Mac’s Message #51: Dealing With Unruly Boys (Part 3)

Mac McIntire

Mac McIntire


In my final message about dealing with unruly boys in your Scouting program I would like to provide some practical advice and techniques you can use to help improve the behavior of disruptive young men.

I believe the best foundation for maintaining harmony in a Scouting unit is to have a consistent structure to your meetings and activities. Boys tend to behave better when they know your meetings will always start and end on time and will follow an established meeting routine—such as a flag ceremony, prayer, reciting of the Scout Oath and Law, announcements, unit business, a learning experience with a reflection afterward, and a fun closing activity.

I also encourage you to have clear, consistent, and simple behavioral expectations for your young men. Specific expectations get specific results. Boys want to know what is expected of them; and they want to know that those expectations are firm and unalterable. When rules are unclear, or worse yet, irresolute, boys get confused. Confusion often results in dysfunctional behavior. Consistency is critical to maintaining control with young men. Usually if a boy knows the rules, and is sure they cannot be broken or altered, he will abide by them willingly without challenge.

I’ve found a good way to set expectations is to have the boys create agreed-upon behavioral ground rules for your meetings and activities. These ground rules can be posted in your meeting room so the young men are constantly reminded of how to act.

No doubt the best behavioral expectations for Scouting-age boys can be found in the Scout Law. If you have engrained the Scout Law into the mind of a boy through weekly recitation, it should be easy to counsel him regarding his disruptive behavior by reminding him of these Scouting standards. For example, if a boy is too noisy late at night on a campout, you can remind him to be Courteous. If a young man argues with other boys or backbites, gossips or bullies others, you can prompt him to be Loyal and Kind. If a boy fails to follow your Scouting unit rules, you can remind him to be Trustworthy and Obedient. I cannot think of any possible offenses a boy might commit that cannot be tied back to one or more of the values in the Scout Law.

When I have served as the Scoutmaster I make sure I’m the only one who handles serious discipline problems. I don’t delegate this responsibility to any of my assistant adult leaders or youth leaders. This ensures consistency in the way boys with severe behavioral problems are handled. It also keeps the other leaders from having to be the “bad cop.” I’ve found most serious problems can be addressed through a calm, quiet, private, one-on-one discussion with the young man. If that boy knows he is loved and appreciated, he typically responds well to corrective counsel. I’ve found a pat on the back is more effective than a harsh rebuke.

However, there may be times when you need to take more drastic measures to modify a boy’s behavior. When I was a Scoutmaster the first time I had several boys who were hyperactive and on medication. Some of the boys were very hard to control. For serious infractions I implemented the card system that is used in soccer. For the first serious violation I would figuratively “blow the whistle” and warn the boy. This was the boy’s “courtesy warning.” If the same serious off-purpose behavior continued, I would “yellow card” him. The boy could get two yellow cards before I “red-carded” him if the disruptive behavior continued. A red card meant the boy was suspended from the unit for 30 days. He could not attend any meetings or activities during those 30 days. At the end of the 30 days the boy and his parent(s) would have to appear before the troop committee and Scoutmasters to petition for reinstatement. He would have to show that he had learned from the experience and would not commit the infraction again. Since we had a quality Scouting program, being banned from the unit for 30 days was a significant penalty for the boys.

This process always worked. Several boys received yellow cards, but I only red-carded one boy the entire time I was the Scoutmaster. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, I had twelve non-LDS boys in the troop. Surprisingly, an LDS boy was the only one I red-carded. His father was one of my assistant Scoutmasters. The mother was the troop committee chair. I went to the father and mother to get their support before I red-carded their son. They handled the situation perfectly and kept their son home from Scouting for 30 days. At the end of the 30 days the boy and his parents petitioned for reinstatement. It was a wonderful experience. The boy’s behavior improved dramatically. He earned his Eagle. He later went on a mission to Peru. He married in the temple and now has two kids. He is a great husband, father, and Melchizedek priesthood leader. This is exactly what the LDS Scouting program is all about.

I encourage you to get to know your boys. I urge you to pray for guidance on how to deal with any boys who may cause you problems. I know the Lord will guide you. The Lord knows there are times when you may need to reprove a young man “betimes with sharpness.” But I hope it will be because you were “moved upon by the Holy Ghost” rather than merely reacting in anger or frustration. I know the most important thing you can do when correcting a young man is to show “an increase of love toward him whom thou hast reproved, lest he esteem thee to be his enemy” (D&C 121:43).

Our Father in Heaven loves his precious young men. Because of that, He has called you to be a leader over His children. In doing so He encourages you to be “wise as serpents, and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16).


Take a Moment to Reflect

  • Have you implemented a consistent structure for your Scouting meetings and activities?
  • Have you established clear ground rules or behavioral expectations with the input and consensus of your young men?
  • Do you use the Scout Oath and Law as you counsel your boys regarding their behavior?
  • What behavioral modification techniques do you use with your boys? Do they work? If not, what else could you do to get the outcome you want?


Turn Your Reflection Into Action

  • What will you start doing, stop doing, or do better as a result of your reflection?


