For nearly 100 years The American Legion and the Boy Scouts of America have enjoyed a strong relationship. Michael B. Surbaugh, the BSA’s Chief Scout Executive, told attendees at The American Legion National Convention on Aug. 31 that the relationship is now more important than ever.
“I think that’s where we’re at as a society today,” Surbaugh said. “We’re recognizing that there’s a growing character deficit in children because children have different pressures and stressors than many of us did.
“50 years ago … there were a limited number of activities in each town. There wasn’t the range of options available to children. There were a number of things that happened to young people internally because they were forced to create and develop their own play.”
Being forced to do that, Surbaugh said, forced children to develop the ability to work with others and were often connected with a positive youth-development organization. But now, he said, there are fewer teens participating in such youth-development activities.
Many children become involved in sports, and while Surbaugh said that can be a very positive experience, sometimes it forces parents to cut back on other activities. “At age 12 or 13, when they start dropping out of those organized adult-led sporting activities, they haven’t learned the internal structures of how to create play in an effective way. They haven’t learned peer leadership. They tend not to join, at that age, a positive activity like YMCA, Scouting, 4H.”
Those children then tend to turn to video games, Surbaugh said. “We have a technology element that’s been inserted into childhood that’s taking time like never before,” he said. “So what concerns me greatly … if we don’t emphasize that parents have to get kids connected with activities that build character, we won’t have the leaders of the future.
“The American Legion has helped do that almost 100 years, and today it’s more important than ever to continue and build that relationship.”
Surbaugh thanked the Legion for supporting the Boy Scouts since its first convention in 1919. “We have a long partnership, and a rich and storied history together,” he said. “We’ve seen lives transformed. We’ve seen leadership develop. We’ve done it together for almost a century. We’ve done something truly magnificent.”
That the Scouts and the Legion mirror each other in terms of organizational values is why the relationship has been so strong. “When Scouts say words like trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly and the other points of the Scout Oath and Law, they start to internalize a value structure that leads to character development,” Surbaugh said. “What Scouting and the Legion impart … is that the fundamental character competencies give you everything that you need to be an effective leader for the rest of your life."