Tufts Study on the Character of Scouts Is a “Good Sign” for Our Movement

Tufts Study on the Character of Scouts Is a “Good Sign” for Our Movement

One of my hobbies (other than Scouting) is hiking in state and national parks. I’m sure a lot of you also are big fans of the great opportunities provided by these facilities. If you’ve never experienced a sunrise at Bryce Canyon National Park, the afternoon sun on the granite walls of Zion National Park or the stark wilderness of the Badlands in South Dakota, then you are really missing out!

It’s always a tough choice for me: visit a BSA camp that is new to me, or take a hike in a national park. It’s nice to get a bit of both sometimes. I’ve always been fascinated, though, at the difference in messaging and instruction you see in the signage in these different places. The signs at our state and national facilities are always very specific: “Don’t feed the animals,” “Stay off the grass,” “Don’t litter.” The instructions seem endless, at least until you get away from the core public areas.

Go into most Scout camps, though, and you’ll see signs like “In this camp we follow the Scout Oath and Scout Law.” Or, you might see the 12 points of the Scout Law on individual signs as you drive in. Those of us in Scouting, we know you really don’t need much else in the way of behavior standards that are publicly displayed. We know that our program itself constantly teaches youth – and us adults – that doing the right thing without being told is part of our core principles. We don’t need a sign to tell us not to litter. In fact, you’ll find that Scouts usually have pockets full of litter we’ve PICKED UP!

You get the point. Character has many forms, and over the next few years we’ll be talking a lot about this topic, as it is one area where we truly distinguish ourselves in our value proposition for parents. As we start looking at this topic, I would encourage you to take a look at what will be a dramatic transformation in the way the general public perceives who we are, and what we truly do for young people.

The Tufts Study

While I was in Pittsburgh, our Council embarked on a years-long study with some prominent researchers to determine if the Cub Scout program truly delivered character. We found that there were some character competencies delivered, but we found that a much more robust study would be necessary to fully determine HOW character was delivered through the Scouting program. Fortunately, the Cradle of Liberty Council in Philadelphia was on a similar journey.

Thanks to a generous grant from the John Templeton Foundation, a study looked at a group of 1,800 Cub Scouts in Philadelphia over a three-year period, and compared them to a carefully matched group of more than 400 boys from similar backgrounds who were not involved in Cub Scouting. At the beginning of the study, the Cub Scouts were no different from the non-Cub Scouts in 11 specific character attributes. But by the end of three years, the differences were remarkable.

Cub Scouts showed impressive growth in character attributes such as being trustworthy, helpful, kind, obedient, thrifty and reverent. In addition, Cub Scouts were much more likely to say that “helping others” or “doing the right thing” was the most important thing in their life, versus  “being smart,” “being the best” or “playing sports.”

This study is very significant, and should be shared with parents, educators and religious leaders to let them know why it’s so important for all boys to participate in Scouting. If you’d like to learn more about this Tufts Character and Merit Study, check out the information here.

As I hike through our national parks, it’s impressive to see how the forces of nature shape the raw elements of our earth into beautiful, awe-inspiring landscapes that enrich our lives. Similarly, as I visit Scout programs throughout the country, it’s even more impressive to see how Scouting shapes the raw talent and potential of our youth, teaching basic values and developing character attributes and leadership skills that will enrich our families, schools, churches and communities.

One of the reasons we don’t need a lot of signs with rules in Scout camps is because of Scouting’s ability to imprint the values of the Scout Oath and Scout Law in the hearts and minds of our Scouts. You and I get to see this every day as we interact with our Scouts, and it’s great to have an outside group of child-development experts affirm what we’ve always known: Scouting is one of our national treasures that impacts character and leadership skills in young people.

Thanks for all that you do to make this possible.



Nathan Johnson

As a member of the Communications team at Boy Scouts of America, Nathan Johnson enjoys finding and sharing the stories that inform, inspire, and delight the Scouting family.


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Tufts Study on the Character of Scouts Is a “Good Sign” for Our Movement
Tufts Study on the Character of Scouts Is a “Good Sign” for Our Movement
Tufts Study on the Character of Scouts Is a “Good Sign” for Our Movement