What combination of training and experience of scoutmasters and other volunteers best builds character in scouts? How can their training be enhanced to strengthen the scouts’ character development? These are some of the questions that Family Science and Human Development professors Jennifer Urban and Miriam Linver are asking in a new research project that seeks to reveal how adults build character in scouts.
The researchers, who are also co-directors of the Research on Youth Thriving and Evaluation (RYTE) Institute at Montclair State University, will receive $1,868,050 for the first year of a two-year, $5.7 million Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Character Initiative sub-award funded by the Stephen D. Bechtel Jr. Foundation.
The grant supports the second phase of an ongoing BSA national character initiative project that is focused on uncovering the role adults play in youth character development.
“We’re very excited to have this opportunity to study one of the longest-running youth-serving organizations in the nation,” says Urban. “The RYTE Institute is focused on understanding what goes right with youth. A study of this magnitude could potentially impact hundreds of thousands of young people – as well as the adults who care about promoting their positive development.”
Phase I of the project, she says, “confirmed that BSA offers a distinctive character initiative that is deeply rooted in its culture – and that is ideal for exploring and documenting the relationship between adult practice and youth character development.”
The team’s primary goal with this second phase is to understand more fully the relationship between adult practice and youth outcomes. “We want to understand how youth development practitioners, or adults in general, foster youth character development in scouts,” Urban explains.
To do this, Urban and Linver will look at the entire BSA system to pinpoint the existing trainings and other adult experiences that lead to the strongest character outcomes in scouts.
Developing leadership skills is a key objective of scouting. In general, young people need opportunities for leadership within the context of a sustained, caring youth-adult relationship. “For BSA, we’ve developed a detailed pathway model that explains how scouts develop character,” Urban notes.
They will be assisted in all aspects of their study – from data collection and analysis to disseminating results through reports and articles – by University undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students, as well as post-doctoral fellows.
While the name of the scouting program for youth ages 10 1/2 to 18 was recently changed from Boy Scouts to Scouts BSA to reflect the organization’s inclusion of girls and young women, the team’s initial data will reflect boys. “We are collecting data at three time points and by the third time point, we expect we will have girls in our study sample,” says Urban.
Ultimately, the data they collect will help BSA develop a strategic professional development plan for all scout leaders, which will, in turn, result in a more efficient and consistent delivery of programming. Project findings can also serve as a blueprint for other youth-serving organizations.
According to Urban, identifying the pathways that build young people’s character is critically important. “It’s easy to be cynical about the state of civil society, but we only need to look as far as our youth to see the full potential for a brighter future,” she asserts. “We aren’t only going to be able to understand more about character development in youth, but we’ll also be able to understand more about how adult character develops through volunteering with BSA.”