Controlling Misuse of Cell Phones

Parents in Scouter A.M.-O.’s troop want their sons to have use of cell phones during Scout activities. She asked for ideas that will prevent misuse of these devices but make parents feel secure.

Our troop has a strict “no electronics” rule for camp-outs, which includes cell phones, Game Boys, and iPods. To comfort parents, we provide a list of cell phone numbers for all adults going on the outing and allow boys to use our phones to call home or take calls from worried parents at any time.

Troop Committee Member J. O’K.
Dunedin, Fla.

First, tell the parents they are invited to attend all meetings and camp-outs. Second, tell them no cell phones.

Assistant Scoutmaster E.S.
Cave Creek, Ariz.

Preplan a block of time to allow Scouts to communicate with their parents to reassure both Scouts and parents that everything is fine. Make this scheduled time known to all parties so everyone can be available.

Troop Committee Member T.K.
Acworth, Ga.

Cell phones are very disruptive and encourage Scouts to isolate themselves from activities. We have a policy that Scouts cannot bring electronic gadgets on camping trips. If they do, I will keep them for the duration of the camping trip and give them back to the parents. If a Scout takes out a cell phone during a regular meeting, I collect it until the end of the meeting. If a parent needs to talk to their son during a meeting or camping trip, they can contact me, and I will relay the message to their son.

Scoutmaster D.W.
Lithonia, Ga.

If you question parents enough, you will find that they don’t really care if their sons have a cell phone. It’s the boys who want to call or text their friends. If the parents say they want the security, give them your number, which removes that objection.

Assistant Scoutmaster B.M.
Naperville, Ill.

We do allow Scouts to carry their cell phones on camp-outs and to meetings, but they are to be turned off and only used for emergency purposes. I stress that cell phone use while riding to and from camp is often a distraction to the driver. Fortunately, our Scouts are responsible enough to know where and when cell phones should be used.

Scouter K.W.
Green Bay, Wis.

There is no reason a Scout needs a telephone while in a meeting or other Scouting activity. If a Scout is allowed to use a cell phone without leader control, there is a good possibility that the phone will be used to call or take calls from friends, to play video games, or to listen to music. All these activities make it difficult for the Scout to completely participate in the current activity or to learn the skill being taught.

Assistant Scoutmaster M.F.
St. Paul, Minn.

Cell phones aren’t just phones anymore; they’re music players, gaming devices, instant messengers, cameras, and video players. We found that cell phones were becoming a significant distraction and have prohibited them at Scout functions.

Scoutmaster M.J.
Westford, Mass.


Web Exclusive Responses

The following responses do not appear in the print edition …

It is inappropriate for boys to have cell phones during meetings and camp-outs; they need to be focused on what we are teaching them, not on who is texting or calling. We do not allow the boys to have phones at our meetings. There is a phone at our meeting place, and the leaders have cell phones in case of an emergency.

Den Leader J.W.
Kaysville, Utah

Remind parents that security is built into all parts of the Scouting program. Parents should know where the meetings are held, when to pick up their sons, and that there is plenty of adult supervision. Cell phones are not necessary during a meeting.

Troop Committee Chairman P.S.
Sulphur, La.

Your patrol leaders council could create a code of conduct that they agree to follow. Clarify other issues such as foul language and bullying, and then be sure to include a section about electronic devices and cell phones.

Assistant Scoutmaster P.N.
Nottingham, Md.

A lively, active, engaging program at meetings, observing the rules of safe Scouting (especially the buddy system) on outings, and a clear understanding on the proper use of cell phones will greatly reduce the likelihood of cell phone abuse.

Scoutmaster C.G.
Kennett Square, Pa.

Our troop has a “no electronics for Scouts” policy. In addition to the distraction issue, we justify it by the fact that anything a boy brings camping may very well not survive the outing. Most parents are thrilled that their boys will be electronics-free for a weekend.

Scoutmaster S.S.
Beavercreek, Ohio

All cell phone ringers are turned off during our troop meetings, and phones must stay in a pocket. We allow the boys to bring phones on outings, but they must stay in a vehicle. If a parent requires a call to check in, set up a predetermined time for the boy to call home. This way, the parent stays connected without it becoming a disruption.

