OPINION: Recovery: Scouting could help youth rebound from COVID woes

Children are returning to school after nearly a year and a half cloistered at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Entertainment acts are starting to perform again, at least in limited measure. Full recovery from our forced behavioral concessions to the viral disease will take a while, however, and some previous activities might never return to pre-pandemic popularity.

We hope that isn’t the case for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, which already were suffering declining membership before COVID-19 swept across the globe and forced curtailment of group gatherings.

Those restrictions cut Scouting membership significantly. Boy Scouts of America, which reported membership of 1.97 million in 2019, now reports 762,000 active members, The Associated Press reported June 30 — a drop of more than 60% in two years, even though many troops offered online meetings, guidance and activities. Girl Scouts’ membership fall wasn’t as dramatic but still significant, from 1.4 million in 2019 to a little more than 1 million, a 30% loss.

Boy Scouts already were facing losses in the wake of a national scandal involving allegations of molestation by Scouts and Scout leaders. The organization last month reached an $850 million lawsuit settlement with attorneys for some 60,000 plaintiffs, the AP reported. The organization’s traditional stances on religion and homosexuality also affected recruitment and membership.

It is hoped that precautions implemented in response to those issues can set families at ease in the future. Parental involvement is encouraged, and leaders are expected to pass state background checks and pass certification courses regarding personal conduct.

For many young people, Scouting provides their first lessons in self-sufficiency, resourcefulness and leadership — qualities that our public response to the pandemic reveals are lacking in many of us.

Scouting was developed by Robert Baden-Powell, a British general and expert in guerrilla warfare. His original book, Aids to Scouting, was written to teach wilderness survival skills to military personnel. Even as the general’s teachings were adapted for civilian youth, Baden-Powell kept much of the initial skills training, such as camping and first aid, hoping that Scouts would maintain skills that would enable them to form citizen militias and defend their homeland if it were ever invaded by hostile forces.

Most current skills for which Scouts can earn badges or belt loops deal with personal growth, individual achievement and supporting the community. Such skills, as well as the discipline and focus on helping the community, might have helped many Americans make better choices during the pandemic, rather than resisting public calls for protecting themselves and helping others.

As the world slowly rebounds from COVID-19, we encourage schools and organizations that traditionally have supported Scouting to continue to do so. Likewise, families who stopped participating in Scouting programs or never considered joining are invited to consider the benefits; they just might offer the kind of personal growth that young boys and girls, and their families, are looking for.