It’s time to talk about one of the most controversial issues in Scouting: cell phones. Should they be allowed at troop functions? With the new cyber chip requirements and emphasis on online safety, it’s surprising that the BSA hasn’t yet written a solid policy on the use of cell phones during Scouting activities.
Should scouts carry cell phones during troop activities? While cellphones can be a distraction from Scouting, they also represent a valuable tool for safety and can be used to enhance the overall experience. Some troops have banned cell phones altogether, while others allow for some restricted use. Generally, it is up to each troop to decide its own cell phone policy.
My generation was the first group of scouts to own real cell phones. During my time as a scout, we went from flip phones to iPhones and I was able to see, firsthand, how phones changed the Scouting experience.
There were definitely pros and cons to having a phone during troop functions. In this article, I’ll be sharing with you the truth of how I saw cell phones used during Scouting activities, as well as the cases for and against cell phone use.
I’ll also include my own recommendation on cell phone use if you’re looking for inspiration to create your own electronics policy. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll have a more well-rounded perspective on the cost and benefits of introducing cell phones to the Scouting experience!
The Truth About Cellphone Use in Scouting
Hopefully, you don’t immediately assume bad things when I talk about the truth of cell phone use in Scouting. It seems like the first thing people jump on, when discouraging cell phones in Scouting, is that they could be used to bully others or access inappropriate content.
While this is a legitimate concern, in my experience, I’ve seen very little inappropriate use of cell phones in comparison to their many other functions in Scouting. This section is an unfiltered, first-hand account of how I’ve seen cell phones used in the troops I’ve belonged to.
I should mention that both of the troops that I’ve been a part of officially prohibited cell phones, but did not invade our privacy by checking for them. If we were seen with our phones out, they would just be confiscated until the end of the activity. If we did not want to give them up, they would check with our parents to see if they were aware we had our cellphones.
However, this did not stop a brave scout from occasionally sneaking their cell phone into camp. While no one would be on their phones during the day, sometimes at night we would huddle together in the corner of a tent — often with a cell phone in hand to record a scout rap-battle or to listen to a new music album that someone downloaded.
One of my best Scouting memories was bonding with another scout while giving them relationship advice for texting their soon-to-be girlfriend. I was able to relate with his experience, and we became that much closer by talking about life outside of Scouting. That’s probably another reason why they discourage phones in Scouting. 😛
Seriously though, as a scout, while you do want to fully invest in Scouting process, you’re also a teenager who is quickly becoming an adult. Scouting was where I spent the most time with people my age outside of the supervision of grownups. Phones, used in moderation, helped me to connect with others and learn social skills that I wouldn’t have normally learned in Scouting.
When I Started Noticing Phones Becoming a Problem
Around the time that I was a Star Scout, newer, fancier phones had just begun to come out. Some of the younger scouts began to bring these phones to camps and used them as a crutch to avoid interacting with the other scouts.
While most of us would continue to occasionally use phones as tools to relate with each other, some younger scouts began using these devices as escapes. This caused the atmosphere around electronics to shift: from scouts originally taking photos and listening to music together, to instead, simply playing Flappy Birds or watching YouTube videos.
Our leadership quickly realized that we needed to make a change.
As one of the older scouts at the time, I was forced to crack down more thoroughly on cell phone use. If I found a younger scout alone, on their phone, I would ask them to stop and join the other scouts. I wouldn’t report them and get their phone taken, but would instead try to ease them off their phone and encourage them to participate.
What I found was that cell phones provided a good indication of whether or not a scout was happy and comfortable. By making more of an effort to include the scouts who would often be on their phones instead of talking to others, we were able to slowly ease the less outgoing members into participating more often.
When everyone worked to get along, electronics became secondary to the social experience. This means that in a healthy and connected troop, cell phones don’t serve as a distraction or escape, but provide a benefit allowing young people to get more out of Scouting. The key is moderation.
This is just my own personal experience with electronics in Scouting. To find the best balance for your own troop, I’ve outlined some of the pros and cons to take into account when considering cell phone use during troop activities.
Let’s start with the cons!
The Case For Banning Cellphone Use
Even allowing a few electronics into Scouting environments can be a slippery slope. Oftentimes, it is argued that a troop is better off banning cell phones completely, so as to avoid the problem altogether.
Here are five good reasons why the use of cell phones should be banned in most troops:
- Phones can be a distraction that takes away from the Scouting experience
- Phones can be costly if lost, stolen, or broken.
- Cell phones can be used inappropriately, in a way that could be hurtful towards other scouts.
- Having access to a cell phone can increase feelings of homesickness.
- Jealousy could emerge if one scout’s cell phone is nicer than another scout’s.
However, even with these points, the cell phone debate isn’t entirely black-and-white. Having been a scout myself, cell phones can definitely have positive effects, if used constructively.
The Case For Allowing Cellphone Use
Aside from the opinions of scouts, there is still a surprising amount of support for allowing cellphones into troop activities. I’ve found a strong percentage of parents in Scouting are in favor of allowing phones at troop events.
Here are five reasons why the benefits of phones in Scouting may outweigh the costs:
- Cell phones are the most effective way of contacting outside assistance in an emergency
- Cell phones provide a convenient way for scouts to contact their parents, and vice versa.
- Phones act as a camera, internet source, alarm clock, map, and flashlight, all in one.
- As mentioned earlier, phones can be a way for scouts to bond and relate to each other
- Most scouts carry their cell phones everywhere else they go, so is it right for Scouting to take that away?
While there’s a good argument for either side of the cell phones in Scouting debate, most troops tend to lean towards the outright banning of phones.
The problem with completely banning cellphones is that some scouts might bring their phones, regardless. While this could be because these Scouts have little regard for the rules, they could also have been urged by their parents to bring their phones.
Either way, I believe a balanced approach is the most effective way to create a cell phone policy that benefits scouts, scoutmasters, and parents alike.
My Personal Recommendation for Cellphone Use in Scouting
The problem with completely banning phones and having Scouts inevitably sneak them in is that there’s no accountability if something is damaged or stolen. Liability becomes a somewhat tricky issue here, but I’ve heard of some troops drawing a productive balance for cell phone use in scouting.
One of the best policies I’ve heard of has been to allow the use of phones during the drives to and from events. Aside from that, phones are powered off and for emergency use only. During longer Scouting activities, phones would be collected and safely stored within vehicles. If a scout needed to contact their parents, Scoutmaster could simply retrieve their cell phone for them.
I find that moderate approaches result in better overall cell phone policies. Personally, I might expand the above policy so that some other events, like troop outings to bowling or at restaurants, allowed for the full use of cell phones among scouts.
In your troops case, don’t be afraid to try different things. Some troops aren’t able to function with any cell phone use from their scouts, while others would benefit from a more relaxed cell phone policy. Every group of scouts is different, so be open to experimenting to find your perfect balance.
You can check out some other examples of cell phone policies at this Scouter.com thread if you’re looking for more inspiration.
There’s no easy solution for incorporating cell phones into Scouting. However, by understanding your troop and the concerns of parents and Scoutmasters, you’ll be able to create a more well-rounded policy that will leave everyone better off.
Personally, I’ve found that some of the best times I’ve had, using a cell phone, have been with other scouts during troop events. Hopefully this article gave you a more well-rounded perspective on the costs and benefits of cell phone use in Scouting.
What did you think? Should phones still be banned in Scouting? Maybe you’re in favor of open access to phones? Leave a comment down below letting me know your troop’s cell phone policy! I’d love to know what you thought about my article. Until next time, as always, best of luck on your Scouting journey!