Troop Committee Chair L.R.
Mosinee, Wis.

There is a strict “no electronics” policy in my troop. We let parents know that all the leaders have cell phones, and that if anything happens to their Scout, we’ll call immediately. We tell the parents, “If you don’t hear from your Scout, he’s having a great time!”

Assistant Scoutmaster L.B.
Sebastian, Fla.


  1. Our troop varies electronics rules between leaders, however my personal opinion is that cell phones should be allowed as long as they are not becoming a distraction. Scouts should pay attention to there leaders and surroundings, and should refrain from use of their cell phones, and if they do not do this the device should be taken. I use my phone to take notes and mark events on my calendar all the time at meetings.

  2. I think it’s interesting that we’re on one hand teaching, survival skills, and character building skills, yet we allowing them to apply and develop this trait on camping trips regarding phones.. ..nor do we obviously trust boy scouts to develop them in this setting. Cell phones at camp should be viewed as part of emergency preparedness and taught to be used as a tool. Camp leaders are in fact modeling this since they have one. I do agree there should be strict guidelines, such as, phones turned off during camp, and adequate education on respectful behavior at camp.

  3. I wrote about this exact situation, how it was so poorly handled by adult leaders of the Troop, and how it affect our family. Just do a search for ‘naples troop 2001’ or ‘Scouts Phones Summer Camp Trust’

  4. I have read Grahams story above and find from personal experience that scout leaders seem to be more focused on obeying rules and creating rules than fostering responsibility. I do agree the phones can be a bit of a distraction. I would ask though, what is the object of scouting? Is it to instill and teach responsibility in these young men or to learn to obey rules? If its the latter then, how is responsibility taught? Do we teach responsibility by removing the device from reach or do we teach it by trusting the scout will do the right thing and keep it turned off and use it correctly. Why not let the scouts in the troop decide and police each other with oversight from the adults? Isn’t that how true leadership is developed? We seem to be very quick to anger in this society when rules are broken. Rather than teach actionable consequences, we lash out and punish. I completely agree with Dolores Rand above that these cell phones are tools and should be treated as such, like any other tool in a preparedness pack.

    Has scouting strayed away from its original intent to teach leadership and responsibility? Its worth observing that the adult improprieties we’ve read about in the past within the scouting organization have caused many more rules be created than any wrongness by any scout. But yet we choose to lash out at the boys and in the end what does that foster?

  5. I believe that it is ok for scouts to carry a cell phone during scouting activities. When they are in their tents or in a place where it seems ok and they are not causing others to be distracted it is ok. My son once had to wait 1 hour in line to go to a campsite, and in situations like that I believe it is ok!

    • I totally agree with you and I am Life Scout in my troop. As long as the cell phone does not take the scout away from important activities or cause a distraction, they should be allowed and using them in the tent in the evening before bed to check messages should not be a problem. This will also teach Scouts to use their devices responsibly and that is an important skill to have throughout their lives.

  6. I came across this article while reviewing my own policy for such things. After reading all the responses above, I am even more convinced than ever that we have a good policy. That is, Scouts are not barred from having phones at events. I realize that complicated schedules and various home situations may require more communication with a Scout immediately before or after an event. However, the phone must remain powered down during the event until the Scout speaks with his SPL and SM about the need to use it. Although some parents may want to continue daily contact with their Scouts, complete with duress codes, a large number of Scouts simply cannot afford such a luxury and the disparity can cause significant friction. Further, when Scouts seek out parents to resolve conflict remotely or handle an emergency rather than their fellow Scouts or adult leaders on site, then again, there is going to be unnecessary friction and confusion ( and a potentially dangerous delay in getting actual help if needed.)
    Most of the stories I have about cell phone misuse are pretty humorous, like the time I awoke at 3am with the blinding screen of an iPhone thrust in my face only to hear a distraught mother saying “Hello? hello?” into the night air. It took a few minutes to unwind the issue: junior had a bellyache and his tent mate called mom to let her know and then remembered our policy and came to my tent with her already on the line. No big deal although I was seeing spots for a while. Another called home to let mom know wild animals had the camp surrounded and I received a text regarding our security status. Thankfully she did not call in the National Guard.
    All humor aside, my gut says if parent and child need daily contact without exception, then neither is ready to be a part of the program I am offering. We camp monthly, often for multiple nights and the boys without cell phones are usually the most care free of the lot.

