Saturday, May 1, 2010

Scouting Saturday: Video Games, Boy Scouts and the Media

I haven't done a Scouting Saturday post in quite some time.  I need to get back to this being a regular thing.

What spurred me to write this post is all the uproar about a new Cub Scout award -- a totally, completely optional award -- for video games.  News stories like this one at Fox News, are inaccurate and misleading, and it really makes me mad.

Okay, do I want my scouts earning awards for playing Halo all day?  Absolutely not.  But that isn't what this is about.  The article implies that from here on out, boys can make Eagle Scout by plugging in their Wii instead of by learning first aid, safety, survival skills, camping, citizenship, doing volunteer work, and the like.

That is not the case.

So let me go through the Fox article and complain a bit.

Boy Scouts Offer New Merit Pin -- for Video Gaming

By Joseph Abrams

Okay, well, first off... this is a Cub Scout award, not a Boy Scout award.  Cub Scouts are boys ages 6-11.  Boy Scouts are young men ages 10.5 and up.  Yes, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) runs both programs.  So stating that this is "Boy Scouts" isn't exactly wrong, but it is misleading.

Second, there is no such thing as a "merit pin" that I know of.  There are merit badges.  Those are for Boy Scouts, and most require a fair amount of work.  To become an Eagle Scout, a young man is required to earn at least 21 of them, with about 11 of them being "required."  None have anything to do with video games.

In Cub Scouts, there are belt loops and activity pins.  The belt loops are designed to give 1st-5th graders a brief introduction to a concept in an age-appropriate way, and many are also designed to give families a chance to interact.  The activity pins are a way to go a little deeper into a topic (the boy must earn the belt loop first) in an age-appropriate way.  Some belt loops help kids with advancement (mostly sports related ones) in the 1st-3rd grade programs.  Many of the belt loops help a boy obtain activity badges -- which helps them advance -- in the 4th/5th grade Webelos program.  The only belt loop that is required is Citizenship.  You can't get the Citizen Activity Badge without it, and you can't earn the Webelos rank without the Citizen Activity Badge.

My point?  For the most part, the belt loops and activity pins are just a fun extra and a way to encourage the boys to explore things they may not know much about.

Third, the award is titled "Video Games" and not "Video Gaming."  Not sure there is much of a difference, but still.  All that, on just the headline...

The first paragraph:
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous and kind — and completely addicted to Nintendo Wii.
Uh, no.  First off, "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent" is the Boy Scout Law, not the Cub Scout one.  Just one more instance of them implying that this video game thing is for the older kids, not the little ones.

Second, there is nothing in this belt loop that is encouraging video game addiction.  To earn the belt loop, the child must (simplified):

  1. Learn about the videogame rating system and make sure all his games are age-appropriate.
  2. With an adult, create a schedule that balances his videogame playing with homework and chores, then try to follow that schedule.
  3. Learn to play a new game that was approved of by his parent.
To earn the pin, the child needs to do things like create a budget to purchase a game, play games with his family, compare different systems, install a system, teach someone else to play your favorite game, etc.  

Just for comparison, a belt loop in Computers requires the child to:
  1. Explain parts of a personal computer: CPU, monitor, keyboard, mouse, modem and printer.
  2. Demonstrate how to start up and shut down a computer properly.
  3. Create and print a document.
Okay, so as the article goes on, they do mention that this award is for Tiger, Wolf, Bear and Webelos Scouts, but it never states the AGES of those boys.  And it does talk a bit about the actual requirements.

But the title and opening paragraphs sure give the impression that this is for Boy Scouts.  

Is it a good thing for BSA to be encouraging video games?  I don't know.  But I don't see how this is any worse than awarding a child a belt loop for playing marbles or taking care of his dog.  Because Cub Scouts is supposed to be about family.  And it is supposed to be about having fun.  And it is supposed to be about beginning to learn things like time management, personal responsibility, budgeting, and balance (among other things).  It seems to me that the Video Games Belt Loop is accomplishing that.

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Michelle Smith said...

Great post. I had heard of this new activity badge, yet since our son just crossed over we didn't talk about this much.

Honestly, I think the requirements and emphasis on balancing time and being responsible is great. Although my son is not one of them, most cub scouts I observed in our pack did seem to play hand-held games or have other video games at home which they played quite a bit.

I know our pack and troop have had rules about not allowing them on camp outs and so forth, but they were still pulled out before and after den meetings and pack meetings.

The requirements for this badge are stated in such a way as to keep the parents involved in guiding the boys to learn responsibility with engaging in playing video games. So, I suppose I can say that I like the way BSA has set it up, even if I'm not completely thrilled with its inclusion.

Lori Watson said...

I completely agree! And it drives me crazy when journalists can't be bothered to get their facts straight.

As a homeschool mom currently developing an elective in Gaming for my soon to be high school sophomore, I'd also like to point out that it can be a very educational hobby to study. My son will be discussing the gender and race stereotypes in gaming, as well as developing his own storylines. And the stereotype that anything to do with video games automatically addiction makes me nuts. Along with the obese, glazy eyed kids idea. Grr. Soapbox for me, so I'll be quiet now!

Just meant to say, Hear, Hear! Good post!

Laura O in AK said...

I feel like we've been out of the loop the last few months, so I had no idea there was a new Cub Scout activity belt loop and pin combo. I've got 2 Cub Scouts that will most likely earn this 'fun' one and maybe learn something in the process.

Too bad the media likes to be sensationalist in presentation. Addicted to the Wii....humpth!

Debra said...

Laura -- there are a bunch of new ones... nutrition, reading & writing, disability awareness, good manners, family travel, hiking, hockey, pet care, photography, ummm... horseback riding. And, umm, something else. Team sport. Kickball?

And yeah, my kids don't do a lot of video games, but writing this post up convinced me to encourage Thomas to earn it for crossover. :)

Debra said...

Michelle -- somehow I knew you'd comment on this post! I really think BSA did well with this belt loop. And... ironically enough, Thomas came up to me this evening and asked if he could earn the Video Game belt loop. Of course I said yes...

Debra said...

Lori -- oh, I love it... the gaming elective sounds fantastic. And gender and race stereotypes? Brilliant. Of course, depending on the type of game you are working with, those stereotypes could be really interesting.

I want to hear how your class goes :)