Wanna Fight?

Ideas from the field: What to do when the fists start flying.

On a recent camp-out, two Scouts in Scoutmaster D.S.’s troop got into a fight over a prank gone wrong. He wondered how other troops handle fights or prevent them from occurring in the first place.

I know that Webelos Scouts are a little easier to direct, but over the past 15 years of Cub Scouting I have developed two simple rules of conduct in my den. No. 1: No one is rude (this includes rude words, jokes, actions, “bathroom noises,” and interrupting). No. 2: No one is hurt (no hurt feelings, no physical hurting).

I have had almost 200 boys go through my den, and I only occasionally have to use a gentle reminder. If I have a major infraction, I leave my assistant in charge and talk to the boys away from the group.

Webelos Leader B.A.
Manti, Utah

Physical fighting has zero tolerance in my book. I don’t care what the circumstances are; the initiating Scout will be sent home. Depending on how involved the Scout that was defending himself got, he may go home as well.

Assistant Scoutmaster J.K.
Loveland, Colo.

A dose of good old hard work goes a long way. Make them both scrub the fire pots or build the large campfire and/or do another appropriate task—together. By the time they’re done, neither they nor their comrades will be picking fights soon. Typically, their parents will support this action, and the time working together can actually bond them.

Cubmaster R.S.
Carlisle, Mass.

If the situation were to appear, I would likely send both boys to cool off for a short period. I would then bring them both together, have them explain what happened, and ask how they might have prevented it and what they should do about it. I want the boys to solve their own problems.

Scoutmaster M.P.
Matthews, N.C.

If the boys have too much time on their hands, they can have KP duty for the weekend to keep them occupied and give them something to think about the next time they feel like fighting. Beyond that, let it go; the slate is clean the minute you leave camp.

Troop Committee Member J.H.
Garden City, Mich.

Our troop has a written policy that physical fighting will result in the Scouts being removed from the activity. If we’re on a camp-out or at summer camp, the parents are called to come and pick them up. The Scouts are informed of this policy when they join, and it is repeated regularly.

Mundelein, Ill.

Ask the Scouts which parts of the Scout Law they are demonstrating. The other Scouts will chime in with which parts they are not demonstrating. Putting them on the spot in public this way is usually enough to diffuse the situation.

Chatsworth, Calif.

I find the best way to prevent fights is to create a supportive and friendly environment. Make the troop seem like a family, and make Scouts feel comfortable talking out problems with one another other or with the Scoutmaster as a mediator.

When a fight does occur, all participants in the fight are punished by a call home, assigned as cleaning patrol for the rest of the trip, or something else to show that fighting is not tolerated.

Assistant Scoutmaster E.H.
Brooklyn, N.Y.

We should send Scouts home when their behavior creates a physical danger to themselves or others. Also, when a Scout’s behavior endangers others or interferes with the delivery of the program, the troop committee needs to meet with the Scout and his parents to determine appropriate action.

Be careful not to get caught in the “boys will be boys” mentality and minimize their behavior. “Boys will be adults,” and the kind of adults they will become is influenced by what we teach them about living by the values of the Scout Oath and Law.

Skipper A.L.
Normal, Ill.


  1. This needs to be treated with the utmost urgency, not only because it is against Scouting Principles but also because it needs to demonstrate to the rest of the troop the level of intolerance. First things first – break up the fight ASAP! Then separate the boys and speak to each one individually – hoping that I can make sense out of what will undoubtedly be two versions of the story. Also provides a bit of a cooling off period.

    If we’re at an activity where they can be picked up, parents will be called and both scouts will be sent home. If we’re on a trip, both scouts have cooking & cleaning duty TOGETHER for EVERY MEAL left on the trip.

    There would then be a meeting with each Scout and his parent(s), and both would be suspended for a minimum of one month. I don’t care if one was only defending himself – he did something to provoke the scout who started it.

