Ethical debate: Is it OK to question an adult’s actions?

When is it OK for a youth to question an adult’s actions?


ROBERT BADEN-POWELL said a lot about the examples Scouters set. In Rovering to Success, he wrote, “It fills one with awe when one thinks what harm or what good one might be doing to the boys in the examples we set for them.”

Usually those examples are good. But sometimes Scouters set bad — or at least ambiguous — examples, and in doing so put their Scouts in a difficult position. This story explores how a leader’s seemingly innocuous action could create an ethical dilemma for youth as they wrestle with the concept of obedience.

The Dilemma
Crew 125 is beginning a three-day drive to Florida Sea Base. As Crew President Jocelyn Allen climbs into the lead van, she notices the driver, Associate Advisor Frank Grosvenor, plugging in a radar detector. When they cross into Virginia, highway signs clearly state radar detectors are illegal.

Jocelyn summons the courage to talk to Mr. Grosvenor. His response: “There’s illegal, and then there’s illegal. I don’t drive more than 10 over the speed limit, and this keeps me honest.”

The logic seems pretty shaky, and Jocelyn isn’t sure what, if anything, she should do. But she keeps thinking about the seventh point of the Scout Law: “A Scout is obedient.”

For Discussion
Many Venturers and Scouts already drive, so they might have a special interest in Jocelyn’s dilemma. Also, reflecting on this situation might improve the way they drive.

Begin by discussing speed limits and radar detectors. Then ask:

  • Do you see a conflict between using a radar detector and “A Scout is obedient”? Why or why not?
  • Do you accept Mr. Grosvenor’s explanation that he uses the radar detector to keep himself honest? Why or why not?
  • Radar detectors are outlawed only in a few jurisdictions. Should they be? Why or why not?
  • Is there a moral difference between using a radar detector and alerting other drivers (by driving apps, for example) of police presence?
  • Mr. Grosvenor says he drives only a little over the speed limit. Is that OK? Why or why not? If a little over is OK, how much is too much?
  • Should drivers behave differently with Scouts or Venturers in their cars? Why or why not?
  • Brainstorm possible actions Jocelyn could take (including doing nothing). Then ask:
  • What is good or bad about this action?
  • What do you think this action would accomplish?
  • How would this approach be respectful of Mr. Grosvenor’s authority as an adult leader?
  • How might it undermine his authority?

Close by noting that the points of the Scout Law might be clear but their application can be tricky. In this case, for example, Jocelyn must balance obedience to the law with loyalty to one of her leaders.



  1. “There’s illegal and then there’s illegal?”

    Great discussion.

    When this adult starts pushing the envelope on personal contact, then what?

  2. If you are driving a group of scouts or others people children for school sport, group event whether it be scouts or another organization, I personally obey all laws for the safety of the others I am responsible for…….parents put the safety of their children in the hands of the drivers!

  3. A scout should be able to challenge an adult. However, we should be teaching our scouts or children to be respectful and tactful. It is also useful to be able to know the personality of the person you are confronting so you may make the most impact. Using this speeding and unlawful use of a device I am reminded of a trip to Philmont where the leaders involved were fifteen to twenty mph over the already 75 mph speed limit in the two vehicles they were driving. The scoutmaster was one who was feared by the scouts and the parents so no comment was made. It turned out that we had a misrable trek as the scouts were challenging the adults who were there for their own purposes. There was a camp intervention resulting in boys leaving the unit and the unit never being the same.

  4. I think it’s obvious that Jocelyn is bullying Mr. Grosvenor and that she should stop immediately!

    • Seriously?! He is breaking two laws, and your response is that the scout questioning his actions is a bully?? He is setting a horrible example for his scouts by teaching them that laws don’t matter. He could lose his license, pay a fine, etc. He could lose his position with the scouts if he is caught by the police. He is teaching children that speeding is fine. Jocelyn has every right to question him and to expect more from a leader.

  5. Wrong is wrong. If a scout catches you doing something illegal or god forbid morally wrong. IF they take you aside or in this case descretly telling him. The adult should thank them for reminding them and correct the behavior.

  6. The Federal Communications Act of 1934 guarantees citizens the right to “receive” and radio signal including those used for radar guns, not that that stops places from trying to outlaw it. The ticket is less than a court challenge, but that does not make the such laws legal uses of governmental power. It is also not illegal to photograph or video Law Enforcement nor to flash your lights to warn oncoming motorists of a ‘speed trap’ both of which have been outlawed, challenged, and then struck down. We teach citizenship, not blind obedience.

    As a result you asked the wrong question. Speeding is clearly against the law and not a protected activity. Receiving radio signal is just the exercise of freedom, which, while having its risks, is still a value unto itself. I’d cover that with anyone that asked.

  7. This leader is in fact teaching his scouts what laws are to be obeyed, and which can be ignored. As citizens we have the obligation to obey all laws as written. As leaders it is our responsibility to demonstrate this fact.

    • I was with you until you used the term “all”. If a law is immoral or unethical then we have an obligation as citizens to peaceful resist until the law is changed.

  8. If you have a conflict with a SM that involves safety or illegal activity, share your being uncomfortable and tell him you would feel better if we both discussed it with “John” (who happens to be the Comm. Chmn.). A scout is obedient, although when I was a scout I was threatened with criminal trespass for refusing to leave the colored section of a luncheonette in D.C. (1958). At scout camp (in PA 1954) the colored had to be treated the same as us white kids “because they are scouts,” but they weren’t allowed to swim with us at the YMCA.

    • As Americans, we have a long history of civil disobedience, dating back to the struggle founding this nation. We should never be teaching blind obedience. Citizenship, certainly, but absolute blind obedience? Never.

  9. A Scout show have the right to question an adult in the troop if they believe their action(s) are illegal, unethical or immoral. However, the Scout should use tact when engaging the adult.

  10. One thing to do is talk to someone up the ladder of leadership. For example, if a Scoutmaster does what this article mentions, talk to someone on the District level, etc.

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