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Scouting Out the Options

Friday, May 3, 2013
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Dear Miriam,

My sons are 12 and 14 and have been involved in Scouting since they were six years old.  We dropped out after my mother was diagnosed with cancer as I had to help take care of her.  They want to return, but the troops near us are not Jewish, and we have really drawn towards our Jewish heritage since my mother's sickness.  Many troop activities are done on Friday and Saturday nights. Can I start my own troop for them?  I have been a registered leader for several years.

Signed,
Scouting Out the Options


Dear Scouting,

Since Scouting is something that your sons are excited about, then this is a great opportunity for reconnection and some positivity for them after (or during) a difficult family time. Take advantage of their motivation. Be sure that they know the delay is because you're working on finding the best troop situation for them rather than not taking their excitement seriously. Because of their ages, you could all benefit from getting them involved in the process. 

First, ask them what they envision as their ideal troop situation. Are their friends in troops they would be interested in joining? What are their own social and educational priorities when it comes to Scouting as well as their other extracurriculars? Is there the possibility that they could return to the troops they left during your mother's illness? If participating in activities over Shabbat isn't an option for your family at this point, then you need to make that clear to them. But if you would allow such activities if your boys wanted to participate, make sure they know they can make that choice for themselves. Also, be sure that you're talking to them separately and allowing them to express their individual preferences. You could also talk to local troop leaders about exactly how the events are scheduled in case there may be some flexibility in terms of the Shabbat conflicts.

The Boy Scouts' website has a page all about starting your own troop, and it sounds like it's a doable, though extended, process. It's crucial that you discuss with your sons whether this is an option that interests them, both in terms of joining a Jewish troop (or at least a Shabbat-friendly one), and in terms of having a parent as the troop leader. Also, if getting involved in Scouting again is something they're eager for right now, bear in mind that starting your own troop would delay the process even further. Be prepared for them to tell you that a new troop is not what they're looking for. Don't be disappointed if Shabbat observance isn't as important to them as you thought or if they'd rather join an established group of their peers rather than start something new. They've been through a lot of family upheaval and may, justifiably, be looking for an easy reentry point.

Most importantly, be sure they know that you're supportive of their desires and committed to helping them find the best opportunities that meet their needs while also respecting your family's religious convictions.  With a lot of open and honest conversations and a little bit of research, I'm sure you'll find a situation that will fulfill all of these requirements and give your sons the positive experience they deserve.

Be well,
Miriam

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