“Our youth don’t want to drift; they want security and a solid anchor, limits, rules to live by—with an opportunity to achieve. They want to know what is expected of them—they earnestly want direction” (Elder Robert L. Backman, “What the Lord Requires of Fathers,” Ensign, Sept. 1981).


-Mac McIntire is a dedicated Scouter who has blessed many lives through his service and acute understanding of the Scouting program. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada. The views and opinions expressed in this message are solely those of the author

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  1. Bill Chapman says:

    As always, this is a great and helpful post. I believe we have a great program going right now but there is definitely a lot of talking, excitement, noise and a bit of chaos in our meetings. Since we let the scouts run things, the adult leaders have not intervened but let the SPL, ASPL and patrol leaders struggle with what we call the “chaos” issues. When there is a more serious issues such as a scout hitting another which has only happened once or twice on campouts, I get directly involved.

    The more common problems are in troop meetings regarding the noise level but there are no safety issues, swear words, hazing, etc., just deacon age scouts having fun in their own way. My hesitancy in setting up “rules” other than the Scout oath and Law where I would step in as Scoutmaster to enforce them is that we lose some of the patrol method and deprive the scouts with wrestling with these issues. As a seminary teacher, quorum advisor, etc. trying to teach youth lessons I have personally struggled with this issue over the years, myself. I have actually been very impressed with our senior scout leadership wrestling with these issues although they have not been able to eliminate all the noise.

    My question is: where do you draw the line and yellow card a scout or scouts? If the whole troop is noisy, would you suggest a yellow card for everyone that is being noisy so they understand that the standard is they need to be quiet and listen? I could see how that would probably affect some changes in behavior but also wonder how the scouts would interpret that. Use the standard absolute silence in the meetings? Again, I think this is a matter of degree and may be hard to define in a blog post comment. I do like your idea of getting their buy-in before doing any of this so that is really self-discipline.

    1. Mac McIntire says:

      I only used the card system for very serious infractions. To me noisy kids is just a part of kids being kids. In most cases of too much noise, simply raising the Scout sign is enough to quite boys down . . . momentarily. I found calmness is the only way to calm kids down. Yelling at noisy kids only leads to more yelling.

      Regarding when to card a boy, I only carded a boy for extremely disruptive, non-cooperative, or abusive behavior. And even in these cases I tried to calm the kid down long before I carded them. The one boy I red-carded went on a tirade of obstinate behavior and inappropriate language. He was totally out of control. The only way we could get him to calm down was to red card him and send him home.

  2. Bill Chapman says:

    I would also like to hear your and others’ suggestions about how to incorporate spirituality into the troop, especially with a lot of nonmembers in the troop. I believe you have probably addressed this in other posts and I need to go back and read them.

    1. Mac McIntire says:

      My philosophy is to not alter your approach to spirituality in the troop merely because you have non-LDS boys in your unit. Some of the 12 non-member boys I had in my unit had no previous exposure to religion. But they quickly joined in and wanted to participate, particularly in offering blessings on the food or being the voice for morning and evening prayers on our campouts. What really surprised me is some of the non-member boys wanted to give the talk in the combined opening portion of Mutual. It is amazing how insightful these boys can be when they are exposed to the Spirit. Some of their comments during the “reflection” after an activity can be very profound. My non-member boys even wanted to take their turn reading passages in the Book of Mormon and other scriptures as we discussed them around the campfire at night.

      Obviously you should not put any pressure on non-members to participate in prayers or other elements of your meetings, but if you just proceed as normal I think the non-LDS boys will join in when they feel comfortable.

    2. Michael says:

      Hi Bill, Several years back, when serving as a Scoutmaster, I had a non-LDS assistant scoutmaster volunteer to work with our troop. He was a tremendous asset for the boys and to our adult leadership. After getting acquainted and settled in, he jumped right in with scoutmaster minutes when it was his turn and thoughts/discussion leading around the campfires on our trips that brought a great spirituality into our events. There was never any need to try and tailor our thoughts/messages or prayers because of him being there. His religious beliefs in God and Christ were very much in tune with the spirit of scouting… allowing our young men the opportunity to discuss spiritual/religious topics in a non-threatening, non-proselyting setting with a fellow Christian from another faith group. From time to time we had non-LDS youth participate with us in individual meetings/camping trips or for a short time as members of the troop. It has been interesting lately to work with the adults in the district. I have been able to take many meaningful thoughts into the meetings I attend – to bring a bit of both the scouting spirit and Lord’s spirit at the end of a meeting – all with very little or no adaptation from the original “church” message. I have learned that there is no need for us to apologize or overly tailor our messages – just be normal. But it is very important as Mac says to honor and respect and allow any of our non-LDS scouts and scouters to participate as they are comfortable and according to their beliefs as well. At one point, before he moved away, I had started working with a young man to encourage him to earn his religious knot from the church he was attending. I believe it is important for LDS youth to see and understand other faith-groups/religions beliefs so that they can better respect all other religions .. and in so doing better understand their own beliefs. One additional thought… not only no pressure to participate (other than an honorable request to be reverent during prayers which they should be during any type of scouting prayer anyway), but also troop members should not start trying to “convert” the non-LDS participants….

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