  7. I don’t see an issue with scouts having a cell phone in the powered down state and used in a ememgency situation. But cell phones these days aren’t just cell phones they are mini computers and when a scout secludes himself or a group in a tent or away from adult supervision to play games and such that takes away from there scouting expierence. My troop when I was a kid had a strict “No Electronics Policy” and it worked.

  8. I believe that if they are used responsibly the boys should be able to have there electronics the boy scout is to prepare boys for there life make them into men and how are we going to prepare them for the 21st century without phones and electronics and BSA put a handbook out on the app market so are we going to follow there lead?

  9. I do agree a cell phone can be a distraction, but so are several other things at camp. They are also not reliable, but when there is a signal they can be a great tool. You can not tell me that the adults on a campout are with in eye site of every boy in his/her charge every second of a campout. I have heard stories of boys, buddies going out and getting turned around and the leader has no clue where they are. If the boy had a phone he could call for help. Seen so called leaders fall asleep while boys set forests on fire. It is a tool and should be treated a such. If the boy is misusing a tool he is corrected and loses the right to use the tool. We preach no electronics, but there is a geo cache merit badge. We preach self control, but then say the boys can not control themselves with the phones. If you are running a good program the boys will not have time to play games on the phone and will be to tired. Here is a story to consider. My son was at school. The school has a no cell phone policy. Well sort of. Phones must be off during school hours. So he had the phone and was told to turn it off until school was let out. Should be safe right, under adult supervision right. Well you would think. Two hours after school lets out my husband went to the after school program where it goes to play basket ball and the boy was not there. I called the school to ask if he was on campus since he was to take the bus and the driver said he never came to the bus. The school said they did not know where he was or even if he ever left campus. They had no idea where he was, said they called the after school program on campus and he was not there. Now this was the first day at a new school. I texted him. He was on campus in the after school program. Here is how he got there. The adult in charge of him at the end of the day sent him to the wrong bus and when he said he was to go to play basket ball at the Club they sent him to an after school program at the school. When the office called the adult in charge of the after school program and my sons name was not on the list so without checking they said he was not there. If he had not answered his text an amber alert would have been issued. He used his tool the way he was instructed. The adults in charge were clueless. Now the leaders in Boy Scouts are much more alert as to who is in their care, but if you are placed in charge of boys you do not know like being a leader of provisional scouts at a summer camp. It would be nice, if there is service to easily find those in your charge. Most phones now a days have GPS trackers on them and you can locate a person fairly easily if they load the right apps. Cell phones can be a get tool if used as a tool. We need to stop being concerned with what the might do wrong with these tools and teach them what to do right with them. Just as many adults do wrong with these devices as kids do.
    Just my 2 cents

    • Apparently some troops are 30years behind also. Many scouts have divorced parents and for some parents that is the only p.o.c. they have with their child for weeks on end. Unfortunately there has been a growing trend of divorced parents punishing the child and ex-spouse through what has been termed by the courts as parental alienation. Would a Troop Leader want to co-subject a child to that form of manipulation/abuse. Would a Troop Leader want to subject themselves and possibly their entire charter to such litigation, especially when with described by the Author above that it is without merit. Just a point to ponder…

  10. What if no policy is held in the troop and there is no activities going on?
    I would like my son to text me if he is alright.

  11. Scouting, at least Boy Scouts unlike Cubs, is something that is supposed to be run by Boy Scouts… not Scouters “doing what’s best for the boys”

    Troops need to decide this issue so that it is the SCOUTS decision, not the Scoutmaster’s (or Troop Committee) rule, but THEIR RULE…

    Not only is that the Right Way for such a decision to be made… but ALL the Scouts will be holding one another accountable instead of a few Adult Leaders…

    Just my two cents…

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