Going above and beyond: Scouts edition
Support your young people in facing some of the typical personal challenges for their age group
Words: Jade Slaughter | Illustrations: Charlotte Leadley
Nobody who’s been a teenager would ever say it’s easy. Young people in the Scouts section are arguably facing one of the most challenging times of their lives, as they go through intense physical and emotional change and begin their journey into adulthood.
In our ‘Going above and beyond’ series, we hear from an expert on the type of issues young people in each section might face and how we can best support them. Daniel Jarrett is a child safeguarding specialist with experience across a range of young people’s charities and services. As Scouts expands its reach to a wider group of young people than ever before, it’s vital that we’re aware of the issues young people may experience. This issue, Daniel focuses on the Scouts section. Read about how to support Beavers, Cubs and Explorers on the blog: scouts.org.uk/news.
As a group of young people aged 10½ to 14, Scouts is prime time for young people to start experiencing puberty (changes usually start to occur around age 10 or 11 for girls and 11 to 13 for boys). Puberty is a series of natural changes that every young person experiences.
There’s no way to predict how long a young person will take to go through puberty, but it can be anything from 18 months up to 5 years (so potentially most of their time in the section!). These social and emotional changes mean that young people are forming their own identities and learning how to be independent adults. They’re developing their decision-making skills, and learning to recognise and understand consequences and responsibilities.
Opportunities to help:
- Adolescence is a time for young people to become more independent. Let everyone
try plenty of activities that develop leadership skills and responsibilities, such as organising and running a fundraising activity. A guide to peer leadership in Scouts is available for you; it includes top tips on using Patrol Leaders in the Patrol and can be found here.
- Young people may become more sensitive about how they look and act. Respect their need for privacy, and try to understand their fear of embarrassment: you might need to take this into consideration if activities require changing clothing, for example, or them talking about their personal choices.
- Puberty is also a time when role modelling body acceptance is really valuable. Young people are likely to compare their bodies to those of their friends, and may feel worried about their own development. The best thing you can do is show understanding and explain that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. Be careful of the behaviour you model: it’s easy to call yourself ‘fat’ without thinking or to compliment someone’s weight loss without knowing the circumstances of it.
- Young people going through hormonal changes may feel very angry. Help them let off steam, but be aware that extreme anger can be a sign of abuse – keep alert for other signs. Try to stay calm during angry outbursts, and wait for young people to cool down before talking about the problem.
- As bodies change, you might need to support young people to maintain personal hygiene. You can do this tactfully by referring to Victorinox’s Scout Survival Skills Activity Badge resources, which include information on hygiene, here. Useful information is also available via the NHS.
Thinking about the future
As they move into secondary school, young people will start thinking (and often worrying) about their future. They’ll face exams, and start making choices about what they want to study when it comes to their GCSEs, A-levels and potentially beyond – all with a view to making their route to employment easier. Unsurprisingly, this can feel like a lot of pressure.
Opportunities to help:
- You can start relating badges to school subjects and careers in a casual way. If someone excels at their Communicator Activity Badge, for example, you could encourage them to explore other activities and information relating to the media and communications. Helping someone to discover their passions could change their life. You should also encourage Scouts to tackle subjects they find difficult. If someone thinks STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) is only for geniuses, encourage them to go for their Scientist Activity Badge – understanding the science behind their favourite Scouts activities, for example, could prevent them from struggling in the subject all through school.
- In 2017, Childline reported an 11% rise in counselling sessions relating to exam stress over the previous two years. If you know someone in your group has an exam coming up, be supportive and help alleviate their worries by talking to them. Discourage the group from comparing exam results with each other, too, as it can make some people feel worse. Finally, ensure they’re exposed to people from a full range of different occupations, from people with PhDs to those without formal qualifications but who are skilled in their field, like carpentry. This should help them to see that they have plenty of choices, even if they aren’t academic.
- Remember: Scouts is a place for everyone to have fun and forget their worries. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just distract everyone from school; they’ll get enough pressure about their future while they’re there, and will learn valuable life skills with you even if they don’t always realise they are at the time.
