My two sons would just as soon spend 3 or 4 hours playing computer games than interact with real people. But, who can blame them? With the amazing graphics, sound, and practically real interaction, games these days are nearly "like being there". One son just got a unicycle for Christmas and has put in many hours and can now ride it. But, he just found an online unicycle game and there he can hop, jump, ride rails, fly, and more waaaaay cool stuff that he'd never be able to do in real life. Fantasy at your fingertips, I guess.
It's pretty hard for hiking and camping to compete with flying, explosions, racecar driving, and the like. Actually getting out into the world takes effort, has limitations, and isn't always fun. Why bother when I can click a button and be flying a plane or parachuting behind enemy lines or battling orcs and goblins?
For all the concern scout leaders have about sports and other organizations taking boys from scouting, we are completely missing the boat. A boy involved in any other activity is positive, but we are losing boys to sedentary fantasy without social interaction. This, I believe, will result in the slow death of nature.
A very interesting study complete in 2006 (http://www.videophilia.org/uploads/JEM.pdf) takes a look at the 50 year increase in national park attendance followed by 16 years of decrease through 2003. The decrease began in 1988, right when Internet use, video games, home theatres all began to gain popularity. Time spent on these sedentary activities increased 327 hours/year for the average American from 1987 to 2003 – that's about 2 full weeks. I would suggest that for scout-age boys, the increase is vastly greater. This electronic entertainment propagation is reducing the amount of time we spend actually living life.
We are spending far less time in the outdoors and the trend is continuing down. Environmental awareness, conservation, and responsible stewardship can't help but drop as we spend less time interacting with and experiencing the wilds. As all our cravings for excitement and challenge are fulfilled electronically, we care less for the real world. It doesn't really matter if there are green spaces, wilderness areas, birds, or beasts if we have no perceived need for them.
Videophilia is the new human tendancy to focus on sedentary activities involving electronic media. This is in contrast to Biophilia, people's appreciation of nature, and is already having a huge negative impact on our population. It has been tied to the national surge in obesity, poor exercise habits, lower social awareness, and lessened interpersonal skills. As these trends continue and our concern for the people and world around us decrease, support for, use of, and caring about our natural environment will fall by the wayside.
Looking at the overall problem through the eyes of one person, it may appear hopeless. After all, the Internet is here to stay, video games keep getting better, and electronic entertainment just keeps getting more and more real. That can't be changed, and it may be a losing battle, but I can at least do something where I am. Here's a few ideas:
Ensure the troop has at least one campout every month
Push for one more hike or outdoor activity every month
Hold troop meetings outdoors
Find outdoor rather than indoor service projects
Guide Eagle Scouts towards outdoor projects
Challenge scouts to earn the National Camping award
Promote environmental merit badges and awards, such as Leave No Trace, Hornaday, World Conservation, Paul Bunyan
Go for a walk every day, even if it's just 10 or 15 minutes
Maybe we should list Outdoors first of the eight methods of scouting for the next few years since it always seems to be around 3 or 4 when they are listed. This is the main reason I started my sons in scouting. It wasn't for the citizenship or character development – it was to make sure they had a reason to spend time in the outdoors, learning to care for themselves, nature, and others. The citizenship and character come from that experience.
Here are some great resources for scout learning in a fun way. Rather than reading books, these Decks Of ... have useful information packed onto colorful, well illustrated, sturdy cards.
They are great for a patrol meeting or merit badge session. They aren't waterproof, but heavy coated cardboard which holds up to lots of handling.
Stars, Birds, First Aid, Fishing, and Knots support the Astronomy, Bird Study, First Aid, Fishing, and Pioneering merit badges as well as being wonderful aids for rank advancement skills.
The new Birds and Fishing decks are for identification and have a few bonus cards with other data.
Fishing has great color illustrations, distribution, scientific name, fishing techniques, and a bit of other info for each fish.
Birds has a color photo, flight pattern, breeding times, wingspan, distribution, song, egg, and plumage helpful info.
Our troop has one of each in the troop library and they work well to keep scouts involved before a troop meeting. Maybe you could have your troop librarian buy one or two every six months until you have the set. They are $10 each at the scout shop.
A great image video for the world scouting movement - please share this one with parents of new scouts. "Think globally and act locally" comes to mind when I put into perspective the work at the troop or pack level against the cumulative effect of scouting around the world. Every scout is bound through the fleur-de-lis with all other scouts around the world.
Sticking with this training theme for one more post... With Webelos crossing to troops, this is a great time to review your adult training levels. All adults, whether registered volunteers or not, should complete Youth Protection before interacting with scouts, as a minimum. Youth Protection should be retaken every two years and can be quickly taken online. Those in registered positions should have a plan for completing the required training to receive the 'trained' strip.
Selecting an adult as your Training Chair can make life easier by having a single person with the main duty of tracking adult training needs and completions. Newly involved adults may need quite a bit of guidance in understanding what training is needed and finding available training sessions.
At MyScouting.org you can now take Climb On Safely and Trek Safely online. These are in addition to Weather Hazards, Youth Protection, Safe Swim Defense, and Safety Afloat.
In case you didn't know, at least one adult on every outing is supposed to be trained in Weather Hazards starting in 2009. There's no reason I can think of not to have every adult go through ALL of these online training modules to increase the overall safety of your unit.
AJ from Alabama and Lisa from South Carolina have claimed their prizes and a new contest for March is under way. There's $103 in prizes available, contributed by Firepistons.com, ClassB.com, and BoyScoutTrail.com.
You could win a $28 Fire Piston kit, $50 product coupon, or $25 Scout Shop gift card. Or, if you don't enter, you can be sure to win none of the above.