An ethical challenge in which a teasing game goes bad

THE GUIDE TO SAFE SCOUTING is clear on hazing and bullying: “Physical hazing and initiations are prohibited and may not be included as part of any Scouting activity” and “verbal, physical, and cyber bullying are prohibited in Scouting.” Ethics Discussion on Teasing

How do Scouts determine how far is too far? This ethical dilemma invites youth to explore that question and reflect on their own unit’s practices.

The Dilemma
In Troop 84, nicknames are as ubiquitous as mosquito bites and farmer’s tans. By their second or third outing, most new Scouts have acquired nicknames based on a personality quirk or something they’ve done along the way.

These nicknames often outlast any memory of the Scouts’ real names. In fact, Scoutmaster Ted Swenson frequently has to translate nicknames into real names when completing advancement reports.

Most Scouts accept their nicknames with good humor and recognize them as a sign of acceptance into the troop.

Not Ivan Baldwin. After the troop dubs him Ivy for managing to wallow in a patch of poison ivy on his first campout, Ivan complains to his mom, who in turn complains to Mr. Swenson, calling the practice hazing. At the next troop meeting, Mr. Swenson announces a new policy: no nicknames, period.

In response, Puddle Browder resigns as senior patrol leader, arguing that Mr. Swenson has usurped his authority and is favoring the opinion of one Scout over the rest of the troop. Now, nobody is happy, except perhaps Ivan and his mother.

For Discussion
Invite your Scouts or Venturers to list the issues at play, including:

  • The troop’s tradition of assigning nicknames
  • Ivan’s apparent unhappiness with his nickname and his mother’s complaint
  • Mr. Swenson’s edict banning all nicknames
  • Puddle Browder’s decision to step down as senior patrol leader

Next, discuss together the following questions about each issue.

The Troop’s Tradition

  • Do you think the troop’s tradition amounts to hazing?
  • What’s the difference between teasing and hazing?
  • Who determines when an action goes too far?
  • According to the scenario, most Scouts like their nicknames. Is that enough to make the practice OK?
  • If you think the nickname tradition is wrong, could it be modified to be more appropriate? How?

Ivan and His Mom

  • Does it matter that Ivan’s mom complained rather than Ivan?
  • Can you think of better ways that Ivan might have addressed the situation?

Mr. Swenson’s Edict

  • Did Mr. Swenson make the right decision?
  • If not, who else should have been involved?
  • How might including other people have changed the decision or the impact it had?
  • When is it appropriate for a leader to make a unilateral decision like this?

Puddle Browder’s Decision

  • Should Puddle have stepped down?
  • Can you think of more appropriate ways that he could have expressed his displeasure?
  • How could Puddle and Mr. Swenson repair their frayed relationship?

Next Steps
Challenge your Scouts or Venturers to think about any practices your unit has that some members might find objectionable. Discuss whether the unit should change those practices and, if so, how.

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