    Finally, I would announce to the entire troop and parents the actions that have been taken, to reinforce to everyone involved with the troop that fighting will not be tolerated, regardless of who “starts” it.

  2. I get that breaking up the fight needs to happen by whoever can do it first. How do responses just from SMs work with boy lead troops? It seems like the after it is broken up it should be dealt with by a boy (PL/SPL/PLC).

    I could see having an adult handle it in a brand new troop but not a functioning one.

  3. All of the responses above have an element of good scouting in them. Probably because there is no one answer. Like most things in life, it just depends. In may be appropriate to send one or both parties home. But, in general, I would think not. That does not resolve, but simply stalls, the solution/ recovery. If you have some strong boy leaders, I like the idea of the troop leaders dealing with it under the view of the adult leaders. My experience is that the working together on KP for the camp is probably the most used and inherently fair response. It allows the involved parties control and some degree of ownership of the issue. After all, our role is to help the boys grow and learn. The response has o be tailored to the situation and the parties involved.

  4. CONSISTENCY is the key. Our boys know – at all times – that physical contact has no place at Scout events. Fighting is serious because you are charged with the SAFETY of the boys in your care. It has to be a “zero tolerance” policy or you risk your “words” not being taken seriously. The person starting it has to be sent home, even if that means Mom & Dad have to drive 2 hours to your camp ground to retrieve him. And if THAT happens, you can be sure that 4 hours in a car will have mom/dad in the right frame of mind to discuss “conduct” with their son. Remember, “instant recognition” is a 2-way street!

  5. When I was in the Scouts in the late 1980s, I remember some of our Scouts acting like total bullies and attacking/assaulting younger and weaker scouts for absolutely no reason. In 1988, I saw a Scout beaten so badly at Goshen he had to go the hospital. Back then, the adults looked the other way; we had a lot of military O-4s and O-5s who thought boys should stand up for themselves and fight back. Those same scouts back then are today’s parents. My experience back then totally turned me off from Scouting. I can hope its better today.

  6. my son was involved in a physical altercation at away camp with his friend in july of 2014 with his troop. we as parents were never contacted that this occurred until their return for pickup. at that time we were told that a special meeting was going to held in regard to this. in the meantime my son continued earning merit badges and proceeding towards his next rank of life scout. he asked for his scoutmasters conference and board of review and were given dates. I had repeatedly on numerous occassions contacted the scoutmaster regarding the special meeting and was told they had not met yet. at the troops first official meeting of the school year we as parents and scouts were ambushed at pickup of this meeting and were told to come inside to discuss their decision. their decision was to strip my son of his leadership position in troop for a year, he was not going be able to to do rank qualifications for a year, no camping for 3 months-after that he would have to have a parent go camping with him for 3 times, before he was able to camp on his own with troop, we were also told that they could have been “kicked out of scouts” but they decided that this was more appropriate. when I brought up why they were being striped of ranking advancement and that in the long overview that this was going to set my son back actually 2 years because he would have to start life requirements over I was told that he was young enough to recover to be able to rank to eagle before aging out. I want to mention that the other scout has not even reached tenderfoot and really has no interest in ranking.they are only 8 months apart in age.it seemed very unfair. and yes I totally get it no tolerance!, but they didn’t even follow their own protocol. we were never given any bylaws, etc… regarding this when joining troop, not that I think this still wouldn’t have happened at camp. I want to mention that they allowed my son to do a carwash for a special trip then said he wasn’t going to able to go on this trip, again totally unfair. I just need to know what my options are. I should mention that one of the deciding committee members told their son about the the meeting, discipline, and punishment and this information was told to other students/scouts and on the first day of school the other scout was taunted and bullied by nonscouts about this.

  7. Fighting is wrong. I get it. But what if the other scout started it. If a SM saw what was going on, saw that there were no marks on one boy, and lots of bruises on another, would the SM still blame both of them, even though the one scout who has lots of bruises on himself didn’t do anything to provoke a fight? Or would the SM be dishonest and blame them both for even fighting?

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