Dear Dr. Debbie,
My daughter is in fourth grade and has always been tomboyish. When I heard that Boy Scouts of the USA was going to start admitting boys next school year, I wondered if that would be a good idea for her.
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Many children have benefitted from membership in Boy Scouts of America as well as Girl Scouts of the USA, not to mention the associated worldwide counterparts of these organizations. Lord Robert Baden-Powell is credited with starting the Boy Scouts in England in 1908 to promote outdoor skills and to build good character in boys. The historical record cites that at the first Boy Scout Rally in1909 a group of girls presented themselves as “Girl Scouts” wearing the same uniform as the boys. So Lord Baden-Powell enlisted the help of his sister Agnes to start a club for girls to be called Girl Guides. When he married, his wife Olave joined the cause of getting girls out of their homes for experiences and service. Juliette Gordon Low, a friend of the Baden-Powells, knew she had to bring this exciting movement back home to Savannah, Georgia where she held the first meeting for Girl Scouts of the USA in 1912. For over one hundred years, scouting has offered comradery, skill development, new experiences, and many opportunities for children and teens to contribute to their communities.
Girls in Boy Scouts
The welcome of girls into Boy Scouts in the 2018-19 school year is controversial, mainly because it might appear to be dismissive of the experience a girl can have in Girl Scouts. The way BSA has structured girls into its Cub Scout program (1st through 5th grades) will be to have girl-only dens of 6 to 8 girls, which would be part of a pack of several dens. By choice of the leaders, currently existing packs will be able to include both boy dens and girl dens, or new packs will consist of girl-only dens. (Because it is a choice, current packs can choose to remain boy-only.) For older girls, it will soon become possible to work toward the rank of Eagle Scout – again, in groups of girls only – through steps culminating in a project that serves the community. So even in Boy Scouts, there’s no guarantee that a girl will do activities with boys.
Comparing Apples and Apples
Much of what your daughter might find in Boy Scouts already exists for her in Girl Scouts.
Museums, zoos, and theaters offer discounts and programs for Boy Scouts as well as for Girl Scouts. Some events are for ALL scouts.
There is a Girl Scout award that is comparable to the Eagle Scout rank. The Gold Award, however, is not as well recognized. Therefor an Eagle Scout award may more likely sway college acceptance decisions and job offers for a girl than a Gold Award might. (A good service project idea would be to promote awareness of what a Gold Award signifies!)
Adult leadership is similar and different. Cub Scout dens are generally led by women with men taking more of the leadership roles for older ages and at the community level. Girl Scout troops are also typically led by women (though for all age levels), with fathers becoming more active in recent years, especially for the younger girls. Women are the clear majority at the community level.
By design, many Girl Scout experiences expose girls to women in non-traditional roles such as inventors, environmental scientists, astronauts, etc. and encourage them to seek out examples of leaders throughout history who have been women. Boy Scouts, as of yet, does not appear to have female role models as an integral part of its program.
Good Leadership is Good Leadership
If you compare the core principles of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts you will see much in common. If you ask around, you’ll find that a girl’s experience in scouting comes down to troop leadership, or as we will see next year, den leadership. Scouts of either organization can fulfill requirements toward badges; they can fund raise; they can take field trips; they can provide service. Good leadership guides children to become the best they can be – no matter if they are boys or girls.
I was fortunate to have had many excellent leaders in my years in Girl Scouting from Brownies to Seniors. I attended day camp as a Brownie and overnight camp as an older scout. We were encouraged to share, to be brave, to be creative, to master new skills, and to enjoy nature. Because of these wonderful experiences and the devotion my leaders and counselors exuded in the fulfillment of their leadership roles, I looked forward to being a Girl Scout leader myself. It was truly gratifying when I finally had the chance to lead a group of girls. In tight collaboration with the girls and their parents, highlights included star gazing away from city lights, horseback riding along a wooded trail on the eastern shore, an overnight at the Maryland Science Center, second row seats at the Kennedy Center (and chatting backstage with an actress their age), and camping at the beach and in the mountains. Since we live in Annapolis we created and completed a “Troop’s Own Badge” for fishing. And yes, our troop provided service in our community. My Girl Scouts helped to start Chesapeake Children’s Museum!
In My Humble Opinion
The best way to assure your daughter has a good experience in Girl Scouting, rather than jump ship to find it’s nearly the same ship, would be to get involved. If you cannot commit to being a troop leader, you might co-lead or be an active parent volunteer. You and your daughter can elevate the importance of “tomboy” activities to the rest of the group if necessary. Then lead by your enthusiastic example. You will find there are many resources at the local, council, and national levels to help you. You will find badges and journeys that lead girls to enjoy the out-of-doors, to be physically active, and to be independent decision-makers. There is much leeway for each troop, and even each girl, to forge a well-suited path.
There may come a day when we no longer need female role models to help break down barriers for our girls. Until then, Agnes, Olave, and Juliette continue to lead the way.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.