Cyberbullying and social media
It’s easy to think teenagers today are light-years ahead of most of us when it comes to using technology, but many of them don’t know how to stay safe and happy online.
A recent poll found that 35% of 11 to 17 year olds have been cyberbullied. The majority of Scouts will have their own phones and many will be regularly engaging with other people online – whether it’s via Snapchat, Instagram or any other social media channel.
Opportunities to help:
- Make sure everyone knows that they can go to a parent, teacher or a trusted adult if anyone is upsetting them or making them feel uncomfortable online. You could also do a session on internet safety, showing everyone how to block/report people on various websites and emphasising the importance of taking breaks. At this age, they shouldn’t be allowed on most social media sites (the minimum age for Snapchat and Instagram, for example, is 13) but lots of them will put fake ages on their accounts. Explain how easily accessible their personal information is, and why they need to be careful about what they share.
- When used safely, with respect for others, social media can be a great tool of communication. But a sad fact is that social media addictions are becoming more and more common, as ‘likes’ and ‘follows’ have been proven to make our brains release feel-good hormones. However, going online all the time and seeing people’s carefully curated, perfect versions of their lives can be upsetting for young people. Explain to everyone the difference between the fantasy images we see online and the reality of our everyday lives – nobody’s life is perfect; we all have good days and bad days, and it’s important to remember that.
- Try to find out if your group has a WhatsApp chat or similar online chat that you’re not aware of. Be aware of online bullying – is someone being excluded from the group? Volunteers should not be in any groups with young people – it can be argued this would allow you to monitor it, but it poses a safeguarding risk and is against the Scouts safeguarding policy.
The term ‘gang’ generally means a group of people who identify themselves through where they live or another identifying feature. They lay claim to ‘their’ territory and are willing to come into conflict with other gangs or individuals who enter that territory. They may also engage in criminal activities. Young people join gangs for various reasons, including respect, status, gaining friends, power, protection and a sense of belonging.
Changes in behaviour (how they dress, speak and engage with others) may be signs of someone becoming involved in a gang – although can also be typical changes seen in teenagers. More information about gangs can be found here: parentinfo.org/article/gangs-signs-and-how-to-prevent-involvement.
Gangs are starting to attract and seek out younger and younger people. If you’re worried about gangs, it can be difficult to know what to do to help protect your Scouts. Whether they’re thinking about joining a gang, are already involved in one or want to leave, they need help and support.
Opportunities to help:
- Make sure you’re aware of who’s picking who up after meetings, and who’s hanging around outside. Gangs are starting to move away from secondary schools as they’re already more aware of gang-related risks, and are moving towards primary schools,
after-school clubs, sports centres and Scout groups, as they’re often less well-guarded. Gangs know there’s a group of young people all concentrated in a certain place at a certain time – keep your eye out in case the same people linger around.
- There are numerous complex reasons why young people are recruited into gangs; grooming, bullying or fear are often part of the process. The risks are increased where a young person is particularly vulnerable, as they give them a sense of belonging. It goes without saying to look out for anyone who isn’t fitting in as well with the rest of the section, ensuring you get them involved and making friends. Other young people who may be particularly at risk are those who come to Scouts with an older friendship group; anyone who has two phones or large quantities of money, new trainers or jewellery; anyone talking about meeting older friends (particularly older men) at the weekend; and anyone who seems overtired, withdrawn or aggressive for an extended period of time. You should also be aware if everyone starts to seem more afraid of one or more members of the section. If parents talk about being worried about gang involvement, encourage them to speak to the police.
- For further advice on gangs, you can contact the NSPCC. Alternatively, reach out to local police to find out the specific risks in your area.
While it’s great to be aware of all of these issues potentially facing young people, please note that it’s not your responsibility to carry out extra work around them on top of your usual volunteer role. If you’re worried about someone in your section, it’s best to contact your GSL or District Commissioner about support that you can signpost the Scout or their family to.
If any safeguarding or welfare concerns are identified in association with the above issues, you can contact the Safeguarding Team for advice: firstname.lastname@example.org.