ask your local Scout shop for a copy, or you can order it directly through Amazon or any of your favorite online or physical bookstores.
Also, to learn more about my work and find even more helpful resources, be sure to visit dharakalauthor.org. Until next time, I’m wishing you and your family an incredible Scouting journey!