As of this month, girls ages 11 to 17 are welcome to join the Boy Scouts of America, in a new program rebranded as Scouts BSA. The program is gender integrated, but with separate troops for girls and for boys.
Meanwhile, the Cub Scouts, the Boy Scouts of America’s program for younger kids ages 7 to 10, became co-ed last fall with boys and girls participating together.
Both Boy and Girl Scouts have faced declining enrollment in recent years.
To address that, Girl Scouts USA expanded its outreach to include more ethnic and socio-economic diversity, and even homeless girls. We applaud the organization for making a conscious effort to be more inclusive of underserved populations, and we hope Boy Scouts of America is doing more than targeting females to expand its ranks.
So, why is the new Scouts program tacking on the letters BSA if it is hoping to build its membership among women? A name without the B would make more sense.
In any case, now girls of all ages can officially participate in what used to be a boys-only program, under the Boy Scouts of America umbrella, and they can earn the same merit badges and achieve Eagle rank as their brothers do.
But girls should carefully consider which Scouting group they might join.
For some, participating in the Cub Scouts offers a way for fathers and daughters, or girls and their brothers, to connect. But research shows a single-sex environment can be very beneficial for the development of healthy girls or boys when it’s pressure-free and supportive of the individual.
Some will argue that since girls in the Scouts BSA troops will meet and work separately from the boys, with either male or female leaders or both, therefore they can experience an all-girl environment. But that ignores the fact that the Boy Scouts’ program content is not focused exclusively on girls and their needs and interests. Girl Scouts is. Girl Scouts has spent the past 107 years developing and evolving its program specifically for girls — teaching them confidence-building skills, exposing them to strong leaders who are women, helping them learn to set personal goals and develop leadership skills. Girl Scouts encourages girls to try new things and take risks without the pressure that can arise in a co-ed, or male-oriented setting.
In my experience as the daughter and sister of Girl Scouts, then as a troop leader and mother of a Girl Scout, I can say it’s truly all about girls. Their voices counted, their opinions mattered. Their interests and ideas were at the center of everything we did when we were camping, exploring careers, learning about business, mentoring younger Girl Scouts and serving our community.
Some say they want to join the Scouts BSA program to pursue the rank of Eagle Scout. Girl Scouts has its own rigorous and prestigious Gold Award program, which was restructured about 15 years ago to be accessible to more participants. More than 1 million Girl Scouts have earned the Gold Award or its equivalent since the program began in 1916, according to the girlscouts.org website, and today, anyone in charge of reviewing résumés and applications will recognize “Going for the Gold” requires as much effort as becoming an Eagle Scout.
Both scouting programs continue to focus on community building and becoming good citizens. The Boy Scouts’ website — scouting.org — says its existing programs are relevant for both young men and women. But Girl Scouts is dedicated to giving girls a space to be the ones in charge. And it works. According to the Girl Scout USA research, half of all women in the 115th Congress were Girl Scouts, and more than half of female business leaders are Girl Scout alums.
What’s more, the GSUSA Institute’s Alumnae Impact Study found 91 percent of Girl Scout alums rate their experience in Girl Scouts as positive, 76 percent rate the impact of Girl Scouting on their lives today as positive and 54 percent attribute their success in life to their time spent in Girl Scouts. The program’s all-female leadership structure and role models are unique and powerful components that the newly rebranded Boy Scouts probably cannot provide.
If you are a girl in a place where there is no Girl Scout troop, or the meeting schedule just doesn’t work for you, then join the Cub Scouts or the Scouts BSA. But if there is a Girl Scout program available, that’s where you belong.